Professor Osburg’s research is broadly concerned with the relationship between market economies and systems of cultural value, affect, and morality. From 2003 to 2006, he conducted ethnographic fieldwork with a group of wealthy entrepreneurs in southwest China, examining practices of network building and deal making between businesspeople and government officials. Networks of elite entrepreneurs and state officials have exerted increasing dominance over many aspects of Chinese commerce and politics since the start of economic reforms in the late 70’s. Prof. Osburg examined how these networks were forged and maintained through ritualized entertaining and the informal moral codes through which they operated. His book, Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality among China’s New Rich, examines the rise of elite networks in China and documents the changing values, lifestyles, and consumption habits of China’s new rich and new middle classes. His research also examines changing gender relations in Post-Mao China and the ways in which money and material wealth intersect with ideologies of love and feelings in people’s social, marital, and romantic relationships. His other research interests include consumer culture, political corruption, post-socialism, and organized crime.
Yang Dacai, the former head of the Shaanxi Bureau of Work Safety, became famous when he was photographed smiling at the scene of a horrific traffic accident and "netizens" noticed that he was wearing an expensive watch. Several online vigilantes quickly found other photos of him wearing different brands of luxury watches, none of which he could realistically afford with his official salary. Photos of him and his watches spread online, and he became known as "Brother Watch" (表哥)