Poe Yu-ze Wan


Research Interests:

My research agenda encompasses three main areas: interdisciplinary social theories and the philosophy of social science; political sociology and democratic innovation; the theory and history of Marxism.

First, interdisciplinary social theories and the philosophy of social science:

I have always been keenly interested in interdisciplinary teaching and research. In my doctoral thesis, since one of my main research concerns is to deal with social complexity, social emergence, and social causality in the context of systems thinking, I have to utilize many interdisciplinary sources. For example, when I discuss the related issues regarding social emergence, I use a great deal of literature in philosophy of biology; when I discuss mechanism-based explanation, the literature I use encompasses philosophy of science, historical sociology, politics, economics, and philosophy of economics. My research in this area mainly benefits from the philosophical framework developed by Mario Bunge (1919-2020), a world-renowned philosopher of science. The research in this area results in the monograph Reframing the Social: Emergentist Systemism and Social Theory (a book based on my doctoral dissertation) and a series of papers published in international journals such as Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Current Sociology, Critical Sociology, and Science & Education.

In the recent years, I have worked to integrate interdisciplinary theories on the social theoretical and meta-theoretical levels. The following are the two main research results:

First, I try to build a social theoretical framework that can encompass the evolutionary thinking. The outcome of such a research attempt is my article “How to Stop Worrying and Love the Evolutionary Thinking: From Thomas Kuhn’s ‘Evolutionary Turn’ to ‘Generalized Darwinism’.” This article starts with Thomas Kuhn’s evolutionary turn to address the relationship between evolutionary theory and social scientific research, and tries to outline a version of “generalized Darwinism,” that is, a meta-theoretical framework that centers around variation, heritance, and selection. Moreover, it demonstrates that human agency and Lamarckism (“Spencerian selection”) are fully compatible with such a framework. As I have argued in this paper, I hope such research can help overcome the common “biophobia” in social sciences. This article also advances a number of epistemological stances that help set itself apart from the infamous “biological imperialism.”

Second, in my article “Social Theorizing in Light of Interdisciplinary Studies: A Perspective from Analytical Sociology,” I attempt to illustrate the ways in which  interdisciplinary studies can inform social theorizing with three inter-connected aspects. First, I demonstrate how neuroscientifically-based philosophy of mind can be instrumental in addressing core issues in social theory discussed since Durkheim such as the question of social emergence, complexity, and reduction. Second, I argue for the ways in which cognitive neuroscience helps to provide microfundations for significant theoretical concepts or causal explanation in social theories, and thereby valuable for supporting, enriching, modifying or rejecting these concepts and explanations. Third, with the example of recent research into “strong reciprocity,” I illustrate the ways in which disciplines such as experimental economics, anthropology, social psychology, and ethics collaborate with cognitive neuroscience and investigate the core issue in social theories, that is, what Talcott Parsons called the Hobbesian problem of (social) order. From the perspective of action theory, this article attempts to open up a richer model of human beings besides the traditional homo sociologicus and homo economicus by utilizing interdisciplinary resources. Human beings can also be, for instance, homo aestimans, homo creativus, homo emotionalis, homo reciprocans, and so on.

II. Democratic Innovations: The Investigation into Political Sociology and Political Theory

Democratic innovations have always been at the heart of my political concerns, which are, as a result, reflected in my research and writings. Among the various forms, “participatory budgeting” (PB) is a significant part of the global process of democratic innovations; to this day there have been more than 1,500 cities which have claimed to have used such a process. I’m one of the very few scholars who have researched on the process of participatory budgeting both in Latin America and in Taiwan. Some of my research results have been published.

Among my research results, the chapter “Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil: Myth and Reality” in the monograph on PB, Participatory Budgeting: Our Budget, Our Decision (edited by Cheng Li-Chun), critically reviews the textbook case of Porto Alegre’s participatory budgeting. In that chapter I outline the origins, workings, transformations, and the recent deterioration of the Porto Alegre’s PB in detail, pointing out that Porto Alegre’s PB is materialized under very specific political and social circumstances in Brazil. Porto Alegre’s PB is closely related to the relationship between the Worker’s Party’s political platform and actions and the roles that it played in Brazil’s political society. Therefore, we cannot treat participatory budgeting as a universal set of standard that can be applied to the whole globe.

