"Shaking Hands in Public - Co-appearances of Political Elites in Opaque Regimes"
Presenter: Franziska Barbara Keller, Assistant Professor, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Division of Social Science
Abstract: Even though observers of authoritarian regimes and elites have long relied on interpreting public appearances to understand the politics of such opaque governments, there is very little theoretical or systematic empirical research on that topic. The existing literature on public relations in authoritarian regimes views the regime largely as a unitary entity engaged in a battle with the opposition via censorship and propaganda. In the tradition of the new research of authoritarian regimes, this paper instead focuses on the actions of individual political elites within the regime by examining their co-appearance in public. Using social network analysis on a dataset of 19,000 appearances of 300 top Chinese officials from 2003 until 2014, and a smaller dataset of the Soviet leaders' co-appearance in 1972 -1986, we show that while public co-appearances are indeed determined by structural factors such as an elite's official position and their policy portfolio, it also reflects patronage networks. The latter's effect is especially noticeable during less stable times, such as leadership transitions and during the recent anti-corruption campaign. This may be due to the need of signaling loyalty during such more contentious periods.
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