Performing Authoritarian Citizenship: Public Transcripts in China

Perspectives on Politics, 2019

39 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020

See all articles by Greg Distelhorst

Greg Distelhorst

University of Toronto, Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources; University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Diana Fu

University of Toronto - Department of Political Science

Date Written: February 13, 2019

Abstract

How should we study citizenship in authoritarian regimes? This study proposes studying how citizenship is performed using the “public transcript” — communication between ordinary citizens and political authorities (Scott 1990). The stakes of these strategic communications allow us to observe the roles citizens play to elicit assistance from authoritarian elites. We use this technique to study citizenship in contemporary China, analyzing evidence from an original database of over eight thousand appeals to local officials. These public transcripts reveal three ideal-type scripts of citizenship. First, we observe individuals performing subjecthood, positioning themselves as subalterns before benevolent rulers. We also identify an authoritarian legal citizenship that appeals to the formal legal commitments of the state. Finally, we find evidence for a socialist citizenship which appeals to the moral duties of officials to provide collective welfare. This approach eschews a classification scheme based on regime types, instead acknowledging diverse performances of citizenship can coexist within a single state.

Keywords: citizenship, authoritarian politics, China, political participation

Suggested Citation

Distelhorst, Greg and Fu, Diana, Performing Authoritarian Citizenship: Public Transcripts in China (February 13, 2019). Perspectives on Politics, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3645222

Greg Distelhorst (Contact Author)

University of Toronto, Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources ( email )

HOME PAGE: http://www.gregdistelhorst.com

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Diana Fu

University of Toronto - Department of Political Science ( email )

Sidney Smith Hall
100 St George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G3
Canada

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