Dr Joy Zhang’s expertise is on the transnational governance of scientific uncertainty, with a focus on the Sino-European context. Her work on the life sciences and climate science contributes to cosmopolitan social theories, by empirically examining how actors in non-Western societies capitalise on the concept of global risk and how this gives rise to new modes of social intervention. 

Before joining SSPSSR, Dr Zhang worked at l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where she also obtained my PhD in Sociology in 2010 and MSc in 2006. Previous to that,she graduated from Peking University Health Science Centre, majoring in clinical medicine. 

Dr Zhang is an Affiliated Researcher of le Collège d’Etudes Mondiales, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme (FMSH), France. She also held a research position at the Research Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, Peking University Health Science Centre from 2011 to 2015. 

Joy has always tried to have a flavour of different lives when she can. She once worked as a journalist and a columnist and she obtained an accounting certificate issued by China’s Ministry of Finance. Most importantly, she’s keen on exploring artistic tools in exploring bioethical and sociological questions. To date, she has had three solo photographic exhibitions (two of which were sponsored by Canon, China). She loves being a sociologist, but if you ask her what her ‘dream job’ would be, it’s being an art restorer. 

From January 2015 to March 2018, Joy led the ESRC Future Research Leaders project on ‘Governing Accountability in China’s Life Sciences: A Comparative Study of Stem Cell and GM Food Governance

Research interests

We are living in a global risk society, which has complicated the legitimising devices for scientific policies and has rendered social space for subaltern actors to develop new modes of intervention. Dr Zhang has established her expertise in the transnational governance of emerging science in the nexus of these themes. 

Dr Zhang emphasises aligning theoretical frameworks with real-world challenges. Her work has fed into the policy-making of the Royal Society in the UK, China’s Ministry of Health, and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology. 

Apart from contributing to a number of European Commission Framework Programme projects, she has obtained individual research grants from the British Council, ESRC, the Wellcome Trust in the UK and la Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’homme in France. 

Dr Zhang's research interests are focused on

  • Transnational governance of scientific uncertainties.
  • Decolonisation of knowledge
  • Cosmopolitanism and Cosmopolianization.
  • State-society relations.
  • Art-Science interface.


Dr Zhang has designed and convenes modules on modern Chinese society at undergraduate level, and on the social studies of science at postgraduate level. In the past, she has convened or co-taught on a number of core modules on sociology degrees. 


Dr Zhang welcomes students with interests in the social study of risk, emerging technologies, health, bioethics, science policy, governance, environmental politics or state-society relations.



  • Member of Editorial Board, Sociology
  • Policy and Responsible Practice Lead, Human Practices Executive Committee, iGEM.

Photographic Exhibitions 

Solo exhibitions: 

  • 2010: Benches and Their Social Tales, Hosted by Canon China Ltd. Beijing 
  • 2005: Canon Image - ZhangYueyue Photography Exhibition. Hosted by Canon China Ltd. Beijing
  • 2003: 2.5 Dimensional Existence: A medical student’s gaze at the world, Hosted by Peking University Life Science Centre, Beijing 

Invited co-exhibitions: 

  • 2010: Panchine e Colori, Hosted by Castello Gallego, S.Agata di Militello, Palermo, Italy 
  • 2011: Panchine e Colori, Hosted by L’Altro ArteContemporanea, Palermo, Italy

Other Publications and Media Experience 

Dr Zhang has been a freelance contributor for several major media outlets in China since 1997. Her biographical novel, 'A 12-Year-Old’s Studying Experience in the US' (12岁我到美国读中学), was published by China’s Children and Juvenile Publishing House (中国少年儿童出版社) in June 1999, and has been reprinted three times. In April 2011, while working at the LSE, Dr Zhang was invited by the Chinese newspaper, People’s Daily (Overseas Edition) (人民日报海外版), to start a weekly column that drew on her experience of Chinese diaspora in the US, the UK and France. The resulting column, Small World (一桌一椅一世界), used everyday examples to provide fresh insights on how Chinese societies approach issues such as identity, diversity, nationalism and China’s rise in a globalised world. Over the following five years, the column effectively extended the Cosmopolitan debate to the Chinese public. Its critical views were very well received among overseas Chinese audience. It is said to be the longest running column in the People’s Daily’s history. 

To date, Dr Zhang has been interviewed by more than 20 media outlets, including the WIRED, Nature Index, Weekendavisen (Denmark), China Central Television, Beijing Radio Station, as well as the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan and Madame Figaro magazines. 



