Aaron Su

Anthropology Graduate Student

Degrees prior to starting this degree program:

B.A. in Anthropology, Columbia University, 2019

Areas of Interest:

Medical and Environmental Anthropology; Anthropology of Technology and Design; Feminist Science Studies; Critical Ethnic and Indigenous Studies; East Asia (Taiwan and China).

Field Research Plans/History:

Aaron is a doctoral candidate working across medical and environmental anthropology, the anthropology of technology and design, and critical ethnic and Indigenous studies. 

His dissertation, “Asserting Indigenous ’Self-Sufficiency’: Inclusive Design and Its Limits in a Precarious Taiwan,” investigates the rise of participatory design as a government strategy to innovate new medical and agricultural technologies with rural Indigenous communities in Taiwan. He interrogates how such inclusionary policies based on “design thinking” often ignore questions of historical and structural inequality, as well as obscure contradictory quests for nation-building and Indigenous self-determination—two different notions of “self-sufficiency”—in a precarious contemporary Taiwan. Through 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this book project examines how Amis Indigenous communities insist that systemic issues like economic inequalities, lack of health resources, and severed land relations well exceed the scope of design practices. In four empirical chapters, he argues that participatory policies open up gray zones of power for communities to tactically seize resources and steward new institutions that accord with their needs.

Aaron’s research—across Taiwan and China—has been supported by organizations like the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Program, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative, the Association for Asian Studies/Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, and the American Ethnological Society.

Prior to his doctoral work, Aaron earned a BA in Anthropology from Columbia University, for which he conducted an ethnographic project in Shanghai.

Publications, Multimedia Projects:

Journal Article

2021. “The Picture as a Moving Image: Visual Politics in Contemporary China.” Visual Anthropology Review 37(1): 77-99.

Public Scholarship

2023. “Multispecies Anthropology.” American Anthropologist, Virtual Issue.

2023. “Shezidao (社子島) as a Limit Case for Democracy in Taiwan?  A Conversation with Jeffrey Hou.New Bloom Magazine.

2023. “The Limits of ‘Ecological Development’: Preserving Lifeworlds on Taipei’s Shezidao.” Taiwan Insight.

2023. “Cultures of Diversity and Inclusion: Anthropological Disruptions.” American Ethnologist website, Curated Collection.

2023. “Labors of g0v: Rethinking work from the perspective of data activists.” Taiwan Insight.

2022. “Pandemic Dwelling.” Visualizing the Virus, Curated Research Cluster, contributions by Alex Blanchette and Didier Fassin.

Membership/activities in graduate student events or organizations:

Co-Editor, Society for East Asian Anthropology column, Anthropology News

Contributing Editor, American Anthropologist

Editorial Intern, American Ethnological Society

Organizing Committee, North American Taiwan Studies Association Conference