Linda Hong Cheng

Linda Hong Cheng

DPhil in Sociology

Thesis: Dismantling Patriarchy, One Phone At a Time? ‘Digital Gender Circularity’ and Global Sustainable Development

Supervisors: Professor Ridhi Kashyap and Dr Charles Rahal

Linda Hong Cheng is a Clarendon Scholar at Nuffield College, affiliated with the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science (LCDS) and International Max Planck Research School for Population, Health and Data Science (IMPRS-PHDS).

Linda's research interests broadly encapsulate novel applications of computational social science (machine learning, agent based modelling, NLP, etc.) to analyses of colonial-patriarchal gender disparities, social inequalities, social demographic trends, and contentious politics. Her DPhil research, affiliated with the Gates Foundation-funded Digital Gender Gaps project, establishes ‘digital gender circularity’: The symbiotic relationships between increasing digital gender equality, offline gender equality, and global sustainable development. 

Linda is particularly interested in decolonial applications of machine learning methods within the social sciences. Most recently, she was the youngest scholar invited to contribute a chapter to the Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Machine Learning. Her chapter takes a critical decolonial approach to natural language processing (NLP) as both conceptual framework and practical toolkit, pointing out its inherent Eurocentrism and Anglocentrism. Establishing a new subfield situated at the intersections of sociology, computational methods, and China studies she terms ‘Chinese computational sociology’, Linda suggests new and exciting avenues for the incorporation of non-European languages, particularly Chinese, into NLP frameworks.

Prior to Oxford, Linda completed her MA in Regional Studies: East Asia at Columbia University, where she was the only student in her cohort fully funded by the Weatherhead East Asia Institute--FLAS Fellowship. Her Master’s thesis, forthcoming in Mobilization: An International Quarterly, uses NLP, novel dictionary methods, feature engineering, and statistical methods on novel big data from Weibo to analyse gender bias in media and government attention to protest events in Mainland China. Of particular interest in this work is how patriarchy is made, unmade, reified, and transgressed by the actions of individual actors, government bureaucracy, and media institutions.

Linda’s undergraduate senior honours thesis, winner of the prestigious Chancellor’s Best Honours Thesis Prize, uses simple survey and interview methods to analyse the complex, oft-contradictory motivations behind the 1989 Tiananmen Square student-protesters’ choice of ‘Nothing To My Name’ as their protest anthem. Through micro-exploratory profiles of civilians, protesters, and state actors, this work weaves a larger political-economic tapestry of China’s turbulent post-1978 reform era—ultimately culminating in the explosive Tiananmen protests. Linda's research critically intervenes in mainstream Western-dominated narratives of the Tiananmen protests, conceptualising the protests as a site through which students attempted to negotiate their relationship (and loss thereof) with the state—the loss of ‘everything’. 

Currently, Linda teaches:
•    Politics of Social Movements, which analyses contentious politics and state-society relations through an anti-colonial lesbian/queer feminist framework;
•    Political Activism in China, which critically analyses watershed political movements in contemporary China;
•    Sociology of Social Change, which interrogates neo-colonialism through exploring varied vehicles of social transformation in post-colonial societies throughout the world.

Summary of Thesis:
In an age of rapid technological advancement, striking digital gender gaps persist—with women 19% less likely to use mobile internet globally (Broadband Commission 2023). As access to digital technologies signifies active participation in the public sphere, those in power within patriarchal societies seek to control and/or limit women’s access to such technologies (Mariscal et al. 2019). This calls to question: What role can technology—particularly communications technology—play in shaping gender inequality trends?

Using state-of-the-art big digital trace data from Facebook spanning 2017-2023 and 193 countries, this thesis presents the first systematic cross-country analysis of the relationship between digital gender gaps and offline gender inequalities spanning more than two years. Extant theory suggests digital technology could have cogent potential to empower marginalized communities, particularly women in low-income countries. This is critical, as gender inequality kills. Preliminary results support these theories, pointing to robust positive relationships between increased digital gender equality and gender parity in education, economic participation and opportunity, and life expectancy; the effect is particularly potent for lower-income countries, with decreasing gains for higher-income countries.

Research Interests: gender, social stratification, social inequality, computational methods, digital demography

Previous Education: BA Economics & BA History, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MA Regional Studies: East Asia, Columbia University