2024 BACS Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis

This year the Best Doctoral Award jury was composed of Professors Francesca Bray of Edinburgh, Peter Gries of Manchester, and Bing-Chun Meng of LSE, and we thank them for their time and work. The prize is £500.

We had 12 submissions this year. The field was strong and the quality of the theses was excellent. The full commendation and details of the award, along with the abstracts of the joint winners, will be posted on the BACS website.

One joint winner is Luis Bernardi Junqueira of Cambridge. The title of his thesis is: “The Science of the Spirit: Psychical Research, Healthcare and the Revival of the Occult in a Mod-ernising China, 1900–1949.” To quote from his abstract:

I examine how Republican Chinese reformers adopted and adapted Euro-American psychical research to address societal challenges in their pursuit of modernity. I contend that the Chinese appropriation of psychical research disrupted the conventional boundaries between science, religion and superstition, inspiring an alternative vision of modernity – one that aimed to embrace the mental or psychic aspects of reality as the foundation for a more materially advanced and spiritually prosperous China.

Congratulations to Luis.

The other joint winner is Ronggang Chen of LSE. The title of his thesis is “‘Protecting Our Best Brother China’: Fangirls, Youth Political Participation and Nationalism in Contemporary China.” And here’s his abstract:

The ongoing concern with the intersection of fandom and nationalism has sparked discussions of civic and political participation in different social contexts. This research investigates “fangirls”, a young female-led fan community of Chinese pop idols that gained attention from a high-profile event in 2019, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement. Participants from Hong Kong and mainland China engaged in dramatic clashes on social media. The clashes stemmed from the Hong Kong protesters’ condemnation of local celebrities for their silence on sensitive political issues out of fear of damaging commercial interests on the mainland. In response, the fan communities from the mainland mobilized under the slogan “Protect Our Best Brother A’Zhong (China’s nickname)”, flooding to Twitter and Instagram to “occupy” the protesters’ threads. This action turned from a fan-based campaign in defense of the idols into a nationalist movement in defense of China. By conducting an ethnographic study with both online and offline components, the author investigates the cultural practice, political subject, and historical significance of fangirls. After providing a historical overview of youth political participation in modern China, the author lays out the theoretical framework and explain the research design of this study. The first empirical chapter examines the development of China’s idol culture and emphasizes the idea of “persona” in fangirls’ activities in a data-driven media context. Fangirls developed distinct principles of action in quasi-political activities that have been appropriated for political participation. Chapter Five then explores how fangirls became nationalists. China was “idolized” as “Brother A’Zhong” and the notion of “brotherland” emerged, while the principles derived from fandom reshaped fangirls’ perceptions of “civility” and “rationality” in the cultural and political realms. The last empirical chapter focuses on the historical significance of fangirls, which has received little attention. The author situates fangirls within the history of China’s modernization and explore how they reimagined their relationship with the nation-state. By a historically informed sociological approach and an interdisciplinary analytical framework, my efforts of revisiting the nationalist expressions of fangirls advance the understanding of both fandom culture and youth political participation.

Congratulations to Ronggang.