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 examine how different groups in urban areas (especially “migrants” versus “locals”) interact with and perceive each other. Part of the project involves the development of software used to gather and record information on the interactions between one group of individuals and another.

The study of diversity, understood herein as variations in shared understandings between groups of people, is highly relevant for China since it is home to a very large and diverse population. The tremendous economic growth of the last few decades has been accompanied by massive internal migration, very rapid urbanisation, and the emergence of mega- industrial cities that house approximately 300 million mobile workers known as the “floating population” (liudong renkou 流动人口).

In cities such as Beijing, groups of people from different backgrounds end up sharing the same space. However, they are often not regarded as residents: the household registration system (hukou 户口) binds them to their birthplace. The project aims to understand how these groups identify themselves, how they identify with other groups, and how far they understand the way those other groups live and think.

The project addresses these issues 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, it consists of conducting experiments between social groups understood to be different from each other (either by the researchers or by the individuals themselves, e.g., Catholics and Protestants, migrants and locals, and so on). 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 that regulates and records the participants’ interactions.

The Imitation Game_v2.jpg

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 of each other and try to identify whether the questions and answers are from “locals” or “migrants.” The score for each group is subsequently analysed along with the sets of questions and answers. Along with Basile Zimmermann's waves and forms framework, 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 the identification of possible forms (Zimmermann 2015) enabling or preventing the integration of migrants in Beijing. To these ends, the project is also developing an app for the Imitation Game software that will be 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 (2021). Interactional Expertise, Forms and The Imitation Game: The Integration of Chinese Migrants in Beijing Municipality. PhD Dissertation. University of Geneva. Permanent link:

Zimmermann B. (2018). "Trois regards sur la notion de « culture chinoise » ". Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques, 72(1), pp. 87-116.

Sahin, O. (2017). « From technocracy to citizen science: The nature of expertise and the place of experts in our societies ». In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève. Permanent Link:

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. Permanent Link: 


“Analyzing the Effects of China’s Internal Migration Policy in Terms of Migrants’ Sociocultural Integration”. Berlin Institute of Integration and Migration Research, Humboldt University. May 2022.

“Analysing the Social and Spatial Segregation of China’s Floating Population”. Les déjeuners sociologiques, Geneva School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva. October 2021.

“Mobilité en Chine contemporaine: les séquelles de la circulation des personnes, objets et cultures”. Summer classes organized by the Confucius Institute of the University of Geneva, July 2021.

“Imitation Game and the study of migrants’ integration”. 17th IMISCOE Annual Conference, online panel. July 2020.

“L’Imitation Game en tant qu’outil de recherche scientifique”. Master class in Socioeconomics, Geneva School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva. November 2019.

“The Serious Imitation Game: a methodological and educative tool”. Studies of Expertise and Experience Workshop (SEESHOP 11). University of Helsinki, July 2019.

“De la campagne vers les villes, et inversement”. China in One Day. Confucius Institute of the University of Geneva, Mai 2019."La culture flottante: transmission et évolution des formes culturelles dans la Chine contemporaine". Summer school, Confucius Institute at the University of Geneva, July 2018.

“La politique de l’enfant unique et ses conséquences socio-démographiques en chine”. Master class in Demographics, Geneva School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva. April 2018.

"Three perspectives on the concept of culture". Annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science, Washington D.C., United States, March 2018.

"Migrations, integration and 'cultural diversities': Understanding the migrants’ integration in Beijing through the Imitation Game". Social Studies of Expertise and Experience Workshop #11, University of Geneva, May 2017.

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.

April 2017: “Understanding “cultural differences” in modern China through Imitation Game”.  International workshop for Imitation Game Local Organizers. Humboldt University, Berlin, April 2017.

“The impact of different international programs on the students with regards to their acquisition of cross-cultural competences”. International workshop for Imitation Game Local Organizers, University of Granada, March 2016.

“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.

"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.

“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.

Software development

The Imitation Game 2.0 (March 2017)
Software for scientific research and social entertainment for Chinese users. The project is a continuation of a series of research funded by the European Research Council Advanced Grant between 2011 and 2016, initiated by professor Harry Collins from Cardiff University.