  • Zhang, J. (2018). How to be modern? The social negotiation of ‘good food’ in contemporary China. Sociology [Online] 52:150-165. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1177/0038038517737475.
    Developing safe and sustainable food production for its population has been central to China’s ‘Modernisation Project’. Yet recent fieldwork in 3 Chinese cities suggests that there are two conflicting views on what a ‘modern’ agriculture should look like. For the government, modernisation implies a rational calculation of scale and a mirroring of global trends. But an alternative interpretation of modernity, promoted by civil society, has been gaining ground. For this camp, good food production is then established through a ‘rhizomic’ spread of new practices, which are inspired by world possibilities but are deeply rooted in the local context. Based on 14 interviews and 5 focus groups, this paper investigates the ongoing social negotiation of ‘good food’ in China. It demonstrates how a non-Western society responds to the twin processes of modernisation and globalisation and provides insights on the varieties of modernity in the making.
  • Zhang, J. and Barr, M. (2018). The Transformative Power of Commoning and Alternative Food Networks. Environmental Politics [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2018.1513210.
    A commoning framework offers a critical lens to fully appreciate the scope and impact of alternative food networks (AFNs). Fieldwork from an AFN in southern China is drawn upon to show how commoning enacts changes in how members contextualise and anchor their social relations to one another with regards to sourcing food as a commons. A commoning framework gives a fuller picture of how the constitutive effects of AFNs reside not in their introduction of a new uniformity but in their navigation of the multiplicity of the social through its proposition and co-construction of a new ‘cognitive praxis’.
  • Zhang, J. (2018). Cosmopolitan Risk Community in a Bowl: A Case Study of China’s Good Food Movement. Journal of Risk Research [Online] 21:68-82. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2017.1351473.
    Ulrich Beck fundamentally transformed our way of thinking about human interdependence through his three core theses on risk, individualisation and cosmopolitanisation. However, two commonly observed deficiencies in Beck’s grand theory were its Eurocentric orientation and a lack of empirical grounding. Based on 5 focus groups and 14 interviews with participants of the emerging Clean Food Movement in China, this paper extends the Beckian discussion outside Europe. Through examining how individuals understand both ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ risks associated with contemporary food consumption, this paper demonstrates that in the face of unpredictable and incalculable harms, risks are not seen as a ‘thing’, but are translated into ‘causal relations’. Subsequently, for Chinese stakeholders, the best way to safeguard food risks is to enact more visible and functioning interdependent relations in the food system. This in turn has given rise to new forms of communities which cut across conventional geographic, socio-economic and political boundaries. The paper deepens a Beckian theorisation in two ways. First, it demonstrates that the ‘enabling’ effect of risk towards a cosmopolitan society is not limited to obvious global crises, such as climate catastrophes and financial meltdown. In fact, the mundane yet intimate concern of putting ‘good’ food in one’s dinner bowl already presses actors to form new social solidarities that are cosmopolitan in nature. Second, it goes beyond Beck’s assertion that the risk society has culminated in a cosmopolitan moment, and explores how a performative cosmopolitan community reshapes the ‘relations of definition’ to mitigate risks on the ground.
  • Zhang, J. (2017). Lost in Translation? Accountability and Governance of Clinical Stem Cell Research in China. Regenerative Medicine [Online] 12. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2217/rme-2017-0035.
    Despite China’s regulatory initiatives to promote its research accountability, it still needs to prove itself as a trusted player in life science research. In addition, in contrast to its huge investment, China is losing the race in delivering quality application of stem cells. The trial implementation of the 2015 ministerial regulations seemed to offer hope in ending this dual ‘lost-in-translation’. Yet skepticism remains. By examining China’s regulatory trajectory in the last 15 years, this paper illustrates that it is a post-hoc pragmatic policy rationale and a soft centralisation regulatory approach that have hampered China’s governance. To improve China’s governance of accountability, policy-makers need to get beyond an ‘act-in-response’ regulatory ethos and engage with diverse stakeholders.
  • Zhang, J. (2017). Transparency is a growth industry. Nature [Online] 545. Available at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v545/n7655_supp/full/545S65a.html.
    A fierce public debate over the safety of GM food has put pressure on Chinese researchers to engage with the public about their work.
  • Zhang, J. (2015). The ‘credibility paradox’ in China’s science communication: Views from scientific practitioners. Public Understanding of Science [Online]:1-15. Available at: http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963662515598249.
    In contrast to increasing debates on China’s rising status as a global scientific power, issues of China’s science communication remain under-explored. Based on 21 in-depth interviews in three cities, this article examines Chinese scientists’ accounts of the entangled web of influence which conditions the process of how scientific knowledge achieves (or fails to achieve) its civic authority. A main finding of this study is a ‘credibility paradox’ as a result of the over-politicisation of science and science communication in China. Respondents report that an absence of visible institutional endorsements renders them more public credibility and better communication outcomes. Thus, instead of exploiting formal channels of science communication, scientists interviewed were more keen to act as ‘informal risk communicators’ in grassroots and private events. Chinese scientists’ perspectives on how to earn public support of their research sheds light on the nature and impact of a ‘civic epistemology’ in an authoritarian state.
  • Zhang, J. (2015). Cosmopolitan Risk Community and China's Climate Governance. European Journal of Social Theory [Online] 18:327-342. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368431015579970.
    Ulrich Beck asserts that global risks, such as climate change, generate a form of ‘compulsory cosmopolitanism’, which ‘glues’ various actors into collective action. Through an analysis of emerging ‘cosmopolitan risk communities’ in Chinese climate governance, this paper points out a ‘blind spot’ in the theorisation of cosmopolitan belonging and an associated inadequacy in explaining shifting power-relations. The paper addresses this problem by engaging with the intersectionality of the cosmopolitan space. It is argued that cosmopolitan belonging is a form of performative identity. Its key characteristic lies in a ‘liberating prerogative’, which enables individuals to participate in the solution of common problems creatively. It is this liberating prerogative that coerces the state out of political monopoly and marks the cosmopolitan moment.
  • Zhang, J. and Barr, M. (2013). Recasting subjectivity through the lenses: New forms of environmental mobilisation in China. Environmental Politics [Online] 22:849-865. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2013.817761.
