Abigail Coplin’s research is situated in political sociology, economic sociology, and science and technology studies. It examines the entanglement—and coproduction of—science, politics, and nationalism in contemporary China, and exposes mechanisms by which non-democratic states contend with experts and incorporate expertise into their governance schemes and legitimacy claims. Her various projects demonstrate that while the Chinese Communist Party-state (CCP) seeks to harness science and technology as a legitimizing ideology and economic driver, semi-incorporating them within the state also gives rise to new, often unintended, dynamics that the party-state must address.
Abigail’s book project, “Domesticating Biotechnological Innovation: Science, Market, and the State in Post-Socialist China,” demonstrates how these interactional dynamics and legitimacy struggles drive China’s distinctive trajectory of knowledge-economy development. Specifically, she analyzes China’s agrobiotechnology sector, an industry that is both deeply significant, economically and politically, to the Chinese party-state and highly contentious in Chinese society. Drawing on extensive mixed method qualitative fieldwork, Abigail shows how China’s efforts to “domesticate” GM-technology center on deploying nationalist ideologies to reframe social anxieties around the technology as a struggle between China and foreign interests. This nationalist frame functions as the crucial logic organizing relations among science, state, and market, and thus sets China on a path of knowledge-economy development divergent from advanced, liberal democracies. Moreover, this institution-building principle structures each tier of China’s agrobiotech project: the nationalist dynamics of the sector; the emergence of unique commercial/academic organizational forms; the career trajectories of actors in the industry; the type of technology developed; and even the contours of social criticism leveled against this technology.