Category Archives: Great Books for Summer Reading 2016

Radicalism and Factionalism of the Red Guards

By Yang Zhang

red guard

Yang, Guobin. 2016. The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China. New York: Columbia University Press.

 

At the fiftieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, Yang Guobin’s just-released book, The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China, offers a vivid account of the genesis of the political activism of the Red Guards and their life courses from that time to the present day. A transformative event, the Red Guard Movement contains at least three important components: radicalism and internal factionalism as a political movement; the Red Guard generation’s continuous political activism, albeit in different forms; the resurgence of political populism and leftism over the last decade as this generation rose to power in China. Drawing upon twenty-year research, Yang touches upon all of these vital issues. In doing so, he also offers theoretical contributions to the study of political movements, collective violence, and political culture.

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Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War – A Review

By Dana Moss

It is now common knowledge that the war in Syria has produced the worst refugee crisis since World War II, but tragically, that is only part of the story. Since the emergence of Syria’s Arab Spring uprising in early 2011, half a million Syrians have been killed and approximately 150,000 are being starved or tortured to death in state prisons. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh) and groups from Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of Al Qaeda, to Hezbollah continue to kidnap, kill, and pillage across the country. In clear violation of international law, the regime is laying siege to cities and towns and starving their inhabitants. Half of Syria’s total population is now uprooted—over four million have fled and seven million are internally displaced—and refugees are trapped in miserable camps or drowning trying to reach Europe. And there is no end to the suffering in sight. So how did the protesters’ initially humble calls for change in 2011 lead to such mass displacement and death? And for those who feel that Syria is too far away—or too exceptional a case—to warrant our attention, why should we care?

Figure 1 - Book cover

Figure 1: Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. (London, Pluto Press)

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Social Movement Theory from Latin America

By Ana Velitchkova

Social Movement_Rossi.PPC_v8.qxd:PPC
Rossi, Federico M., and Marisa von Bülow, eds. 2015. Social Movement Dynamics: New Perspectives on Theory and Research from Latin America. Farnham: Ashgate.

 

Social Movement Dynamics, edited by Federico Rossi and Marisa von Bülow, is the latest collection of works demonstrating how the study of social movements in Latin America can offer important additions to social movement theorizing centered on the Global North. The volume builds on the political process tradition but enriches it in significant ways through the creative use of theory. For example, Ann Mische’s chapter on Brazilian youth publics weaves together several strands of cultural and relational theorizing to offer an account of how activists with multiple and competing identities and interests reach collective understanding and engage in collective action. Publics, according to Mische, are not spaces of free expression, as others have argued, but spaces where particular “styles of communication” are enforced and where participants suppress identities and interests conflicting with these styles. Mische finds that tensions, dilemmas, and conflicts regarding such suppressed performances fuel the dynamics of civic life among Brazilian youth activists. Ligia Tavera Fenollosa borrows from William Sewell’s eventful sociology to conceptualize social movements as events. This lens allows her to identify Mexico’s earthquake victims movement as one event among a series of contingent and consequential happenings that led to the democratization of Mexico City. Tavera Fenollosa’s approach thus moves forward the study of the unintended outcomes social movements may have. Continue reading

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Social Movements and China’s Democratic Future: Straws in the Wind or Genuine Change?

By Fei Yan

china dem
Will China Democratize? by Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (eds). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

 

Whether China will become democratic in the foreseeable future has long been a major concern for students of Chinese politics. The articles collected in this book examine the factors that may facilitate or impede China’s transition to democracy.

According to the analyses in this book, several positive factors are propelling China toward a speedier democratic transition. With continued and strong economic growth, China’s leaders proactively address the roots of popular contention by making health and retirement insurance available, attacking corruption, mitigating environmental pollution, and increasing government transparency and accountability. Especially at the lower levels of the political system, the leadership has introduced direct elections and implemented a more transparent cadre recruitment system (chapter 4). The dramatic wave of popular unrest sweeping the nation in recent years also poses as severe a threat to the central government, pushing a potential democratic breakthrough, as the Chinese citizens today are more dissatisfied, more mobilized, and less fearful than in the past (chapter 11, 14). Moreover, a revival of liberal values, such as individual freedom, property rights, and the rule of law, emerges in people’s daily life and spreads in the “network society” (chapter 20). Since Internet use is rapidly growing in China, particularly among the younger generation, “digital resistance” increasingly becomes a tactic for collective mobilization and public protests, such as the case of the Xiamen anti-PX protests (chapter 24). Overall, it is widely accepted that China is now at the tipping point (chapter 13), and political change is inevitable (chapter 1). Continue reading

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