Dr Linzhi Zhang

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

I was trained as a sociologist but then drawn to arts during my time spent in Europe/European museums. Hence, I am happily pursuing my passions for both sociology and art. My doctoral research is the first comprehensive sociological investigation of contemporary Chinese art. Instead of studying the societal or political conditions surrounding the art world, it focuses on the immediate institutional environment that affects directly the majority of Chinese contemporary artists. I call this environment “the exhibitionary system”. It refers to art institutions that have exhibition-making as their primary task (e.g. museums, commercial galleries and biennials) and the personal networks between artistic directors, curators and artists that connect these institutions. Since exhibition-making has become, beyond its traditional role of showcasing art, an integral way of producing art, my doctoral thesis explains how art is produced in the exhibitionary system in China. In particular, I highlight how artists’ careers and ways of production are conditioned by the requirements of exhibitions and the art-historiographic consciousness.

My current research project, funded by the British Academy, originally proposed to study migrant workers as unrecognised co-producers and corporeal materials of contemporary Chinese art. Having found out that the visuals of migrant workers are predominantly male and made by male artists, I extend the focus to labour as a gendered issue. More specifically, I examine not only how artists critically engage with the work conditions and experiences of women, but also how women fare in artistic careers in postsocialist China. The gendered perspective is urgently needed because visuals of migrant workers have been predominantly male and created by male artists, whereas Chinese women are disappearing from both visual representations of workers and the labour market. According to the International Labour Organization, from 1990 to 2015, Chinese women’s labour force participation rate dropped from 73% to 63%. It is therefore particularly relevant to examine women’s labour in visual representations, as well as in the creative industry, given the low presence of women artists.

Apart from my research, I also enjoy writing (mostly in Chinese) to a general public. I have been running a WeChat official account named Arts-Sociology for 6 years, introducing research and fun facts related to the sociological studies of art. I also write for art magazines.

Research Interests

Social theories of art, The social process of artistic production, The Exhibitionary System, The art market (commercial galleries in particular), Postcolonialism, Art historiography


2013 – 2018: PhD in Sociology. University of Cambridge. Dissertation title: Contemporary Art and the Exhibitionary System: China as a Case Study

2010 – 2013: M.A in sociology. Heidelberg University

2006 – 2010: B.A. in Social sciences. Tsinghua University


Zhang, L. (2022). Scenography and the Production of Artworks in Contemporary Art. Cultural Sociology. 1-25

Zhang, L. (2022). Book Review: YAPP, Hentyle. 2021. Minor China: Method, Materialisms, and the Aesthetic. Durham: Duke University Press.China Perspectives, 80- 81. https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.13350

Zhang, L. (2020). Interview with Wang Huangsheng. Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, 7(1), pp. 149-163. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/jcca_00023_7

Zhang L. (2020) The Diffusion of Galleries in China (1991–2016). In: Glauser A., Holder P., Mazzurana T., Moeschler O., Rolle V., Schultheis F. (eds) The Sociology of Arts and Markets. Sociology of the Arts. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-39013-6_12

Zhang, L. (2016). Book Review: Between State and Market: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Post-Mao Era, by J. DeBevoise. China Information, 30(1), 101-102. https://doi.org/10.1177/0920203X16629738

Zhang, L., Qu, Y., Cao, X., and Guo, K. (2013). Rural migrants as marginalised citizens: a report on dealers in fake invoices near Xizhimen metro station, in Q. Li & H. Wang (Ed.), Urban Sociology: Beijing City Social Life Survey (pp. 378 – 388). Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press. (in Chinese)