    Visual imagery in environmental politics can be an effective way to engage the public. However, research based on 21 interviewees with activists from nine environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) in China suggests that the value of images in promoting environmental initiatives is not limited to the exhibition of them, but is also seen in the making of them. Increasingly in China, ENGOs are offering free natural photographic tutoring to the public. Camera lenses are seen as conduits to recast self-nature relations, which has the potential to raise environmental awareness and promote ENGO membership. Drawing on both theories of social movements and contemporary Chinese subaltern political sociology, this paper provides new insights into grass-roots environmental mobilisation in China. © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
  • Beck, U. et al. (2013). Cosmopolitan communities of climate risk: Conceptual and empirical suggestions for a new research agenda. Global Networks [Online] 13:1-21. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/glob.12001.
    Mitigating human-induced climate change calls for a globalized change of consciousness and practice. These global challenges also demand a double transformation of the social sciences - first, from 'methodological nationalism' to 'methodological cosmopolitanism' and, second, an empirical reorientation towards 'cosmopolitization' as the social force of emerging cosmopolitan realities. One of these realities is the possible emergence, locally and globally, of 'cosmopolitan communities of climate risk' in response to a 'world at risk'. A key research question for contemporary social science is thus: how and where are new cosmopolitan communities of climate risk being imagined and realized? In this article, we propose and explore a research agenda formulated around this key question. We both develop a theoretical perspective and provide short empirical illustrations of case studies regarding ongoing research in Europe and East Asia on such cosmopolitan climate risk communities. © 2013 The Author(s) Journal compilation © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd & Global Networks Partnership.
  • Zhang, J. (2012). The art of trans-boundary governance: The case of synthetic biology. Systems and Synthetic Biology [Online] 7:107-114. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11693-012-9097-8.
    Synthetic biology raises few, if any, social concerns that are distinctively new. Similar to many other convergent technologies, synthetic biology's interface across various scientific communities and interests groups presents an incessant challenge to political and conceptual boundaries. However, the scale and intensity of these interfaces seem to necessitate a reflection over how corresponding governance capacities can be developed. This paper argues that, in addition to existing regulatory approaches, such capacities may be gained through the art of trans-boundary governance, which is not only attentive to the crossing and erosion of particular boundaries but also adept in keeping up with the dynamics among evolving networks of actors. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
  • Arnoldi, J. and Zhang, J. (2012). The dual reality of the Chinese knowledge economy. International Journal of Chinese Culture and Management [Online] 3:160-173. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJCCM.2012.046037.
    This paper draws on stem cell research and financial derivatives as two case studies to analyse the role of scientific knowledge and technology in the development of the Chinese knowledge economy. The findings suggest that, despite China's recent commitments in acquiring international expertise, there is a decoupling between knowledge acquisitions and applications in the institutionalisation of knowledge within these sectors. Scientific-based knowledge and professional know-how are on the one hand perceived as prime drivers of China's development, yet they on the other hand remain subordinate to existing administrative infrastructures. The paper further elucidates the causes and implications of this by describing the dual reality of knowledge in relation to an isomorphic process of rationalisation outlined by new institutional organisational theory.
  • Zhang, J. (2011). Scientific institutions and effective governance: a case study of Chinese stem cell research. New Genetics and Society [Online] 30:193-207. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14636778.2011.574372.
    In terms of stem cell research, China appears both as a “powerhouse” armed with state-of-the-art facilities, internationally trained personnel and permissive regulation and as a “bit player,” with its capability for conducting high quality research still in question. The gap between China's assiduous endeavors and the observed outcome is due to a number of factors. Based on interviews with 48 key stakeholders active in Chinese stem cell research, this article examines how the structure of scientific institutions has affected effective governance in China. It is demonstrated that despite China's recent efforts to attract highly competent researchers and to launch new regulatory initiatives, the effects of these attempts have been diminished by an absence of middle-layer positions within research teams and by the uncoordinated administrative structures among regulatory bodies.
  • Zhang, J. (2011). The “National” and “Cosmos”: The emergence of synthetic biology in China. EMBO Reports [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/embor.2011.35.
    How can grass-roots movements evolve into a national research strategy? The bottom-up emergence of synthetic biology in China could give some pointers.
  • Zhang, J. (2010). Is the cosmopolitanization of science emerging in China? Études Internationales [Online] 41:571-595. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7202/045563ar.
    China is one among many other countries that have recognised the necessity in aligning national scientific progress with that of global development. As China is striding along the path of scientific development with determination and initial success, a key concern confronted by international scientific community is how China will transform existing global scientific atlas. Based on a project carried out in six Chinese cities, this paper mainly employs Ulrich Beck’s cosmopolitan theory in examining China’s life sciences’ development in the last decade to investigate how Chinese stakeholders have developed a (cosmopolitan) sensibility to rival ways of scientific reasoning, and in what way Chinese stakeholders have contributed to the cosmopolitanization of science.
  • Zhang, J. (2010). The cosmopolitanization of science: Experience from China’s stem cell scientists. Soziale Welt 61:255-274.
  • Zhang, J. (2010). The organization of scientists and its relation to scientific productivity: Perceptions of Chinese stem cell researchers. BioSocieties [Online] 5:219-235. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/biosoc.2010.3.
    Chinese government funding of R&D ranks third in the world. Yet China ranks only 17th in terms of scientific productivity per unit of investment. The author recently conducted fieldwork on the team structure of 22 Chinese stem cell research groups. Interview data suggest that although Chinese research groups closely resemble their international counterparts in many respects, there are also significant differences which are perceived by interviewees to affect levels of scientific productivity. One characteristic of Chinese research teams is a common deficiency in middle-layer positions. This shortage of experienced professionals is perceived by scientists participating in this study to have led to two consequences. First, inexperienced student researchers often form the backbone of scientific teams in China, which leads to frequent interruptions of research and extended laboratory training. Second, research teams consist of a relatively small number of personnel. These structural features are seen to create excessive social boundaries, which impede the exchange of information and further worsens the segmentation of resources. This article engages the question of the extent to which interviewees’ local ‘embedded’ understandings of these difficulties may make a productive contribution to the analysis of the structural, and infra-structural, organization of Chinese professional bioscience teams.


