In his new article "The micro-foundations of elite politics: conversation networks and elite conflict during China’s reform era" in Theory and Society, SIS Professor Yang Zhang and his co-author Feng Shi explore the micro-foundations of elite politics by focusing on changes in network structures that emerge from informal conversations. They offer a novel “situational conflict” explanation to account for the puzzle of why reformist leaders were periodically ousted during China’s reform era (1977–1992), emphasizing the unexpected power collision that catalyzed the violent crackdown on the Tiananmen movement in 1989.
To do so, Yang and Shi employ network analysis and narrative to utilize an original dataset of elite conversations and primary sources that have only recently been made available. They fiind that ideological cleavage and manipulative brokerage produced each conflict to varying degrees but were contingent on the relational structure arising from elite conversational interactions. Furthermore, the actual unfolding of those conflicts often resulted from key actors’ discrepant understandings of the changing relationships via ongoing interactions at vital moments, such as during the Tiananmen movement.
Integrating micro-sociological theories and network analysis, their work has methodological and theoretical implications for unpacking the black box of elite politics and its role in macro-historical change.
Read the full article here.