IAS Postdoctoral Fellow Wei-Fen Chen
Dr. Wei-Fen Chen earned her PhD in Communications and Media from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with an emphasis on social mobility and consumer behavior. Her life could have been very different if she had followed one of her earlier career paths. Chen had trained to become a teacher, but after graduating, she instead pursued a master’s degree in journalism and worked in a design house and for the Taiwanese government. She found her calling in research along the way.
After receiving her PhD, the Fulbright Scholar came to Hong Kong in 2016 for its academic environment. She has since met acclaimed scholars in her field, whose names she had first encountered in academic journals and reports, feeling “well supported by Hong Kong’s resources and environment to concentrate on my research.” Looking ahead, she plans to experiment with a variety of approaches and methodologies to further enhance her research process.
Studying the Everyday Experiences of Consumers in Emerging Markets
Social mobility and consumer behaviors are at the core of Chen’s research. As she puts it, economists focus on the facts and numbers, whereas she studies the everyday experiences of individuals. One of her projects is concerned with the “new poor” in Taiwan and the United States, pinpointing a social group that is well educated but economically disadvantaged. Members of this group suffer as a result of post-recession economic conditions. Many of these fine young men and women come from middle- or upper-class families and possess various forms of capital but find themselves with hopeless futures.
These “new poor” seek to gain social esteem and position themselves socially by associating “taste” with criteria other than purchasing power. Certain approaches to travel consumption, such as backpacking, are celebrated over traditional approaches such as luxurious group tours as a way of traveling with “better taste”.
Expanding her area of inquiry, Chen looks into the rapidly changing cultural norms, societal dynamics and vibrant economic activities of developing countries. She studies human behavior in an increasingly globalized world, with particular reference to social and geographical mobility. This relates to interesting themes such as international students’ consumption and fan subtitling in the emerging market media, as well as their social and cultural implications.