  • Zhang, J. (2017). Small World: Footnotes to Academic Observations ???????????????. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company ??????.
  • Zhang, J. and Barr, M. (2013). Green Politics in China: Environmental Governance and State-society Relations. [Online]. Pluto Press. Available at: http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745332994&.
    Based on interviews with members of grassroots organisations, media and government institutions, Green Politics in China provides an in-depth and engaging account of the novel ways in which Chinese society is responding to its environmental crisis, using examples rarely captured in Western media or academia. Joy Y. Zhang and Michael Barr explain how environmental problems are transforming Chinese society through new developments such as the struggle for clean air, low-carbon conspiracy theories, new forms of public fund raising and the international tactics of grassroots NGOs. In doing so, they challenge static understandings of state-society relations in China. Green Politics in China is an illuminating and detailed investigation which provides crucial insights into how China is both changing internally and emerging as a powerful player in global environmental politics.
  • Zhang, J. (2012). The Cosmopolitanization of Science: Stem Cell Governance in China. [Online]. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Available at: http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=510653.
    Based on site visits to 22 key research teams in China, as well as interviews with ethicists and Ministry of Health officials, this book investigates how, over the last decade, Chinese stakeholders have developed a cosmopolitan sensibility in comprehending and responding to ethical and regulatory concerns with influence from both within and without their national boundaries. It elucidates the structural and administrative particularities stem cell scientists are confronted with and charts the transformation of Chinese science from an image of the 'Wild East' to a responsible player in the international stem cell community. This book demonstrates the feasibility, and implications, of a less advantaged country in influencing global research trends and provides a powerful corrective to existing cosmopolitan frameworks which are established mainly on Western data sources. It contributes both to the empirical social study of science and to current theoretical debates on cosmopolitanization.

