Horizontal Information Flows in an Authoritarian Organization


Tuesday, April 4, 2017
4:30 – 6:00 PM
2M Seminar Room, (inside) East Asia Library
Third Floor, Gowen Hall

ABSTRACT: Authoritarian regimes consist of three major actors, the ruler, the ruler’s agents, and the masses. Extant studies have focused extensively on how the ruler devises various institutions to facilitate vertical information flows, enabling the ruler and her agents to collect information regarding grassroots citizen grievances and allowing
the ruler to detect potential misconduct of her agents. There are however every few studies on how information are exchanged among the ruler’s agents. The question is of great importance to the study of authoritarian politics. On the one hand, the ruler needs the cooperation among her agents to govern effectively; on the other hand, such
communications could also facilitate collective actions against the ruler among the agents. What patterns of horizontal information exchanges among the agents would allow the ruler to reap the benefits of agent cooperation while shed the risk? This paper attempts to answer the question by exploring an original dataset of nearly 800
official visits among Chinese provincial leaders between 2005 and 2016. Social network analysis of the data reveals three patterns: First, provincial leaders frequently visited locales on the priority list of central government’s agenda (i.e., Xinjiang, Tibet, and Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake); Second, they sought to engage with leaders from
places that share similar endowment as their own jurisdictions; Third, they tended to visit places that are either governed by a leader that later rises to national prominence, or places that recently visited by the top leader. Combined, these patterns suggest that the central function of horizontal information exchange among provincial
leaders is to help them vertically signal their loyalty to the central leader–a piece of information that is most hard to collect yet core to the interest of an authoritarian ruler.
ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Xiao Ma is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Washington. He studies authoritarian politics and political economy of development, with a regional focus on China. Specifically, he is interested in bargaining tactics among autocratic elites and the institutions that shape intra-elite interactions. In
his dissertation project, he combines fieldwork, quantitative analysis, and survey experiments to investigate the linkage between elite bargain and distributive politics in China’s state-led infrastructure development program. His work has appeared in Journal of East Asian Studies, and is under review at several other journals. He is the recipient of a number of fellowships and awards, including the Pre-Dissertation Fellowship by the Social Science Research Council, the Clifford C. Clogg Scholarship by the American Political Science Association, China Times Cultural Foundation Scholarship, and the China Studies Dissertation Fellowship by the University of Washington. He is a nominee for this year’s University of Washington’s Graduate School Presidential Fellowship.