Resourceful Bureaucrats: How Chinese Officials (Fail to) Implement Environmental Policies
This dissertation has three empirical chapters that are organized around two central questions: (1) how and why regional, meso-level bureaucrats (fail to) implement some environmental policies in Shanxi and Henan provinces in North-Central China and (2) how to explain environmental policy implementation failure when both recentralization and environmental concerns have taken center stage. The empirical chapters deeply delve into the last central questions: What are the interests that affect and are affected by meso-level bureaucrats and how do meso-level bureaucrats use these interests to further their own goals when choosing which policies to implement and which to ignore? To answer these questions, I conducted 12 months of comparative ethnographic research (May 2018, August 2018 to July 2019) coupled with 148 semi-structured interviews of meso-level officials, civil society organizations, workers, and managers. The main finding is that state-defined interests are not singular, but are contested social objects whose outcomes depend on material, cultural, and positional bureaucratic characteristics, as well as the key explanatory mechanism: individual resourcefulness. The first empirical chapter examines capital as an interest that mid-level officials use and negotiate, showing when, where, and how meso-level state officials resourcefully interact with state-owned, state-controlled, private, and illegal enterprises to further their own interests. The second empirical chapter continues to examine mid-level officials’ interests and resourcefulness by showing the ways in which meso-level officials manipulate preexisting, nascent labor mobilizations to further their own goals, showing how mid-level officials manipulate mass incidents throughout the mobilization process to justify implementing or not implementing environmental policies. The final empirical chapter examines the ongoing political and positional interests that mid-level officials navigate, negotiate, and use when deciding how to implement environmental policies, showing the resourcefulness of these officials as they navigate their role as agents of higher-level bureaucrats as well as principles of lower-level agents, as well as colleagues to officials in horizontal bureaus. Mid-level officials resourcefully and skillfully play competing interests and powers off one another to pick and choose which policies they are going to (either partially or fully) implement and which ones they are going to ignore.