Benjamin L. Read

TitleAssociate Professor
DivisionSocial Sciences Division
DepartmentPolitics Department
AffiliationsEast Asian Studies
Phone831-459-4469
Email
FAX831-459-3125
Web Site Ben Read dot net
Office157 Merrill Faculty Annex
Office HoursSpring 2014: Tuesday & Thursday 2:00pm to 3:30pm, and by appointment
Campus Mail StopMerrill Faculty Services
Mail1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA
95064
USA
picture of Benjamin L. Read

Research Interests

Professor Read has studied local politics and state-society relations in East Asia, grassroots-level organizations, and field research methods. A summary follows below; a full CV, plus details and PDFs for many publications, are available at http://benread.net.

His first project concerns immense networks of ultra-local organizations that incorporate popular participation yet are fostered by governments. Countries from Japan to South Korea to Indonesia feature many thousands (in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of these structures, which operate at the neighborhood or village level and facilitate administration and policing as well as serving social welfare, public health and other functions. Read's 2012 Stanford University Press book, _Roots of the State: Neighborhood Organization and Social Networks in Beijing and Taipei_, compares state-sponsored neighborhood organizations in authoritarian China and democratic Taiwan, drawing on extensive research that includes participant-observation, interviews, and original surveys. A 2009 edited volume, _Local Organizations and Urban Governance in East and Southeast Asia: Straddling State and Society_, compares eight cases of this type of institution throughout the region. Further articles and chapters focus on specific aspects or functions of these organizations, such as dispute mediation. This work explains why such structures are more deeply embedded in parts of society than one might imagine, and reconsiders theoretical accounts of the state, associations, and the networks that link government agencies and constituents.

In a second project, Read examined China’s new homeowner groups and their implications for our understanding of civil society organizations. Along with the vast expansion of private housing in China's cities starting in the early 1990s came a slew of conflicts between the purchasers of homes in new condominium towers (and other gated developments) and the companies that build and manage these communities. Authorized by the central government but often impeded by local authorities, homeowner organizations have struggled to form, make decisions, and assert control over such private neighborhoods. These groups have provided a window on the development of non-state organizations in an authoritarian context, including the possibilities they offer for activism and democratic practices, as well as the challenges and limitations they face. Prominent theories posit that civil society groups have a number of salutary, pro-democratic effects, such as inculcating habits of political participation in individuals and demanding accountability from governments. The project clarified the conditions under which groups actually manifest these positive effects in observable ways.

A third project examines the practice and purposes of field research in the study of politics. It centers around a co-authored book, _Field Research in Political Science_ (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press, 2014). This book examines the many kinds of field research that political scientists do, drawing on a review of published work, in-depth interviews with researchers in all parts of the discipline, and a questionnaire survey (the first of its kind) of U.S.-based members of the profession. It explains how field research in various forms has contributed to the accumulation of knowledge about politics, provides a novel way of thinking about field research, and offers a set of guidelines for how to conduct field research in the most efficient and productive ways possible. Prof. Read has also written specifically on the role of ethnography and participant observation, or "site-intensive methods," in political science.

A fourth project will examine quality-of-democracy issues in Taiwan, with a particular focus on vote buying.

Biography, Education and Training

Born in Madison, Wisconsin
Worked and studied in China and Taiwan for a total of more than five years
BA: Asian Studies, Cornell University, 1993
MA: Political Science, UC Berkeley, 1997
PhD: Government, Harvard University, 2003

Teaching Interests

Comparative politics of the developing world (Poli 60)
Politics of China (Poli 141)
Foreign relations of China (Poli 143)
Governance and conflict in East Asia (Poli 190t)
Social forces and political change (graduate seminar, Poli 200b)

Syllabi available at http://benread.net.