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65 5th Ave, Room 411
New York, NY, 10003
United States

Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought at the New School incubates advanced transdisciplinary research and practice at the intersection of social theory and design and fosters dialogue on related themes across the university.

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Jason Lau

Jason Lau is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at The New School for Social Research exploring innovation in China through an ethnographic study of cellphone design. 

JASON LAU is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. His research focuses on innovation in China with particular attention to cellphone design. Before conducting his fieldwork in China, Jason taught the course “Design and Ethnography” at Parsons School of Design.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Jason has conducted extensive ethnographic field research in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Taking Appadurai’s assertion that commodities can be said to have social lives because they embody social values through various phases of negotiation, movement, and exchange, his project extends the notion of “the social life of things” to design, viewing the Chinese-­made cellphone as a design assemblage of different social actors (people, materials, and things) and values in Chinese society that actively participates in the making and shaping of social relations. In particular, he looks at the paradoxical relationship between innovation and the longstanding practice of imitation in China.

Instead of merely seeing design as a representation of culture, Jason explores the active social and political dimensions of design as practice. He seeks to understand how new forms of realities are created by design and digitization. Through cultural and historical analyses, his research aims at clarifying the complex relationship between imitation, innovation, and the issue of policy­making and nation-­building in modern China.