Migrations, Integration and Diversity

Interactional expertise, forms and the Imitation Game: the integration of migrants in Beijing municipality

This project is a study of the integration of migrant populations in contemporary China. The main objective is to analyze how different groups, especially “migrants” versus “locals”, interact and see each other within urban areas. It also features the development of a software used to estimate and to record information related to the integration of a group of individuals with regard to another group.

The study of diversity, here understood as variations of shared understandings between groups of people, is highly relevant for China, since it is home to a very large and diverse population. The high-speed economic growth in the last decades was accompanied by significant changes, including a very rapid urbanization characterized by the emergence of mega industrial cities and massive internal migrations towards these new industrial poles, which house approximately 300 million mobile workers known as the “floating population” (liudong renkou 流动人口). 

In cities such as Beijing,  groups composed by people of different backgrounds end up sharing a same urban space. However, these individuals are often not incorporated as residents, due to the bind to one's birthplace enforced by the household registration system (hukou 户口) in China. The aim of this research is to understand how, in this context,  these various groups identify themselves, how they identify other groups, and to what extend they understand the ways of living and of thinking of people involved in "other groups".

The project addresses these core research questions through a  new and innovative methodological tool known as the Imitation Game. Inspired by the work of famous mathematician Alan Turing, and adapted for the social sciences by sociologists Harry Collins and Robert Evans at Cardiff University, this approach consists of conducting experiments between social groups understood as different one from another (either by the researchers or by the individuals themselves, e.g. Catholics and Protestants, migrants and locals etc.). During the experiment, members of two (or more) groups are invited to interact with each other by asking and answering questions and trying to identify who is who. The experiment is administered through specific software which regulates and records the participants’ interactions. 

In the context of this research project on China’s internal migrations, the Imitation Game methodology is used to compare Beijing’s native residents (i.e. holders of a Beijing "resident permit" or hukou 户口) with migrants from Hebei province (i.e. holders of Hebei resident permits). The members of these two groups are invited to ask and answer questions between each other and try to identify which answer(s) come from “locals” or from “migrants”. The score of each group is subsequently analyzed along with the sets of exchanged questions and answers. Together with Basile Zimmermann's framework of waves and forms, the results of the imitation game are expected to provide a detailed account of the groups’ shared interactional expertise (Collins and Evans 2002), and contribute to identify possible forms (Zimmermann 2015) enabling or preventing the integration of migrants in the municipality of Beijing. To these ends, the thesis also entails the development of a mobile app of the Imitation Game software, better suited to Chinese users and designed to collect the necessary qualitative and quantitative data. 

This project is registered in Information Systems and hosted by the Institut Confucius de l'Université de Genève. It is led by Dr. Basile Zimermann and prof. Giovanna di Marzo Serugendo

For more information please contact the project's main researcher Ozan Sahin.



Sahin, O. (2014). « Technologies de l’information et expertise interactionnelle: rencontres et travaux avec QIU Zeqi et Harry Collins ». In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève.



Social Studies of Expertise and Experience Workshop #11, with the participation of Melbourne University, University of Virginia, Arizona State University, University of Waterloo, Villanova University, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Helsinki, University of Ottawa, Wilfrid Laurier University, James Madison University (see the flyer). Organized by the Institut Confucius in collaboration with Cardiff University and Renmin University. University of Geneva, May 2017.

"Information technology, organization and social change in China" (see the video), followed by "Tacit Knowledge, Interactional Expertise and the Imitation Game" (see the video). Workshop, conferences and sociological experience with professors Harry Collins (Cardiff University) and QIU Zeqi (Peking University), organized by the Institut Confucius in collaboration with the Graduate Institute. University of Geneva, March 2014.

“Waves and Elements: Toward a new conceptualization of culture”, School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, United Kingdom, December 2013.

“Waves, Forms, and the Imitation Game”, Social Studies of Expertise and Experience Workshop #9, School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, United Kingdom, May 2015.

“An inspection of the concepts of culture and interactional expertise”, Communities of Integration Workshop, Studies of Expertise and Experience, Arizona State University, United States, May 2013.