My academic career began with an attempt to decipher the so-called “the Taiwan economic miracle.” My first book, Boss” Island: The Subcontracting Network and Micro-Entrepreneurship in Taiwan’s Development, argues that the subcontracting network provided a key: its variegated and tiny units of production, its flexible mobilization and combination of these units, its downward-squeezing mechanism, its deployment of homeworkers, and its opportunity for “becoming one’s own boss.” This was the hidden abode of Taiwanese capitalism at its export-oriented phase.
“Becoming one’s boss” was a super-entrepreneurial motive for Taiwanese wage workers. Did they really think and act so? My second book, Labor Only: Essays on the Labor Regime in Taiwan, presents a further deciphering of the category of “wage” disclosed that the “labor-only consciousness” dominated their everyday life in the shop floor. Only when the employment relationship threatened to break asunder did they realize that their labor power meant more than their piece wage only, thanks to the specifications of labor law.
My fourth book, All Walks of Life: When Workers of Kaohsiung City Encountered Commodity Fetishism, is a phenomenological investigation of commodity fetishism as it is encountered by Taiwanese workers. Would they be enchanted by, or are they able to penetrate this magic power of capitalism? Is it possible that they penetrate but still embrace the “simultaneously securing and obscuring of surplus value,” the defining mechanism of capitalism?
Gradually, I realize that fieldwork is not only a technique, but also engages researchers with the fundamental issues of sociology, epistemological reflection and their ultimate concern. It is therefore a quaternary practice. I advised a group of graduate students to carry out their research projects in this vein and edited a volume of their experience of fieldwork as a quaternary practice, entitled So I Do My Fieldwork: Personal Journals of a Quaternary Practice. The redefinition of fieldwork will unleash its potential so far untapped.
A historical sense of the discipline is bound to open its future. Hence I invited some dozen of Taiwanese sociologists to make a critical review of the development of several areas of studies, such as family, gender, enterprise, stratification, labor, the state, the civil society, ethnicity and migration, entitled Interlocution: A Thematic History of Taiwanese Sociology, 1945-2005. An “interlocution” from this collective endeavor, as the title of this edited volume suggests, reveals that the state, market and family are, among other things, three key mechanisms guiding the Taiwanese society, that Taiwanese sociology has moved from a functional to a conflict paradigm, and that Taiwanese sociology has gone through several stages, from citing, through applying, to challenging the American sociology.
While recognizing Power is Knowledge, which collective social action may directly challenge and sometimes change, I nevertheless believe that Knowledge is Power, especially the profound knowledge that can bring to light the disguising mechanisms that make power as knowledge. That kind of profound knowledge comes from rigorous and original academic research at its base.
As a Taiwanese sociologist doing research on Taiwan, I have to face the default question: What is the significance of the Taiwan case for sociology? Even though I believe that academic world is truly democratic in the sense that no case is privileged simply because of its position in the political economy of the world, I, as a sociologist in a semi-periphery country, have no choice but to prove it by high-caliber academic research.
Shieh, Gwo-Shyong, 2000, “Cultivation, Control and Dissolution: The Historical Transformation of the Labor Union Act of Taiwan, 1911-1990.”, editor(s): Marcel Van Der Linden,Richard Price, The Rise and Development of Collective Labor Law, pp. 265-290, Bern: Peter Lang. (Full Text)