BIO

Hello! I’m a Ph.D. Candidate of Sociology at UC Berkeley and a Visiting Sociologist at Meta AI. An economic and cultural sociologist by training, I use interviews, international fieldwork, and digital ethnographies to investigate whether technologies designed to improve our day-to-day lives meet their moral commitments by honing in on user experiences. More specifically, my dissertation explores how monetary and gifting structures in the sharing economy shape ethical and social exchange between users. My secondary project uses online dating as a case study to examine the technocultural strategies people deploy to achieve goals when they “don’t understand” algorithms.

At Meta AI, I work on the “No Language Left Behind” team to make machine translation more socially and ethically oriented.

My research and ideas have been featured on NPR (Morning Edition, All Things Considered), San Francisco Chronicle, Quartz, GQ, Vox, Mashable, HuffPost, and USA Today. 

REFEREED ARTICLES

Wang, Skyler. “Couch with Strings Attached: Reciprocal Orientations in Relational Work.” Revise and resubmit at American Sociological Review.

The emergence of the sharing economy has given rise to a class of noncommercial platforms that facilitate reciprocal exchanges aimed at cultivating solidarity and community-building. However, how moral are these relational spaces and what kinds of relationships do they stimulate? Using sexual exchange in Couchsurfing, the most intimate form of “sharing” in the gift-based hospitality network, I explore how relational work performed by hosts and guests allows economics and intimacy to coexist. To do so, I develop the concept of “reciprocal orientations”—a set of cognitive constructs comprising of generalized, positive direct, and negative direct reciprocities—to show not only how multiple reciprocities shape the formation of indebted and hierarchical relations in gift-based networks, but how interactions born out of these relational configurations produce both social and antisocial outcomes. Drawing on 96 interviews with Couchsurfers and four years of digital and in-person ethnographies, I demonstrate through online host-guest matching, in-person interactions, and user references that disparate invocations of reciprocal orientations produce four sexual forms varying in their degree of sociality—mutuality, transaction, leverage, and violation. The article ultimately concludes with implications for economic sociology and the study of alternative economies in the age of platform society.

Wang, Skyler. “Sexual Risk and Trust in Airbnb & Couchsurfing: How Exchange and Safeguards Matter in Platforms.” Under review.

In contrast to platforms facilitating monetary exchange, reciprocity-based systems are often regarded as more social and trust-driven. However, reciprocity fosters indebtedness and relational ambiguities, which may lead to riskier interactions that jeopardize sociality. I test these claims by comparing two network hospitality platforms—Airbnb (monetary) and Couchsurfing (reciprocal). Using sexual risk, an underexplored form of platform danger, and drawing on interviews with 40 female Airbnb and Couchsurfing guests, I argue that Airbnb’s provision of binding monetary exchange and institutional safeguards increases user trust and reduces risk through three mechanisms: casting initial guest-host relation into a buyer-seller arrangement, stabilizing interactional scripts, and formalizing sexual violence recourse. Conversely, Couchsurfing’s facilitation of reciprocal exchange, alongside the lack of safeguards, increases sexual precarity both on- and off-platform. This study demonstrates how platforms with strong social motivations can produce harm and concludes with implications for designs that better serve vulnerable user populations.

Wang, Skyler. 2022. “Migrant Allies & Sexual Remittances: How International Students Change the Sexual Attitudes of Those Who Remain Behind.” Sociological Perspectives 65(2):328–349.

How does moving from a sexually conservative country to a liberal one alter the way international students think about homosexuality and same-sex rights, and how does this impact their communities back home? Drawing on survey data with 90 heterosexual Singaporean students studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, as well as interview data with 17 students and 14 of their family members and friends who remained in Singapore, this study finds that despite having a broad spectrum of prior opinions, the majority of the student participants acquired increasingly accepting sexual attitudes after their relocation. Furthermore, many of them send these new conceptions as “sexual remittances” to their originating communities, changing the values of those who remain behind. This study helps lay the groundwork for further investigations of how engagements among international students and their social networks can contribute to evolving understandings of transnational sexuality and the globalization of culture.

Mukherjee, Meghna*, Margaret Eby*, Skyler Wang*, Armando Lara-Millán, and Maya Earle. 2022. “Medicalizing Risk: How Experts and Consumers Manage Uncertainty in Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Health Testing.” PLOS ONE 17(8):1-20.
(*equal authorship)

Given the increased prevalence of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic health tests in recent years, this paper delves into discourses among researchers at professional genomics conferences and lay DTC genetic test users on Reddit communities to understand the contested value of genetic knowledge and its direct implications on health management. Harnessing ethnographic observations at 5 conferences and text-analysis of 52 threads, we find both experts and lay patient-consumers navigate their own versions of “productive uncertainty.” Experts develop genetic technologies to legitimize unsettled genomics as medical knowledge and mobilize resources and products, while lay patient-consumers turn to Internet forums to gain clarity on knowledge gaps that helps better manage their genetic risk states. By showing how the uncertain nature of genomics serves as a productive force placing both parties within a mutually cooperative cycle, we argue that experts and patient-consumers co-produce a form of relational medicalization that concretizes “risk” itself as a disease state.

