This page showcases recent publications by our network members on citizen empowerment, participation and representation.


Chunrong Liu (2021) ‘Preserving spontaneous order: A normative reflection of community building in post-reform China’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, 47 (4): 534-547.

How and to what extent can community be imaged as a spontaneous order? Is the spontaneous social order dichotomous or oppositional to state power? Despite vigorous scholarship and policy debate, the theorization of the community has not attended adequately to the ways in which interactional order emerges in various sociopolitical contexts. Reflecting the experience of community building in post-reform urban China, I present an organic statist vision of community, in which community is found to be the concomitant outgrowth of both state intervention and the spontaneous process of place-based identity mobilization. An expanded conception of community as embedded spontaneous order as well as its implication is also discussed.

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Xuan Qin and Catherine Owen (2021) ‘Social Forces and Street-level Governance in Shanghai: From Compliance to Participation in Recycling Regulations’, The China Quarterly, First View.

This article interrogates the operating logic of China’s street-level regulatory state, demonstrating that residents’ committees (RCs) assume a role as regulatory intermediaries to enhance the efficiency of local governance. Using Shanghai’s new recycling regulations as a case study, it explores the mechanisms by which RCs elicit not only citizens’ compliance but also active participation. We show that the central mechanisms derive from the RCs’ skilful mobilization of particular social forces, namely mianzi and guanxi, which are produced within close-knit social networks inside Shanghai’s housing estates (xiaoqu). We advance three arguments in the study of China’s emerging regulatory state. First, we show how informal social forces are employed in regulatory governance at the street level, combining authoritarian control with grassroots participation. Second, the focus on RCs as regulatory intermediaries reveals the important role played by these street-level administrative units in policy implementation. Third, we suggest that the RCs’ harnessing of informal social forces is essential not only for successful policy implementation at street level but also for the production of the local state’s political legitimacy.

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Xuan Qin (2021) Reinforcing Authoritarianism Through Democracy: Participatory Pricing in China (Singapore: Palgrave Pivot).

This book provides empirical evidence to show how democratic experiments are harnessed to achieve control and support authoritarianism, through the lens of participatory pricing, which is one of the most important forms of deliberative democracy in China. The crucial point is an interlacement of easily perceptible improvement in empowerment (voluntary enrollment, disclosure of information and opportunities for expression during events) and hidden control (delicately designed procedures and pre-existing frameworks that influence participants in how they think, and when they talk). The mixture of these two mechanisms assures participants and educates them, producing cooperative citizens desired by the government. This is referred to as the partial empowerment strategy, which challenges the traditional assumption of the correlation between deliberation and empowerment. When authoritarian control influences deliberations in a form that obstructs the natural developmental process of empowerment, it acts as a filter that encourages only some form of empowerment, but precludes those that are too risky for the government. This exertion of dominance through a participatory form reflects the development of governance capability of China as a modern authoritarian state and explains its “surprising” resilience.

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Xuan Qin and Baogang He (2021) ‘The Politics of Authoritarian Empowerment: Participatory Pricing in China’, International Political Science Review, OnlineFirst.

Partial and perceived empowerment in the practice of public hearings, widely spreading across China since the late 1990s and still operating today, is puzzling. Citizens enjoy the right to participation, information, and formal equality but their political empowerment is constrained without the right to elect and dismiss officials there. This article examines the politics of ‘authoritarian empowerment,’ which combines partial empowerment and sophisticated control, and separates psychological empowerment from political empowerment. Through such a delicate combination and separation, citizens are partially empowered, paradoxically, to prevent their full empowerment. Our study is a supplement to the previous study of authoritarian deliberation (consultation) and phantom democracy, discloses the deficiency of the literature on local deliberative democracy in China, and enriches the literature on sophisticated authoritarian innovation in Southeast Asia. The article is based on documented research, interviews with 469 non-participants and 72 participants, and an in-depth case study in Shanghai.

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Catherine Owen (2020) ‘Participatory authoritarianism: From bureaucratic transformation to civic participation in Russia and China’, Review of International Studies, 46 (4): 415-434.

This article explores the way in which Russian and Chinese governments have rearticulated global trends towards active citizenship and participatory governance, and integrated them into pre-existing illiberal political traditions. The concept of ‘participatory authoritarianism’ is proposed in order to capture the resulting practices of local governance that, on the one hand enable citizens to engage directly with local officials in the policy process, but limit, direct, and control civic participation on the other. The article explores the emergence of discourses of active citizenship at the national level and the accompanying legislative development of government-organised participatory mechanisms, demonstrating how the twin logics of openness and control, pluralism and monism, are built into their rationale and implementation. It argues that as state bureaucracies have integrated into international financial markets, so new participatory mechanisms have become more important for local governance as government agencies have lost the monopoly of information for effective policymaking. Practices of participatory authoritarianism enable governments to implement public sector reform while directing increased civic agency into non-threatening channels.

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Catherine Owen and Eleanor Bindman (2019) ‘Civic Participation in a Hybrid Regime: Limited Pluralism in Policymaking and Delivery in Contemporary Russia’, Government and Opposition, 54 (1): 98-120.

This article asks why the Russian government has developed new avenues for public participation in policymaking and delivery and assesses the extent to which these avenues introduce pluralism into these processes. Drawing on 50 interviews with individuals and citizens’ groups involved in either public consultative bodies or socially oriented NGOs, the article demonstrates the government’s desire to harness the knowledge and abilities of citizens and civic groups in place of state departments perceived to be bureaucratic and inefficient, while controlling and curtailing their participation. Arguing that these countervailing tendencies can be conceptualized as limited pluralism, a category elaborated by Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, we show that citizens and civic groups are able to influence policy outcomes to varying extents using these mechanisms.

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