The Micro-Foundations of Elite Politics: Conversation Networks and Elite Conflict during China’s Reform Era

Yang Zhang, American University
Feng Shi, UNC-Chapel Hill

In this article, we explore the micro-foundations of elite politics by focusing on changes in network structures that emerge from informal conversations. Empirically, we offer a novel “situational conflict” explanation to account for the puzzle of why reformist leaders were periodically ousted during China’s reform era (1977-1992), emphasizing the unexpected power collision that catalyzed the violent crackdown on the Tiananmen movement in 1989. To do so, we employ network analysis and narrative to utilize an original dataset of elite conversations and primary sources that have only recently been made available. We find that ideological cleavage and manipulative brokerage produced each conflict to varying degrees but were contingent on the changing relational structure arising from elite conversational interactions. Furthermore, the actual unfolding of those conflicts often resulted from alterations in elite relationships produced by the sequential effects of conversations at vital moments, such as during the Tiananmen movement. Integrating micro-sociological theories and network analysis, our work has methodological and theoretical implications for unpacking the black box of elite politics and its role in macro-historical change.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 91. New Developments in the Historical Sociology of Elite Political Action