Research & Impact
Professor Annie Chan: A commitment to Lingnan
If there is one key word that could describe Professor Annie Chan, it is commitment — her commitment to Lingnan. A position that opened at Lingnan was the first job she applied for — and got — when she returned to Hong Kong following her graduation with a PhD in Sociology from University of Oxford. “I’ve been here ever since,” says Prof Chan.
Today, she is Associate Professor of Department of Sociology and Social Policy. In addition to her research duties, she teaches two courses, one called Sexuality and Society, the other Family, Gender and Society. She is also Associate Dean (Undergraduate Studies) of Faculty of Social Sciences and Programme Director for the Bachelor of Social Sciences (Hons) Degree Programme, as well as a member of the University Council.
Her plate is not only full, it is overflowing; but her commitment sustains her, in research, in teaching, and in administration.
A research focus on gender
The common theme in Prof Chan’s research is gender. “Gender is the main thread that runs through all the research that I do,” she says. “But unlike other researchers, my profile isn’t in one specific area.”
Indeed, Prof Chan has an astonishingly wide range of research interests, from police officers and transnational professional couples in Hong Kong to sexual harassment in Hong Kong versus Mainland China and marriage age in both regions.
An evolving research profile
First, Prof Chan studied the role of women police officers — a subject that had never been addressed in Hong Kong before. Hers is one of the very few such studies in the world.
From this study of women in the Hong Kong Police Force, she discovered how important gender still is in all aspects of police work. Although conditions for women police officers have improved significantly, there is a lot of room for improvement, as women police officers still get treated differently just because they are women. Some of her findings can now be seen on the official website of the Hong Kong Police Force.
Second, she is now looking at the intimate and family relations of transnational professionals in Hong Kong, especially couples. “My project focuses on female ‘lead migrants’ and male ‘trailing spouses.’ I study couples where the woman made the decision to come to Hong Kong for work, and the man came along as a dependent spouse or partner.
“We found that although the women we spoke to were the lead migrants, they still have to do a lot of emotional labour on behalf of their spouses or partners. Men in these situations face issues such as opening a bank account — the bank manager usually assumes the man is not the trailing spouse. Women who are lead migrants have had to come up with creative resolutions to these issues so their dependent partners or spouses can ‘maintain their masculinity.’”
Third, she is also doing commissioned research for the Equal Opportunities Commission, comparing how Hong Kong women and Mainland Chinese women handle sexual harassment in the workplace. The project, which will be completed at the end of 2017, has so far discovered that Mainland Chinese women have fewer reported experiences of sexual harassment. “This seems counter-intuitive, but it could be due to the lower level of knowledge they have about sexual harassment, or different ideas about what constitutes sexual harassment,” says Prof Chan.
Fourth, Prof Chan’s latest project will start in January 2018, when she will look at delayed marriage among men and women in Hong Kong and Shanghai — a trend not just in China but also internationally.
Why this is happening is not clear. Part of it may be due to the prolonging of formal education in Hong Kong, while another factor is the high cost of housing in both cities.
“We want to find out why people are delaying marriage,” Prof Chan says. “My main interest is how they manage the need for intimacy given that people are remaining single for long. Before, everybody was expected to get married and have kids — it was all taken for granted.”
She wonders whether people who choose to remain single will have lives that are better or worse. “It’s a very interesting phenomenon. Our account of it will likely have practical applications for policy and theoretical implications for sociology.”