The conference paper published at the Annual Conference of Taiwanese Sociological Association in 2013, “Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre and Buenos Aires: A Comparative Study,” on the other hand, is a comparative research on the history of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre and in Buenos Aires. In this paper, by comparing Porto Alegre’s PB from 1989 to 2004 (during which the Worker’s Party was the ruling party, and since its loss of its hold in Porto Alegre in 2004, the PB in that city was in gradual decline) and Buenos Aires’s PB between 2004 to 2008, I point out that the differences in the internal configuration of the civil and political societies in the two cities shape the contours and development of participatory budgeting. I argue that for participatory budgeting to operate systematically and stably, there needs to be several prerequisites. First, it takes a blossoming civil society where social issues are visible to the public for PB to develop. When social issues are kept under wraps, the people can be manipulated by the state and the process of participatory budgeting becomes a means for justifying the state’s forceful implementation of its policies. As a result PB has little substantial effects on policy-making. Second, PB only survives in a thriving political society. In such a context, PB can stimulate the development of a civil society while providing a channel to translate the demands of a civil society into the political institutions. Last, there must be good interaction and medium between the civil society and political society. Otherwise, the “state-society synergy” will be hard to pull off. 

Apart from studying the Latin American experience, I also actively take part in the participatory budgeting in many Taiwan counties and cities, thereby exerting some influence on Taiwan’s policy-making. Besides executing a year-long participatory budgeting in Kaohsiung, I have written two articles in English to review the process of PB in Taiwan. The article “Outsourcing Participatory Democracy: Critical Reflections on the Participatory Budgeting Experiences in Taiwan” examines the developmental drive and institutional traits of Taiwan’s PB by utilizing the analytical framework “state power - political society - civil society” that I developed earlier. This also points out the ways in which under specific circumstances the unique “outsourcing system” in Taiwan can have certain substantial impacts on the performance of the “contractors” (scholars, NGOs, or enterprises) in the promotion, organization, and mobilization of the participatory process.

Moreover, the article published in French, “Taiwan: democratie, auto determination et projet socialiste,” with the examples of the anti-ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) protest and the Sunflower Movement, examines Taiwan’s democratic experiences, the limitations of left-wing unificationists and independentists, and  the democratic prospects in Taiwan and China in light of “integral democracy.” Its English version, “Beyond Fear and Complacency: Critical Remarks on Taiwan’s Democracy and Its Aporia” has also been published in America’s veteran socialist journal New Politics in 2015.

III. The Theory and History of Marxism

Since my graduate years, I have systematically studied and translated works on Marxism in Europe and America over the past 50 years. Between 2010 and 2016, I tackled Marxist debates less directly in my academic publications (with the exception of the article “Dialectics, Complexity, and the Systemic Approach: Towards a Critical Reconciliation,” published in Philosophy of the Social Sciences in 2013. The article investigates Friedrich Engels’s dialectics of nature from the perspectives of continental European history of ideas and systemic thinking while evaluating critically the thinking of contemporary “dialectical scientists,” such as Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin, Richard Levins, and Stephen Jay Gould). But since 2017 I have gradually “returned” to the research on Marxism in general and Karl Marx in particular and published a series of works.

First, in 2017 I wrote an elaborate “Introduction” essay for the Linking Publishing’s edition of Das Kapital in Chinese.” This article, based on the relevant research done in Britain, the Unites States, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, reconstructs the genealogy of the publication of Das Kapital and its reception in different countries. I also outline the structure and logic of Das Kapital based on my own training in the philosophy and methodology of social science. I propose to view the three volumes of Das Kapital as the gradual development of a logical structure and re-examine Marx’s conception of scientific law from a critical realist point of view. I argue that Marx’s economic theory focuses on structures, mechanisms and tendencies (and counter-tendencies), not the regularity of events as emphasized by positivism. Moreover, having compared Marx’s original manuscripts and Engel’s editorial work, I re-examine a couple of common myths about Marxism, including “the law of absolute pauperization,” and “the Marxian theory of capitalist breakdown.” Later I expand the argument of this article by supplementing multiple perspectives from literature, politics and ecology and it became the monograph, A Comprehensive Guide to Das Kapital: Editions, Genealogies, Controversies and Contemporary Values (2018).

In addition, I also published a book called The Unknown Karl Marx in 2018. This book is divided into eight major themes: life, human and nature, religion, dialectics, history, capitalism, state and revolution, socialism and communism, which encompass Marx’s main philosophical, sociological, economic and political thinking. The book adopts a special format: an introductory essay on each theme heads some representative paragraphs selected from the original texts (which can be exemplary in clarifying common misunderstandings) for the section reading. Because translation can affect the readers’ understanding greatly, I have polished and revised the translation in each selected reading based on the German edition and provided the reasons for amendment when necessary.

Having completed two books about Marx, I’m in the preparatory stage for the third monograph, after which I will take a temporary break away from research on Marx and Marxism. Based on the content of the second edition of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (known as MEGA²), this book will examine many issues such as Marx’s political thinking, political practice and his notes on natural science.