Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Brian Taylor


Academic policy debates, Authoritarian governance, Intellectual innovations in policy fields, Intellectual-state relations, Minzu policy/ethnic policy, Post-Mao China

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


How do intellectual innovations in policy fields occur under authoritarian China? In this study, I answer this question through a political-sociological investigation of the academic policy debates of the People’s Republic of China about its ethnic minority policy (a.k.a. “minzu policy”) in the Post-Mao period. Building off existing literature, I propose a theory of academic policy debates. This theory is predicated upon the political-institutional context of a policy subsystem and the internal dynamics of the knowledge community. My central argument can be summarized as follows: academic policy debates in Post-Mao China vary along two dimensions – the level of academic politicization and the theoretical heterogeneity; consequently, a debate on a given topic is a function of a) the level of conflict within the policy subsystem and b) the level of fragmentation within the knowledge community. To demonstrate this theory, I trace the changes in the conflict of policy subsystem, the fragmentation in the knowledge community, and the character of academic policy debates regarding China’s ethnic minority policy from 1979 to 2017. As I show, during this period, academic debates about minzu policy went from moderate-to-intense debate within the minzu studies paradigm to a heightened inter-paradigm debate – as the conflict among policy elites and fragmentation within the knowledge community increased – only to become somewhat moderated following the direct intervention of the party leadership to unify policy discourse. This study makes three main contributions: 1) it offers the first systematic study of the dynamics in academic knowledge production behind China’s multiethnic governance since 1979; 2) it provides a political-sociological account of the academic policy debates in Post-Mao based on a diachronic analysis of the minzu debate, thus advancing our theoretical knowledge about the political-sociological conditions for intellectual innovations in contemporary PRC’s policy field; and finally, 3) it suggests insights for understanding intellectual innovations in policy fields under authoritarian regimes more broadly.


Open Access