Book section

  • Zhang, J. (2017). Relaciones entre el Estado y las ONG en China: Una simbiosis controvertida. in: Bringel, B. and Pleyers, G. eds. Movimientos sociales en los años 2010: crisis, indignación y polarización. Buenos Aires: CLACSO.
  • Zhang, J. (2015). Synethsizing the “national” and the “cosmos”: the case of life sciences in China. in: Soysal, Y. ed. Transnational Trajectories in East Asia: Nation, Citizenship, and Region. New York: Routledge, pp. 46-61. Available at: http://www.taylorandfrancis.com/books/details/9781138819351/.
  • Zhang, J. (2014). Does Chine Offer a New Paradigm for Doing Science? in: Kerr, D. ed. China’s Many Dreams Comparative Perspectives on China’s Search for National Rejuvenation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 156-179. Available at: http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/china’s-many-dreams-david-kerr/?K=9781137478979.
  • Lentzos, F. et al. (2012). The Societal Impact of Synthetic Biology. in: Freemont, P. S. and Kitney, R. I. eds. Synthetic Biology - A Primer. London: Imperial College Press.
  • Beck, U. and Zhang, J. (2012). Reflexivity. in: Ritzer, G. ed. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
    There is a beautiful image for the intellectual metaphor of reflection, which has been so central ever since the Enlightenment: thinking with an added eye (Johann Gottlieb Fichte). It is definitely in accordance with this when Alvin Gouldner speaks of “reflexive sociology” and Jürgen Habermas of the “communicative society.” In talk of the “self-referentiality of the systems” (Luhmann), on the other hand, the different aspect of the relationship to the “self” occupies the center of attention. On this contrast between knowledge and not-knowing, consciousness and non-consciousness, Bourdieu occupies a mediating position. He conceives of reflexivity as systematic reflection on the unconscious presuppositions (categories) of our knowledge.
  • Zhang, J. (2010). The Regulation of China’s Stem Cell Research in the Context of Cosmopolitanization. in: Döring, O. ed. Life Sciences in Translation: A Sino-European Dialogue on Ethical Governance of the Life Sciences. BIONET, London. Available at: http://bionet-china.org/.
  • Barr, M. and Zhang, J. (2010). Bioethics and Biosecurity Education in China: Rise of a Scientific Superpower (Chapter 6). in: Rappert, B. ed. Education and Ethics in the Life Sciences. Australian National University: ANU Press, pp. 115-129. Available at: http://epress.anu.edu.au/titles/centre-for-applied-philosophy-and-public-ethics-cappe/education-and-ethics-in-the-life-sciences.
    This chapter explores ethics, education and the life sciences in China. It is based on work conducted by the authors in two separate but complimentary projects. 1 Barr’s observations derive from interviews and discussions in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with life scientists and policymakers in infectious-disease hospitals, university-research labs, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Ministry of Health. Zhang’s study focused on China’s governance of stem-cell research and involved interviews with scientists, ethicists and policymakers at more than 25 sites across China. Below, we set the context by describing the role of science in China’s quest to become a leading power and then consider the place of bioethics within China. We follow this with a discussion of three key areas that have impacted our work and describe some of the lessons we have taken from our experience for future research on bioethics education and biosecurity in China. We conclude with a set of suggestions about what can be done to further biosecurity awareness within China.

Research report (external)

  • Zhang, J., Marris, C. and Rose, N. (2011). The Transnational Governance of Synthetic Biology: Scientific uncertainty, cross-borderness and the ‘art’ of governance. For the Royal Society Science Policy Centre (UK). [Online]. BIOS (Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society). Available at: http://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/synthetic-biology/transnational-governance/.
    Synthetic biology is a new field of research that aims to 'make biology easier to engineer'. Some claim
    that it could revolutionise biotechnology to deliver applications for the energy, medical and
    agricultural sectors. However there are concerns about potential environmental and health risks, the
    creation of monopolies dominated by large multinational corporations, and the ethics of creating
    artificial life. How should synthetic biology be best governed to maximise benefits and minimise
    risks? In the last seven years, some 40 reports (in the English language alone) have addressed the
    social, ethical and legal issues raised by synthetic biology. This Working Paper, based on an extensive
    literature review and fieldwork in the UK, China and Japan, BIOS proposes a radical new approach to
    these issues.
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