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Academy Scholar Spotlight

Senior Scholar Spotlight

Recent Publications

Gleaning for Communism: The Soviet Socialist Household in Theory and Practice
Gleaning for Communism: The Soviet Socialist Household in Theory and Practice tells a radically new story of how the Soviet system functioned and why it failed. Mediating between today’s popular narratives of “Soviet times” and the ownership categories of Soviet civil law, it shows the Soviet Union as an explicitly illiberal modern project, reliant in theory and fact on collectivist ethics. A historical ethnography, its narrative begins in the 2010s with former Leningrad residents’ stories of gleaning industrial scrap from worksites. Placing these stories in conversation with Soviet legal theories of property and with economic, political and social history, this book shows the Soviet Union as a “socialist household economy,” whose members were guaranteed “personal” rights to a commons of socialist property rather than private possessions. It traces the development of such “personal” rights though three historically significant turns – during the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s – and shows how the Soviet project unfolded in dialogue with contemporaneous neoliberal thought in one overarching debate about the possibility of a collectivist modern life.
State-Building as Lawfare: Custom, Sharia, and State Law in Postwar Chechnya
Lazarev, Egor. Forthcoming. State-Building as Lawfare: Custom, Sharia, and State Law in Postwar Chechnya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract
State-Building as Lawfare offers a unique study on how the state and other social forces regulate everyday life. Focusing on the case of Russian state presence in postwar Chechnya, the book explores how state and non-state legal systems are used to achieve political goals. Egor Lazarev applies this theory of state-building as lawfare to study how politicians and individuals navigate Russian state law, Sharia, and customary law in postwar Chechnya. The book addresses two interrelated puzzles: why do local rulers tolerate and even promote non-state legal systems at the expense of state law, and why do some members of repressed ethnic minorities choose to resolve their everyday disputes using state legal systems instead of non-state alternatives? By analyzing the legacies of the prolonged armed conflict of the 1990s and 2000s, Lazarev sheds an important light on state-building from above and below.
Colonial Bureaucracy and Contemporary Citizenship: Legacies of Race and Emergency in the Former British Empire
Colonial Bureaucracy and Contemporary Citizenship examines how the legacies of colonial bureaucracy continue to shape political life after empire. Focusing on the former British colonies of India, Cyprus, and Israel/Palestine, the book explores how post-colonial states use their inherited administrative legacies to classify and distinguish between loyal and suspicious subjects and manage the movement of populations, thus shaping the practical meaning of citizenship and belonging within their new boundaries. The book offers a novel institutional theory of 'hybrid bureaucracy' to explain how racialized bureaucratic practices were used by powerful administrators in state organizations to shape the making of political identity and belonging in the new states. Combining sociology and anthropology of the state with the study of institutions, this book offers new knowledge to overturn conventional understandings of bureaucracy, demonstrating that routine bureaucratic practices and persistent colonial logics continue to shape unequal political status to this day.
The Unsettled Plain: An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier

The Unsettled Plain studies agrarian life in the Ottoman Empire to understand the making of the modern world. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the environmental transformation of the Ottoman countryside became intertwined with migration and displacement. Muslim refugees, mountain nomads, families deported in the Armenian Genocide, and seasonal workers from all over the empire endured hardship, exile, and dispossession. Their settlement and survival defined new societies forged in the provincial spaces of the late Ottoman frontier. Through these movements, Chris Gratien reconstructs the remaking of Çukurova, a region at the historical juncture of Anatolia and Syria, and illuminates radical changes brought by the modern state, capitalism, war, and technology.

Drawing on both Ottoman Turkish and Armenian sources, Gratien brings rural populations into the momentous events of the period: Ottoman reform, Mediterranean capitalism, the First World War, and Turkish nation-building. Through the ecological perspectives of everyday people in Çukurova, he charts how familiar facets of quotidian life, like malaria, cotton cultivation, labor, and leisure, attained modern manifestations. As the history of this pivotal region hidden on the geopolitical map reveals, the remarkable ecological transformation of late Ottoman society configured the trajectory of the contemporary societies of the Middle East.

Never Turn Back: China and the Forbidden History of the 1980s
Gewirtz, Julian. 2022. Never Turn Back: China and the Forbidden History of the 1980s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

The history the Chinese Communist Party has tried to erase: the dramatic political debates of the 1980s that could have put China on a path to greater openness.

On a hike in Guangdong Province in January 1984, Deng Xiaoping was warned that his path was a steep and treacherous one. “Never turn back,” the Chinese leader replied. That became a mantra as the government forged ahead with reforms in the face of heated contestation over the nation’s future. For a time, everything was on the table, including democratization and China’s version of socialism. But deliberation came to a sudden halt in spring 1989, with protests and purges, massacre and repression. Since then, Beijing has worked intensively to suppress the memory of this era of openness.

Julian Gewirtz recovers the debates of the 1980s, tracing the Communist Party’s diverse attitudes toward markets, state control, and sweeping technological change, as well as freewheeling public argument over political liberalization. The administration considered bold proposals from within the party and without, including separation between the party and the state, empowering the private sector, and establishing an independent judiciary. After Tiananmen, however, Beijing systematically erased these discussions of alternative directions. Using newly available Chinese sources, Gewirtz details how the leadership purged the key reformist politician Zhao Ziyang, quashed the student movement, recast the transformations of the 1980s as the inevitable products of consensus, and indoctrinated China and the international community in the new official narrative.

