Article

Contingent Symbiosis and Civil Society in an Authoritarian State: Understanding the Survival of China's Grassroots NGOs1

American Journal of Sociology (Impact Factor: 3.17). 07/2011; 117(1). DOI: 10.1086/660741

ABSTRACT

In the study of civil society, Tocqueville-inspired research has helped illuminate important connections between associations and democracy, while corporatism has provided a robust framework for understanding officially approved civil society organizations in authoritarian regimes. Yet neither approach accounts for the experiences of ostensibly illegal grassroots nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in an authoritarian state. Drawing on fieldwork in China, I argue that grassroots NGOs can survive in an authoritarian regime when the state is fragmented and when censorship keeps information local. Moreover, grassroots NGOs survive only insofar as they refrain from democratic claims-making and address social needs that might fuel grievances against the state. For its part, the state tolerates such groups as long as particular state agents can claim credit for any good works while avoiding blame for any problems. Grassroots NGOs and an authoritarian state can thus coexist in a "contingent symbiosis" that-far from pointing to an inevitable democratization- allows ostensibly illegal groups to operate openly while relieving the state of some of its social welfare obligations.

Full-text preview

Available from: cuhk.edu.hk
  • Source
    • "Meanwhile, HOAs are growing as civic territorial agencies to assert their property rights on behalf of homeowners (Fu & Lin, 2013b; Read, 2003), as demonstrated by many collective endeavors by homeowners to influence the practices or decisions of PMCs, developers, or administrative authorities . While some scholars juxtapose HOAs with the rise of civil society with Chinese characteristics (Shi & Cai, 2006), others (e.g., Spires, 2011) claim that mass organizations in China " survive only insofar as they refrain from democratic claim " (p. 1). Nonetheless, the rise of HOAs has offset the power relations between the state and the society, creating social space for civic participation (Bray, 2006; Read, 2003, 2008). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This paper examines the relationship between communal space and grassroots participation in Chinese urban communities.•It draws on a city-wide household survey in Guangzhou.•This study performs Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM) and negative binomial regression models.•Local residents' community participation is positively associated with social cohesion and the presence of communal space.•Communal space has positive effects on participation by facilitating the formation of social capital and place attachment
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2015 · Habitat International
    • "As a result both NPOs and state institutions benefit from a functional overlap (Hsu, 2010;Spires, 2011;Uphoff & Krishna, 2004). This is a mutually beneficial relationship where NPOs view the state as a resource provider and the state views the NPO as a burden sharer in the provision welfare (Richter & Hatch, 2013). "

    No preview · Article · Jan 2015 · Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings
  • Source
    • "the state, too, needs to be acknowledged as a complex, heterogeneous, and often fragmented actor " (Fisher, 1997: 452). To that end, we argue that the unique political context within which an NGO operates is likely to influence the degree to which the state supports a development project and, consequently, how the NGO carries out its work (see, e.g., P. Evans, 2010; Spires, 2011). We nevertheless lack a framework that appropriately reflects the tug-of-war of power and interests between states and NGOs across political contexts. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Social scientists have fiercely debated the relationship between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the state in NGO-led development projects. However, this research often carries an implicit, and often explicit, anti-state bias, suggesting that when NGOs collaborate with states, they cease to be a progressive force. This literature thus fails to recognize the state as a complex, heterogeneous, and fragmented entity. In particular, the unique political context within which an NGO operates is likely to influence how it carries out its work. In this article, we ask: how do NGOs work and build relationships with different types of states and - of particular relevance to practitioners - what kinds of relationship building lead to more successful development outcomes on the ground? Drawing on 29 in-depth interviews with members of Partners in Health and Oxfam America conducted between September 2010 and February 2014, we argue that NGOs and their medical humanitarian projects are more likely to succeed when they adjust how they interact with different types of states through processes of interest harmonization and negotiation. We offer a theoretical model for understanding how these processes occur across organizational fields. Specifically, we utilize field overlap theory to illuminate how successful outcomes depend on NGOs' ability to leverage resources - alliances and networks; political, financial, and cultural resources; and frames - across state and non-state fields. By identifying how NGOs can increase the likelihood of project success, our research should be of interest to activists, practitioners, and scholars.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Social Science & Medicine
Show more