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Speaker: Iza Ding, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Pittsburgh
Moderator: Junyan Jiang, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Columbia 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.
This event is sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute.