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Professor John Yasuda: On Feeding the Masses: The Politics of Regulatory Failure in China

  • University of Edinburgh David Hume Tower Room LG.11 (map)

Abstract: On Feeding the Masses explores why China’s food safety system is failing despite concerted state efforts to reform its regulatory framework. Rather than pointing to lack of state capacity, level of economic development, or corruption, the study seeks to gain analytical leverage from the often cited but understudied notion that China’s scale lies at the core of its governance challenges.  The “politics of scale” framework introduced in the book identifies three major sources of conflict in large-scale polities: (1) because scale is a social construct, regulators find it challenging to define the scale – national, provincial, municipal, county, or township - at which a problem is likely to emerge and be effectively resolved; (2) each scale of government operates according to multidimensional logics (temporal frames; types of knowledge; institutional preferences; and managerial styles) that make it difficult to coordinate governance across scales; and (3) scale externalities – decisions at one scale of governance can affect other scales in a nested system in unexpected and costly ways.  In large, heterogeneous polities like China where millions of actors are operating at varying scales or "degrees of zoom" in diverse economic and geographical settings, scale politics are particularly fierce due to evolving social constructs, non-linear dimensions, and scale externalities. Drawing from over 200 interviews with food safety regulators and producers in China’s domestic, export, and organic markets and investigation over a 5 year period, the study seeks to establish new theoretical and empirical ground to explain why China’s fragmented unitary framework is ill-equipped to address its scale politics.  Cross-sectoral illustrations in the aviation, fisheries, and environmental sectors in China highlight how scale politics impact many other economic sectors within China; and cross-national comparisons of Europe, India, and the United States suggest that the politics of scale framework may engage debate about contentious policy arenas and regulatory outcomes in the world's large and complex markets beyond China.

John Yasuda is an assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies (SGIS) specializing in contemporary Chinese politics. Prof. Yasuda’s research includes the study of regulatory reform in developing countries, governance, and the politics of institutional integration. He has published articles in the Journal of Politics, Regulation & Governance, and The China Quarterly. His book, On Feeding the Masses, which examines the political roots of China's food safety crisis, was recently accepted by Cambridge University Press. Prior to joining SGIS, Prof. Yasuda was post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Contemporary China. He received his PhD in Political Science from University of California, Berkeley, an MPhil in Comparative Government at Oxford University, and his BA in Government from Harvard College.