ANU China Seminar Series
E-monitoring and regime improvement in China: technical capabilities and systemic limitations
4:00pm - 5:30pm
10 Sep 2013
Lecture Theatre 1.02, Sir Roland Wilson Building (120), McCoy Circuit, ANU
Information technologies are often regarded as 'liberation technologies' (Larry Diamond), because mobile phones and the Internet enable citizens to organize and coordinate resistance against autocratic rule. However, all political systems – democracies and autocracies alike – depend fundamentally on information feedbacks to maintain their equilibrium, and digital technologies greatly facilitate the gathering and processing of such information. The better the information flows between regime and society are, the more political authorities are able to fine-tune their policies in line with the stability requirements of the system. The 'liberation technology' perspective misses that information technologies can also serve to stabilize autocratic regimes, for example by enhancing surveillance, accountability, indoctrination, and participation. It follows that improved information flows can both strengthen and undermine autocratic rule, and the puzzle is how autocratic regime elites deal with this dilemma. China is a good case to study this question, because an increasing number of local governments is applying information technologies to strengthen their 'social management' (shehui guanli) capabilities. The talk contributes to a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of e-monitoring in China by introducing the results of first-hand research an e-monitoring platform in a Chinese province. It illuminates how information technologies are used to gather information about the preferences and grievances of the local population, how this information is processed, and how it motivates government action. On the other hand, it sheds light on the systemic limitations that prevent such solutions from being implemented more broadly than is presently the case.
About the Speaker
Christian Göbel is Professor of Modern China Studies at Vienna University. His current research projects examine the role of agents of change in policy innovation in China and the impact of information technology on the operation of non-democratic regimes. He was trained in Political Science and China Studies in Erlangen, Taipei, Heidelberg and Duisburg. Previous to his appointment to Vienna, he held positions in Lund and Heidelberg. He is the author of The Politics of Rural Reform in China (Routledge 2010) and The Politics of Community Building in Urban China (Routledge 2011, with Thomas Heberer) and has published widely on topics related to state-society relations and political reform in China and Taiwan.
After the Seminar
To allow for informal discussion, the seminar will be followed by drinks at the Fellows Bar at University House and a dinner beginning at 6:30pm with the guest speaker at the Red Chilli Restaurant. All are welcome, though due to budget limitations, participants will need to pay for their own drinks and food.
As reservations must be made at the restaurant, please RSVP by noon on the day before the seminar to Jasmine firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in attending dinner. There is no need to RSVP for drinks.