Stalin's "Road to Nowhere", Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Friends or Foes?: Authoritarian Politics and Environmental Activism in China and Russia
Status: Proposal submitted
Book Description Existing accounts of state-society relations under authoritarianism tend to focus on leaders’ ability to repress or co-opt independent groups; however, contemporary authoritarians often employ a mix of strategies from repression and co-optation to consultation and even encouragement. Why do state-society relations under authoritarianism vary so widely? Which groups are more likely to be repressed, and which are more likely to be encouraged by state actors?
Friends or Foes?: Authoritarian Politics and Environmental Activism in China and Russia addresses these questions by explaining why state-society relations under authoritarianism can vary so dramatically. Using the concept of an authoritarian dilemma between liberalization and control, the book develops a theoretical framework to model state-created opportunities and constraints on civil society activity from the top-down. Then, the book uses the example of environmental groups in two “state-of-the-art” authoritarian regimes, China and Russia, to show how these top-down choices structure behavior from the bottom-up. Environmental activism can be perceived as both threatening and complementary to state goals, making it an ideal window into possible variation in state-created opportunities and constraints for civil society. To unpack this variation, the book is organized around four common tactics that environmental activists use to make demands of the state and influence environmental policymaking, including advocating through informal or formal institutions, seeking justice through the legal system, attracting international support, or engaging in mass mobilization.
Drawing on evidence from more than 13 months of in-depth fieldwork in China and Russia, including over 150 interviews with environmental activists, NGO practitioners, and government officials, the book reveals stark differences in the state-created constraints and opportunities for environmental civil society between the two countries. Despite China’s more tightly controlled political system, I find that environmental groups have greater access to policymakers through informal channels, increasing access to the legal system, and are more able to contribute to governance. While in hybrid authoritarian Russia, environmental groups are mostly excluded from governance, have fewer legal opportunities, and, as a result, often lean on mass mobilization and international ties. I argue that these differences can be attributed to how environmental groups exacerbate or support the authoritarian dilemma, including how they interact with the political system (competitive or closed authoritarian), regime legitimacy, and historical legacies of mass mobilization. The book reveals patterns in authoritarian state-society interaction between top-down management strategies and bottom-up responses, contributing to our understanding of the shifting everyday politics and policymaking in authoritarian regimes.