Most social science studies of local organizations tend to focus on civil society associations, voluntary associations independent from state control, whereas government-sponsored organizations tend to be theorized in totalitarian terms as mass organizations or manifestations of state corporatism. Roots of the State examines neighborhood associations in Beijing and Taipei that occupy a unique space that exists between these concepts. Benjamin L. Read views the work of the neighborhood associations he studies as a form of administrative grassroots engagement. States sponsor networks of organizations at the most local of levels, and the networks facilitate governance and policing by building personal relationships with members of society. Association leaders serve as the state's designated liaisons within the neighborhood and perform administrative duties covering a wide range of government programs, from welfare to political surveillance. These partly state-controlled entities also provide a range of services to their constituents. Neighborhood associations, as institutions initially created to control societies, may underpin a repressive regime such as China's, but they also can evolve to empower societies, as in Taiwan. This book engages broad and much-discussed questions about governance and political participation in both authoritarian and democratic regimes.
Benjamin L. Read is Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. With Robert Pekkanen, he is co-editor of Local Organizations and Urban Governance in East and Southeast Asia: Straddling State and Society (2009).