Authoritarian Multiculturalism

This project looks at the efficacy of multiculturalism as a philosophy, public policy, and a mediating principle for managing ethnic grievances, in advanced authoritarian environments.

The first facet looks at how philosophical concepts such as discourse, deliberation and difference are operationalized in such an environment. In a working paper, I examine how authoritarian discourse and deliberation is more limited than its Western liberal-democratic counterparts. I suggest that the incorporation of difference into authoritarian discourse and deliberation is difficult due to the inherent tensions between the ‘Other’ and the ruling elite in authoritarian polities. Nevertheless, these constraints do not invalidate the notion that discourse and deliberation is theoretically possible and has a practical function in authoritarian regimes.

The second facet analyzes potential inequities amongst ethnic minority groups, and the subsequent impact social policies have on this cohort. One major work, in this regard, is the monograph A Comparative Study of Minority Development in China and Canada [interview: video]. Here, I draw upon qualitative and quantitative evidence to comparatively examine similarities and variances in the Chinese and Canadian approaches to managing ethnic minorities' socio-economic life, and the policy steps taken to improve their future outlook. This theme is continued with the co-edited book, Ethnicity and Inequality in China [Chinese version]. The book draws upon the China Household Ethnicity Survey (CHES) the first comprehensive national dataset dedicated to understanding the socio-economic profile of ethnic minorities in China where I was one of the very few international team members.

The third, and final, facet looks at state approaches to managing ethnic conflict, and the steps that can be utilized to improve inter-ethnic relations in authoritarian environments. Seemingly, since the early 2000s, there has been a rise of inter-ethnic tensions in China [public talk: video and podcast], from Tibet to Xinjiang, to the more developed areas such as Beijing. While ethno-cultural repression and ineffective state policies are correctly attributed as key factors behind this reality, in one journal article [audio paper: video and podcast] [public talk: video and podcast] I focus on the Xinjiang case, and demonstrate that socio-economic factors play a fundamental and major contributory role as well (see policy brief here). In a follow-up paper, I discuss best practices China can adopt from lessons learned from global approaches for improving inter-ethnic relations. I also outline fruitful steps global actors can take to meaningfully engage with China over their management of ethnic minorities.

The overall project has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am in the process of publishing a monograph, Authoritarian Multiculturalism: The Management of Ethnic Minorities in Contemporary Urban China, that outlines my meta-thinking on the subject matter. The monograph takes partial inspiration from a journal special issue looking at the contemporary ethnic minority in China, and a working paper looking at inter-ethnic interactions in Beijing.

Public engagement outcomes for this project include numerous talks at leading institutions (sample e.g. Chatham House), and in prominent global media outlets (sample e.g. The Economist, Financial Times [example one and example two] and The Wall Street Journal..