My research interests include China, social movements, labor, and authoritarianism. Most fundamentally, I am fascinated and inspired by the power of ordinary people mobilizing in challenging political contexts.
Current Book Project: Workers and Change in China
I have a book manuscript under review. Tentatively titled “Workers and Change in China,” it shows that rising workplace contention is pushing local Chinese authorities toward both greater repressive and responsive capacity. Governance is being transformed from below in a contradictory manner–with complex implications for activists and authorities alike. Instead of studying protest causes, the project thus examines their consequences, and instead of asking whether a government reacts to popular challenges with coercion or accommodation, it shows how authorities can pursue multiple and overlapping strategies concurrently, albeit with mixed long-term results. Meanwhile, rather than rehashing the old debate over whether China and governments like it are on the verge of collapse or have found a means of staying in power indefinitely, the book adds to a growing body of literature exploring the day-to-day evolution of autocratic governance. Finally, the project takes a uniquely holistic approach, encompassing broad, national trends in worker-state relations; regional policymaking processes; and choices made by individual officials, workers, and businesspeople.
New Project: Power on the Margins
What power do people on the furthest 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 Karl 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. With employment becoming increasingly short-term and mediated by complex chains of sub-contracting, more and more people will fall into this “dangerous class.” My new comparative project examines the implications of this development for political stability in places like China and Egypt, while also taking outsiders on their own terms.
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.