Ding, Iza. 2020. "Performative Governance." World Politics 72 (4): 1-32. DOI: doi.org/10.1017/S0043887120000131
The state often struggles to meet citizens’ demands but confronts strong public pressure to do so. What does the state do when public expectations exceed its actual governing capacity? This study shows that the state can respond by engaging in “performative governance” — the theatrical deployment of language, symbols, and gestures to foster an impression of good governance among citizens. Performative governance should be distinguished from other types of state behavior, such as inertia, paternalism, and the substantive satisfaction of citizen demands. I illustrate this concept in the realm of environmental governance in China: given the severity of its environmental pollution, resulting public outcry, and logistical and political challenges to solving pollution problems, how can the state redeem itself? Ethnographic evidence from participant observation at a municipal Environmental Protection Bureau reveals that when bureaucrats are confronted with the dual burdens of low state capacity and high public scrutiny, they engage in performative governance to assuage citizen complaints. This study calls attention to the double-meaning of “performance” in political contexts, and the essential distinction between the substantive and the theatrical.
Ding, Iza and Jeffrey Javed. Forthcoming. "The Autocrat’s Moral-Legal Dilemma: Popular Morality and Legal Institutions in China." Comparative Political Studies. DOI: 10.1177/0010414020957694
Authoritarian regimes sometimes professionalize their legal systems to govern more effectively. Yet when quasi-autonomous courts rule in conflict with popular conceptions of right and wrong — popular morality— it might threaten citizens’ trust in the regime. We use the case of contemporary China to investigate this "moral-legal dilemma" — the competing needs of legal development and the satisfaction of popular justice concerns. Four case studies demonstrate that when court rulings conflict with popular morality, the party-state selectively alters decisions, so long as intervention does not significantly jeopardize the integrity of the legal system. Two online survey experiments then assess citizens’ reactions to moral-legal conflict in court rulings. We find that people are more likely to experience “moral dissonance” when legal decisions conflict with popular morality. We do not find that moral-legal conflict in court rulings significantly undermines individuals’ trust in the regime. Our analysis underscores the need for more attention to the moral foundations of authoritarian rule.
Ding, Iza and Dan Slater. Forthcoming January 2021. "Democratic Decoupling." Democratization.
Democratic backsliding does not necessarily see all democratic institutions erode in parallel fashion. This article analyses contemporary democratic backsliding through the lens of institutional change — specifically, as a process of “democratic decoupling”, in which a systematic gap opens up between the constitutive features of liberal democracy. What has been declining most widely in the past decade is not electoral quality but rights protections. It is not uncommon for freely and fairly elected leaders to use their majoritarian mandate to attack vital rights to association, expression, and ways of life. Democratic elections are meant to impose constraints on executive power, posing the spectre of removal by a majority of the voters; but they can also become vehicles for executives to mobilize a majority of voters in support of illiberal agendas. Using global data from the V-Dem project, we establish that elections are improving, and rights are retracting in the same time period, and in many of the same cases. We offer several illustrative examples from Asia of illiberal juggernauts who have ridden the waves of free and fair elections to do great damage to rights protections, focusing primarily on Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP in the world’s largest democracy, India.