About Me

See my CV here:

I study how people navigate uncertainty to reproduce their position of power in higher education, with a focus on qualitative and mixed methods. My dissertation, Accidental Tactics, leverages the radical shift from a test-centered to a test-optional system in Taiwan, to understand the types of uncertainty parents, teachers, and students encounter after admission reforms. Drawing on a year of ethnographic observation, 154 interviews, and archives, I theorize how privileged groups negotiate class advantage in unsettled moments. I propose a set of concepts (accidental tactics vs. precautionary strategies; intervention; and sequential rewards) to theorize class-based strategies in an evolving and shifting admissions system. My work has appeared in International Studies of Sociology of Education, along with main chapters are under review in general and subfield sociology journals. This work has been supported by Fulbright, Midwest Sociological Society, Association for Asian Studies, and Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation. My work has received numerous paper awards from the Society for the Studies of Social Problems, Midwest Sociological Society, and Comparative & International Education Society (CIES).

My other line of research focuses on status-seeking from an individual and an organizational side. In a solo-authored article, “Behind the Screen,” I explore how “digital elites” are reproduced based on how anonymous they are allowed to transcend their offline attributes into online status markers. My co-authored paper, “Exam or Applications,” discusses how universities respond to field changes when the government de-rank and re-rank universities. My future study will compare university recruitment and hiring in facing ranking disruptions between the U.S. and Taiwan across different institutional contexts.

As a methodological omnivore, all my work experiments on how ethnography can be combined with interviews, archives, digital observation, and quantitative analyses to get better answers. My master’s thesis draws on historical archives and ethnography to discuss moral evolutions within a free school. In my dissertation, I transition from online to offline settings to conduct ethnography simultaneously. My published paper “Hybrid Ethnography” in Ethnography documents some of my methodological thinking, along with the hybrid ethnography method course syllabus I developed. As a theorist, I theorize inductively from the very grounded empirical case to generalize theoretical concepts. This grounded approach allows me to challenge the rooted presumptions adopted by Western scholars using what I call a “second society” lens.

Before coming to Madison, I published my first book, Let The Timber Creek: An Alternative School’s Utopia for Coming Generations, named one of the ten most influential books of 2016 by China Times. This book draws on my five-year ethnography in a free school to investigate how adults empower teens to self-govern themselves and the tensions between freedom and control of this power dynamic. Currently, I am working on my second book manuscript, Accidental Tactics, from my dissertation at UW-Madison. Before pursuing my Ph.D., I worked in Taiwan Congress as an educational specialist and was selected as one of the eight Fulbright scholars studying social science. 

You can contact me via mikki.liu@wisc.edu. Follow my Twitter handle for further updates. My google scholar and ORCID offer updates on my work.