Outsourced Authoritarianism: The Commercialization of State Control in Chinese Mayor’s Hotlines and the Internet-Opinion Industry

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Hou, Rui
China , State Control , Authoritarianism , Outsourcing
How is the market engaged in the grassroots governance of authoritarian China? My work addresses this question by exploring state-market collaborations in the industry of Internet control and the system of Mayor’s Hotline. Drawing on rich empirical evidence, including ethnographic observation, in-depth interviews, document analysis, my work finds that market actors are actively engaged in state control and government outsourcing is a critical mechanism promoting the state-market collaboration. I develop the concept of outsourced authoritarianism to describe the phenomena that authoritarian regimes rely on government outsourcing to incorporate private actors into the institutions of state control. My work detailed shows, by outsourcing the frontline control to private sectors, the tentacles of state control have touched a wider range of the social population. This finding challenges the traditional wisdom that authoritarian domination is monopolized by state actors and suggests a networked and multi-leveled understanding of authoritarian power. However, even though government outsourcing promotes the coordination between private actors and governments in the institutions of state control, it does not mean the profit motive of the market has been smoothly integrated into the control apparatus of the state. My evidence further demonstrates that outsourced authoritarianism also brings new governance problems. In both cases, the engagement of private actors proceeds through the mode of government outsourcing, which creates a dual-pressure structure under which frontline operators need to handle pressures from both the state and the market. I argue that this dual-pressure structure represents a special form of state-market complex within which the conflicting rationalities between authoritarian control and market profiting lead to dilemmas of governance at the grassroots level.
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