Watson, Ryan J., Shannon Snapp*, and Skyler Wang*. 2017. “What We Know and Where To Go From Here: A Review of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Hookup Literature.” Sex Roles 77(11- 12):801-811.
(*equal authorship)

In this paper, we acknowledge and critique the absence of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) experiences in the recent proliferation of scholarship on “hooking up” among youth (aged 16 to 24). Although previous research has documented that LGB youth hookup at high rates (up to three-quarters of LGB youth), and oftentimes more than heterosexuals, the most basic aspects of hookups (e.g., motivations, experiences, and outcomes) have not been comprehensively explored. This is pertinent because young adulthood, in particular, is a time when young people explore their sexuality. Most scholarship on hooking up has focused on White heterosexual college students, mostly due to sampling constraints and impediments, and so we are left with a critical gap in our knowledge about LGB youth—a population that is typically at higher risk for sexual, mental, and emotional health issues. We begin by reviewing the literature on hooking up among heterosexual young adults as organized by four themes: hookup definitions/frequencies, contexts, motivations, and outcomes. We do this to explicitly highlight and contrast what little is known about LGB youth hookups. We then provide a research agenda that projects how future researchers can advance this area of scholarship and begin to fill its gaps, while considering the hookup experiences of diverse LGB youth.

Babcock, Nicole, Jose Mauricio, Skyler Wang, Ryan J. Watson, and Shannon D. Snapp. “How LGBTQ+ Young Adults Navigate Personal Risk in App-Based Hookups: The Safety Spectrum Theory.” Review and resubmit at Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The hookup literature is saturated with examinations of risky sexual health practices among LGBTQ+ young adults; yet, little is known about the cognitive and behavioral orientations to personal safety practices for LGBTQ+ young adults.  By conducting one-on-one interviews with 50 LGBTQ+ young adults in British Columbia, California, and Connecticut, we developed a Safety Spectrum Theory, which uses a spectral measurement to assess how LGBTQ+ young adults negotiate safety practices and implement safety rules. This spectrum is then applied to a three-step sequence of application (app)-based hookup rituals, including online initiation, pre-meeting preparation, and in-person meet-up. Results indicated that situational factors dictated safety strategies, where individuals adapted to varying circumstances to safeguard their personal safety. We found that participants’ safety strategies may not be statically linked to identity factors, such as gender and sexual orientation, and varied in degrees of levels of safety depending on situational factors. We identified that participants moved across the spectrum depending upon contextual factors, such as the gender of potential hookup partners, and may fall on different ends of the spectrum in varying situations. From these findings, we provide evidence-based recommendations to make dating/hookup apps and public health campaigns more effective at mitigating hookup-related risks. As an example, stakeholders can better understand how safety measures are negotiated and executed through hookup apps.

NON-REFEREED CONTRIBUTIONS

“Will virtual dating outlast the pandemic?” Quartz, Published May 14, 2020.

“In Partisan 2019, Listing ‘Moderate’ Can Hurt You On Dating Apps.” HuffPost, Published Nov 8, 2019.

“Signaling Your Politics on Tinder Is a Messy Business.” GQ, Published Jun 24, 2019.

“The Affluent Homeless: A Sleeping Pod, A Hired Desk and A Handful Of Clothes.” National Public Radio (All Things Considered), Published Apr 23, 2019.

“What you need to know about online dating.” University of California Official FB Page, Published Feb 14, 2019.

“Love Data Week: Online dating expert talks data (and 5 tips for online dating).” UC Berkeley Library, Published Feb 12, 2019.

“The rise of the Tinder-themed wedding.” Mashable, Published Feb 10, 2019.

“’Dating Sunday’: The busiest day of the year for online dating is Jan. 6.” USA Today, Published Jan 5, 2019.

“Are Dating Apps Affecting Our Mental Health?” Wisconsin Public Radio, Published Nov 1, 2018.

“Millennials don’t want to own things. Startups are eager to help.” San Francisco Chronicle,  Published Sep 10, 2018.

“Finding Love in a Hopeless Place.” New Hampshire Public Radio, Published Aug 17, 2018.

“Be My (Rural) Valentine: Finding Love Outside of Town.” Jefferson Public Radio, Published Feb 14, 2018.

“What Makes Us Click: How Online Dating Shapes Our Relationships.” National Public Radio (Morning Edition), Published Jan 2, 2018.

“The Unlit Flame: My Tinder Misadventures.” The Ubyssey, Published Feb 10, 2016.

TEACHING

I teach a university seminar called “What Makes You Click: Online Dating in the Age of Modern Romance” The course focuses on using sociological perspectives to help students understand the broad cultural patterns and implications of an ever-evolving tech and data-driven orientation towards relationship formation.

This class will be offered in Spring 2021, Summer 2021, and Spring 2023 at UC Berkeley. Previously, I have taught it at the University of British Columbia.

In Summer 2022, I will teach another original course titled “The Give and Take: Sociology of the Sharing Economy.”

In recognition of my teaching efforts, I was awarded the Herbert Blumer Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching, the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, the Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Teaching Effectiveness Award for Graduate Student Instructors. Click to read the qualifying essay for this last award, “Going Public: Designing Writing Assignments with Social Impact.

Stepping outside of the academy, I also frequently give public lectures and private talks on the topic of online dating. During my free time, I enjoy mentoring individuals who seek to use an evidence-based approach to bolster their online dating game.

CV


Curriculum Vitae

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