Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
The William R. Rhodes Center

Iza Ding — The Performative State: Public Scrutiny and Environmental Governance in China

Iza Ding

Friday, February 10, 2023

12:00pm – 1:00pm

Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street

Lunch will be served.

Iza Ding will join the Rhodes Center to discuss her new book " The Performative State: Public Scrutiny and Environmental Governance in China" which shows how the state can shape public perceptions and defuse crises through the theatrical deployment of language, symbols, and gestures of good governance—performative governance.

Iza Ding unpacks the black box of street-level bureaucracy in China through ethnographic participation, in-depth interviews, and public opinion surveys. She demonstrates in vivid detail how China's environmental bureaucrats deal with intense public scrutiny over pollution when they lack the authority to actually improve the physical environment. They assuage public outrage by appearing responsive, benevolent, and humble. But performative governance is hard work. Environmental bureaucrats paradoxically work themselves to exhaustion even when they cannot effectively implement environmental policies. Instead of achieving "performance legitimacy" by delivering material improvements, the state can shape public opinion through the theatrical performance of goodwill and sincere effort.

The Performative State also explains when performative governance fails at impressing its audience and when governance becomes less performative and more substantive. Ding focuses on Chinese evidence but her theory travels: comparisons with Vietnam and the United States show that all states, democratic and authoritarian alike, engage in performative governance.

Iza Ding is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh with a courtesy appointment in Public Policy. She is a scholar of comparative political development, with published works on environmental policymaking and implementation, environmental attitudes and behavior, bureaucratic organizations, populism, nationalism, democratic backsliding, and the rule of law.