Never Turn Back offers a revelatory look at how different China’s rise might have been and at the foundations of strongman rule under Xi Jinping, who has intensified the policing of history to bolster his own authority.

Latecomer State Formation: Political Geography and Capacity Failure in Latin America
Mazzuca, Sebastián. 2021. Latecomer State Formation: Political Geography and Capacity Failure in Latin America. New Haven: Yale University Press. Abstract
Latin American governments systematically fail to provide the key public goods for their societies to prosper. Sebastián Mazzuca argues this is because nineteenth-century Latin American state formation occurred in a period when commerce, rather than war, was the key driver forging countries. Latin American leaders pursued the benefits of international trade at the cost of long-term liabilities built into the countries they forged, notably patrimonial administrations and dysfunctional regional combinations.
Meritocracy and Its Discontents: Anxiety and the National College Entrance Exam in China

Meritocracy and Its Discontents investigates the wider social, political, religious, and economic dimensions of the Gaokao, China's national college entrance exam, as well as the complications that arise from its existence. Each year, some nine million high school seniors in China take the Gaokao, which determines college admission and provides a direct but difficult route to an urban lifestyle for China's hundreds of millions of rural residents. But with college graduates struggling to find good jobs, some are questioning the exam's legitimacy—and, by extension, the fairness of Chinese society. Chronicling the experiences of underprivileged youth, Zachary M. Howlett's research illuminates how people remain captivated by the exam because they regard it as fateful—an event both consequential and undetermined. He finds that the exam enables people both to rebel against the social hierarchy and to achieve recognition within it.

In Meritocracy and Its Discontents, Howlett contends that the Gaokao serves as a pivotal rite of passage in which people strive to personify cultural virtues such as diligence, composure, filial devotion, and divine favor.

Politics for Profit: Business, Elections, and Policymaking in Russia
Szakonyi, David. 2020. Politics for Profit: Business, Elections, and Policymaking in Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Abstract
Businesspeople run for and win elected office around the world, with roughly one-third of members of parliament and numerous heads of states coming directly from the private sector. Yet we know little about why these politicians choose to leave the private sector and what they actually do while in government. In Politics for Profit, David Szakonyi brings to bear sweeping quantitative and qualitative evidence from Putin-era Russia to shed light on why businesspeople contest elections and what the consequences are for their firms and for society when they win. The book develops an original theory of businessperson candidacy as a type of corporate political activity undertaken in response to both economic competition and weak political parties. Szakonyi's evidence then shows that businesspeople help their firms reap huge gains in revenue and profitability while prioritizing investments in public infrastructure over human capital. The book finally evaluates policies for combatting political corruption.
Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People's Republic of China
Ghosh, Arunabh. 2020. Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People's Republic of China. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Abstract

In 1949, at the end of a long period of wars, one of the biggest challenges facing leaders of the new People’s Republic of China was how much they did not know. The government of one of the world’s largest nations was committed to fundamentally reengineering its society and economy via socialist planning while having almost no reliable statistical data about their own country. Making It Count is the history of efforts to resolve this “crisis in counting.” Drawing on a wealth of sources culled from China, India, and the United States, Arunabh Ghosh explores the choices made by political leaders, statisticians, academics, statistical workers, and even literary figures in attempts to know the nation through numbers.

Ghosh shows that early reliance on Soviet-inspired methods of exhaustive enumeration became increasingly untenable in China by the mid-1950s. Unprecedented and unexpected exchanges with Indian statisticians followed, as the Chinese sought to learn about the then-exciting new technology of random sampling. These developments were overtaken by the tumult of the Great Leap Forward (1958–61), when probabilistic and exhaustive methods were rejected and statistics was refashioned into an ethnographic enterprise. By acknowledging Soviet and Indian influences, Ghosh not only revises existing models of Cold War science but also globalizes wider developments in the history of statistics and data.

Anchored in debates about statistics and its relationship to state building, Making It Count offers fresh perspectives on China’s transition to socialism.

Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise
Britto, Lina. 2020. Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise. Berkeley: University of California Press. Abstract
Before Colombia became one of the world’s largest producers of cocaine in the 1980s, traffickers from the Caribbean coast partnered with American buyers in the 1970s to make the South American country the main supplier of marijuana for a booming US drug market, fueled by US hippie counterculture. How did one of the poorest and most isolated regions of Colombia become a central player in the making of an international drug trafficking circuit? Marijuana Boom is the untold story of this forgotten history. Combining deep archival research with unprecedented oral interviews, Lina Britto deciphers a puzzle: Why did the Colombian coffee republic, one of Latin America’s models of representative democracy and economic liberalism, transform into a drug paradise, and at what cost?
Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics
Giraudy, Agustina, Eduardo Moncada, and Richard Snyder, ed. 2019. Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Abstract
Although comparative politics is conventionally seen as the study of politics across countries, the field has a longstanding and increasingly prominent tradition in national contexts; focusing on subnational units, institutions, actors and processes. This book offers the first comprehensive assessment of the substantive, theoretical, and methodological contributions. With empirical chapters from across the contemporary Global South, including India, Mexico, and China, as well as Russia, the contributors show how subnational research provides useful insights about substantive themes in political science, from regimes and representation, to states and security, to social and economic development. In addition to methodological chapters with specific guidance about best practices for doing subnational research, this volume also proposes a set of strategies for subnational research, assesses their strengths and weaknesses, and offers illustrative empirical applications.