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Critical Issues Confronting China Series featuring Iza Ding – The Performative State: Public Scrutiny and Environmental Governance in China

March 30, 2022 @ 12:30 pm 2:00 pm

Speaker: Iza (Yue) Ding, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh
Moderator: Michael Szonyi, Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History and Director, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

What does the state do when public expectations exceed its governing capacity? The Performative State shows how the state can shape public perceptions and defuse crises through the theatrical deployment of language, symbols, and gestures of good governance—performative governance. Iza Ding unpacks the black box of street-level bureaucracy in China through ethnographic participation, in-depth interviews, and public opinion surveys. She demonstrates with vivid detail how China’s environmental bureaucrats deal with intense public scrutiny over pollution when they lack the authority to actually improve the physical environment. Bureaucrats assuage public outrage by appearing responsive and benevolent before citizens. But performative governance is hard work. Environmental bureaucrats paradoxically work themselves to exhaustion even when they cannot effectively implement environmental policies. Instead of achieving “performance legitimacy” through actual good governance and its desirable outcomes, the state can shape public opinion with theatrical performance of goodwill and sincere effort. The book also explains why performative governance sometimes fails at impressing its audience, and when governance becomes less performative and more substantive.  

Iza Ding is an assistant professor of political science and public policy at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research examines two interconnected issues that are becoming more challenging and consequential than ever: environmental and climate politics and policy, and the politics of autocracy and democracy. Her articles have appeared in World Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Democratization, Studies in Comparative and International Development, and China Quarterly. Her book The Performative State: Public Scrutiny and Environmental Governance in China is forthcoming with Cornell University Press in summer 2022. 

Presented via Zoom webinar
Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1knAizOSR-ih45-cmS5-rQ

Also streaming on YouTube


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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