Rachel Wetts and Yueran Zhang are the co-winners of the 2019 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship for a Graduate Student Paper Award given by the ASA Political Sociology section.
Rachel Wetts, “Models and Morals: Elite-Oriented and Value-Neutral Discourse Dominates American Organizations' Framings of Climate Change.” Social Forces (forthcoming)
Abstract: Is climate change discourse highly politicized and divisive, or has the debate instead become “post-political,” oriented around consensus, problem-solving and administrative management? Adjudicating this debate is important for pragmatic and theoretical reasons. Pragmatically, these divergent characterizations suggest different barriers climate discourse might pose for engaging public concern and citizen mobilization. Theoretically, these characterizations provide different understandings of how elites respond to structural crisis. Using automated text analysis to describe a large corpus of organizations’ press releases about climate change from 1985 to 2013 (N=1,768), I find that this discourse has been largely expert-oriented and technocratic, neglecting concerns of values and identity widely believed to be important for social movement mobilization. Organizations predominantly frame climate change as a problem that, while real and serious, is best handled through the careful and deliberate work of scientific, political, and economic elites. Surprisingly, these observations remain true even among advocacy organizations. These findings provide empirical support that a “post-political” framing of climate change, where the issue is discussed in a way that neutralizes social and political power dynamics, dominates American organizations’ official pronouncements about climate change. To the extent that earlier scholars are correct that conflict-oriented discursive strategies—such as identification of a common antagonist—are effective at rousing public concern, this discourse is unlikely to mobilize strong public emotion and activism.
Yueran Zhang, “Highlighting Versus Concealing: Divergent Strategies of Enacting Redistributive Taxation in Post-Socialist China.”
Abstract: In 2011, two Chinese municipalities, Chongqing and Shanghai, enacted a redistributive tax on rich homeowners to fund pro-poor public housing. Whereas Chongqing’s municipal state highlighted the redistributive dimension of the tax, its counterpart in Shanghai concealed the redistributive move as a technical, individualized market intervention. Given the existing literature, it was puzzling to see state actors enacting redistributive taxation while trying to conceal the fact that what they were doing was redistribution. This paper captures the policymaking processes which produced such opposed strategies of framing and enacting the same redistributive tax. It argues that divergent strategies were formulated through two interrelated processes: field interaction and competition among state actors, and state actors’ formation of particular perceptions of the balance of class forces. These analyses are guided by a theoretical synthesis of the Bourdieusian conception of the state as a complex field with the Marxian emphasis on the state embedded in class forces. This synthesis empowers the current disaggregating turn in the state theory to rediscover the powerful effects of classes on state actions, and suggests that such effects should be understood by focusing on how state actors themselves, positioned in a Bourdieusian field, make sense of classes.