Mengyang Zhao

About me

I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. My interdisciplinary research centers on digital labor, platformization, and social movements, with a particular focus on new forms of work, technology, diaspora and labor activism under platform and venture capitalism. My art practice leverages gamification to reimagine ways of commoning and queering the care infrastructure.

My book project, titled “The Rise of Platform Game Work in China,” historizes and analyzes the platformization, labor processes, and social implications of the play-to-earn economy in China. It draws upon longitudinal interviews, participatory observation, and archival research conducted since 2019 of three major types of platform game work—live streaming, paid boosting, and game companion/coach—that attracted an estimated 7 million workers. The unique positionality of platform game work—which is both game work and gig work—calls into question common assumptions about algorithmic systems, the platform economy, and the future of work. It reveals new circuits of labor control and resistance that are irrevocably inflected by platform ecology, gender, and class. Click here for my academic CV. 

Beyond academia, I use emerging media to engage in discussions of labor, gender, and disability rights. As a member of the Liquid Dependencies Theory (LDT) collective, I co-designed an interactive role-playing (LARP) game called Liquid Dependencies, a gamified derivative of the ReUnion Network that promotes a decentralized care-based society. The latest game version has been tested in a dozen cities in China, the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany. I am also the consultant of Alchemy of Commons, an evolving gamification-as-research project aiming to critically archive communal practices and socially-engaged art at large. 

In other universes, I am a freelance writer, an avid gamer, a rock climber, and a vlogger. Read my Chinese writings on my blog

Photo by Yi Huang
Photo by Zoe Zhao