My research interests include China, social movements, labor, nationalism, and authoritarianism. Most fundamentally, I am fascinated and inspired by the power of ordinary people mobilizing in challenging political contexts.
Current Book Project: Resistance, Repression, Responsiveness
At present, I have book manuscript under review, tentatively titled “Resistance, Repression, Responsiveness: Workers and Change in China,” which uses an original crowd-sourced and geo-referenced dataset of strikes by Chinese workers (more on this below), as well as regional case studies grounded in extensive interviews, to show that rising labor resistance is pushing local authorities toward both greater repression and greater responsiveness. I find that, as a result, governance in China is being transformed from below in a contradictory manner, within a shell of continued Communist Party rule. The state is increasing its ability to control citizens, while at the same time saddling itself with new social commitments. My research thus focuses attention on the outcomes rather than causes of unrest; on the multiple and overlapping strategies authorities use to demobilize demonstrations; and, moving beyond questions of regime resilience versus collapse, on the dialectic of resistance and reaction that drives the day-to-day evolution of autocratic governments. The project, which builds on my dissertation, has been supported by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation (Award #1421941), a Hu Shih Memorial Award, the Lee Teng-hui Fellowship in World Affairs, travel grants from Cornell’s ILR School and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and my China Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellowship from Harvard’s Ash Center.
New Project: Power on the Margins
What power do people on the margins of contemporary authoritarian states possess? During the great upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, lumpenproletarians—the chronically unemployed, small-time criminals, etc.—were the subject of intense debate. For Marx, they were an impediment to revolution, but in the eyes of anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin and anti-colonial intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, they constituted a potent force for change. In recent years, this group appears to have played a double role outside of democracies: as thugs hired by authorities to intimidate potential regime challengers, on the one hand, and as people who escalate protests and amplify dissenting voices, on the other. As job growth in the formal sector stagnates in many countries and as employment becomes increasingly short-term and mediated by complex chains of sub-contracting, more and more people will fall into this class. The grievances and allegiances of the group will therefore become important. I am beginning a new, comparative project studying lumpenproletarians in China, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Since 2010, I have maintained the website China Strikes, which maps strikes, protests, and other contentious, collective actions taken by Chinese workers to defend their rights and interests. The site relies on a variety of data sources, including reports from visitors. At present, it covers the years 2003 through 2012 or the full Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao era. China Strikes has been mentioned by The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics blog, Shanghaiist, China Study Group and Talking Union.