Ya-Wen Lei

Professor of Sociology


Ya-Wen Lei (雷雅雯) is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. She is also affiliated with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard. Trained in both law and sociology, she holds a LL.M. and a J.S.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan in 2013, she was a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (2013–2016). In the academic year 2018–2019, she was a visiting professor at Sciences Po in France.

She is the author of The Contentious Public Sphere: Law, Media, and Authoritarian Rule in China (Princeton University Press, 2018). Her second book, The Gilded Cage: Techno-State Capitalism in China, is forthcoming with Princeton University Press in November 2023. She has published in general sociological journals (American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and Socius), specialized social science journals (Law and Society Review, Work, Employment and Society, and Political Communication), and a China studies journal (The China Quarterly). Her publications have received awards from the American Sociological Association, the Law and Society Association, and The China Quarterly—the leading interdisciplinary journal in China studies.

Research Interests: Sociology; law; political sociology; law & society; economic sociology; sociology of media and information technologies; sociology of work; labor and labor movements; science and technology studies; development; and Chinese studies.

Selected Publications


Recent Articles and Chapters

  • Ya-Wen Lei. 2021. “Delivering Solidarity: Platform Architecture and Collective Contention in China’s Platform Economy.” American Sociological Review: 86(2) 279-309. 
  • Ya-Wen Lei.”Upgrading China through Automation: Manufacturers, Workers and the Techno-Developmental State.” Work, Employment and Society.May 2021.
  • Ya-Wen Lei. 2021. “Publics, Scientists, and the State: Mapping the Global Human Genome Editing Controversy.” The China Quarterly 246:400-427. 
  • Ya-Wen Lei. 2020. “Revisiting China’s Social Volcano: Attitudes toward Inequality and Political Trust in China.” 6 Socius: 1-21 (Featured Article).
  • Ya-Wen Lei. 2016. “Freeing the Press: How Field Environment Explains Critical News Reporting in China.” American Journal of Sociology 122 (1): 1-49, Lead Article).
  • Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou. 2015. “Contesting Legality in Authoritarian Contexts: Food Safety, Rule of Law and China’s Networked Public Sphere.”  Law & Society Review 49 (3): 557-593 (Lead Article). 
  • Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou. 2015. “Embedding Law into Politics in China’s Networked Public Sphere” (The Internet, Social Media, and a Changing China, Jacques deLisle, Avery Goldstein, and Guobin Yang, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press).


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