Fragmented Control: Governing Contentious Labor Organizations in China
34 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 9, 2016
How does an authoritarian state govern contentious civil society and what are the effects on grassroots mobilization? This article theorizes the relationship between repression and mobilization by examining the case of informal labor organizations in South China that threaten social stability. Findings based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork inside these organizations suggest that the central state’s mandate to maintain social stability is refracted through the interests and capabilities of local agencies. This results in “fragmented control”: divergent, even conflicting, forms of state governance over civil society. Local authorities work at cross-purposes by simultaneously repressing, co-opting, and neglecting underground organizing. Fragmented control generates political uncertainty on the part of activists and induces them to engage in “censored entrepreneurialism” — a set of tactical adaptations characterized by a mixture of self-censorship and entrepreneurial experimentation.
Keywords: Authoritarian Governance, Repression, Mobilization, Civil Society, China
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