Chinese Social Skills Workshops as Moral Laboratories


5:30 PM - 7:00 PM


  • 时间: 17:30-19:00
  • 日期: 2021年11月3日,星期三
  • 地点: HS436 & Zoom (请联系 获取更多线上参与详情)


Self-help psychology is often critiqued as "chicken soup" for social control and economic exploitation. My research complicates this critical view, arguing that Chinese youth use personal growth groups as spaces for experimenting with new moral values. Drawing on extensive fieldwork on self-help psychology in Beijing, this talk describes how young professionals in social skills training clubs present themselves as modern and individualistic. By performing morally charged scripts for their fellow club members, youth are better able to understand how others see them. This practice grounds them in social networks and shared systems of social evaluation. Club members work to align their self-presentation with what they perceive as modern forms of gender, consumer lifestyle, and values. Therefore, as youth in these workshops try to appear urban, individualistic, and confident, self-help practices channel their anxieties into reproducing social distinctions and into constructing an imagined national modernity. By approaching self-help groups as moral laboratories, we can gain insight into how youth try to establish social integration and moral security in alienating cities and rapidly changing societies.


Amir Hampel is an Assistant Professor Faculty Fellow of Social Science at New York University Shanghai. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago's Department of Comparative Human Development in 2017. From 2018 to 2020, Amir was a postdoctoral fellow at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. Amir has conducted ethnographic and textual research on self-help psychology in China. Now he is beginning a research project about new therapies that use Chinese medicine to treat children diagnosed with developmental disorders, particularly ADHD and autism.