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Q&A with Yiran Zhang

Yiran Zhang joins the faculty of the Labor Relations, Law, & History Department, where she will continue her research on care labor and informal work. She comes to Cornell after earning both her doctorate and her master of laws degrees from Harvard Law School. Zhang earned her bachelor of laws degree from Tsinghua University.

What is your research about?

My research studies the governance of care work at the intersection of the often-informal labor markets and the economic household. I am interested in the ways in which law and policies shape the power dynamics affecting paid and unpaid social reproductive labor, especially the labor that is traditionally associated with “women’s work.” My first stream of research uses interview-based methods to study how law and market norms impacts informal workers’ workplace, family, and migration strategies in Asia. My second stream of research examines how the U.S. public spending programs shape the care economy, the life of workers, care recipients, and their families in it, and work law at large.

How did you become interested in your field?

At the beginning of my doctoral studies, I met an undocumented Filipina domestic worker in China. Her surprising life trajectory, profound understanding of work and law, and dynamic migrant worker community challenged how I had understood employment and labor law. This experience has inspired me to study work law in social contexts.

What impact do you hope your research will have?

First, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of family as an economic institution where labor and property is exchanged, and an institution that is deeply embedded in the global political economy. I hope to enrich our understanding of the power dynamics inside the economic family and between the family and the market.

Second, I hope to better understand work law-in-action from marginalized workers’ perspectives, especially the perspective of low-wage female workers in the informal economy, and thus to generate work law solutions that improve their workplace and family conditions.

What attracted you to the ILR School?

The ILR School is where all of my research interests come together, and so I felt a strong connection immediately. First, the ILR School has a community of interdisciplinary scholars studying labor and workplace issues. My research takes the interdisciplinary approach to work law and converses with scholarship from different fields. Second, the ILR School hosts a group of stellar legal scholars as well as scholars interested in international and comparative labor issues. My research interests integrate both. Last but not the least, I am always attracted to practice-informed scholarship, and, thus, I very much look forward to the opportunity to engage with labor practitioners and community leaders through the Worker’s Institute in my research and teaching.

What are you most excited for about your time at ILR?

The opportunity to learn from and work with my colleagues and students.

Cornell’s “Any Person, Any Study” ethos – how will you be part of that?

I am proud to be part of the Cornell community where students and scholars from all backgrounds and with different perspectives learn with and learn from each other. My mind also goes back to the low-wage female workers that I did interviews with. I hope that my class would be accessible and resonating to them, their children, and students from similar backgrounds.

If you could share one piece of advice with your students, what would it be?

Find something that you love to do and become good at it.

Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?

Baking, thrifting and listening to podcasts.

What was the best part of your college experience?

Studying abroad in Paris in my junior year. It’s like a dose of cultural shock therapy to live in a strange city and I barely spoke French. It took me some good amount of struggling to figure out an internet account in the beginning. But I ended up having a lot of fun exploring the country.

What’s something people are surprised to learn about you?

I was featured in a car-towing YouTube video with over 600,000 views.

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