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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

5 - Co-optation


In this chapter, I turn my attention to the dynamics of co-optation of local notables. One might expect that the inclusion of communal elites in local political institutions might strengthen the voice of villagers and make local governments more responsive. By contrast, I argue that when communal elites are included in formal political institutions in rural China, they help the state control their group. Drawing on evidence from case studies, an original experiment, and a national dataset, I show how the inclusion of local elites in formal political bodies allows the state to requisition land and enforce family planning policy while forestalling collective action. Case studies from Scotland and the United States suggest that this mechanism of informal control may have applicability beyond China. When the leaders of communal groups remain outside the state, however, they can help to organize resistance against it.