I want to...

HKU-CUHK joint sociological forum series: Action chains as networks in practice – Informal help and medical care access in China

By Cheris Shun-ching Chan, HKU

Fri 15 Feb 2019
4:00 - 5:30 pm


Rm422, Sino Building, CUHK

For decades economic sociology has been dominated by the embeddedness approach centering on the structure of social connections. More recently the relational work approach focusing on the process of making, negotiating, and maintaining social connections has gained in popularity. These two approaches are often posited as in contrast to each other. This paper aims at bridging the gap between these two paradigms. The concept of “action chains” is developed to incorporate the relational work approach to social network analysis in order to theorize the mechanism of network-based informal help. Empirical data are based on twenty-five months (2011-2014) of ethnographic research on patients mobilizing personal relationships to gain access to medical care in China.

The analysis focuses on the agentic processes of help-seeking and help-provision that gave rise to action chains, which function as temporary structures to shape subsequent concrete helping processes and interactions. The mechanism of network-based informal help is found to work through a dynamic interplay between pre-existing network ties, processes of relational work, and the temporary structures of action chains. The mechanism is suggestive of various possibilities for researching networks in practice.

Cheris Shun-ching Chan is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include culture, economic practices, healthcare, globalization, new social movements, and Chinese societies. She is the author of the award-winning book, Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Her writings have also appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, British Journal of Sociology, Theory and Society, Social Psychology Quarterly, China Quarterly, International Sociology, and Developing World Bioethics. Chan is currently working on two projects, the doctor-patient relationship in China and the lasting struggle of the Falun Gong.

Main Language