Wilson Center Experts

Xuefei Ren

Fellow
Urban Sustainability Laboratory

Expertise:
Economics and Globalization
;
Governance
;
International Development
;
Urban Studies
;
China Mainland
;
India
Affiliation:
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Global Urban Studies, Michigan State University and Faculty Associate, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan
Wilson Center Project(s):
“The Changing Urban Governance in China and India: 1980s-2010s”
Term:
Sep 06, 2011
-
May 25, 2012

Born and raised in Mainland China, I moved to Tokyo in 1999 to study urban planning and came to the United States in 2001 to pursue a doctoral degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. My research interests include urbanization, governance, development, architecture and the built environment.

My first book Building Globalization: Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China (2011, The University of Chicago Press) examines the growing phenomenon of transnational architecture and its profound effect on the development of urban space. My second book Urban China, Gilded Age (Forthcoming, Polity Press) tells the story of China’s spectacular economic growth from an urban perspective, examining the changing central-local dynamics and modes of urban governance in sectors such as land, housing, infrastructure, and migration policies. Since 2007, I have been working on a comparative project on urban governance in China and India, and have conducted fieldwork trips to both countries. During my fellowship year at the Wilson Center, I will be writing a book manuscript entitled The Changing Urban Governance in China and India, 1980s-2010s.

In addition to the book-length projects, I have also published research articles on historical preservation, mega projects, housing inequality, citizenship, architecture, urban design, and cultural industries in journals such as City and Community, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Journal of Urban Affairs, and CITY. I co-translated the book Department and Discipline: Chicago Sociology at One Hundred into Japanese (2011, Tokyo: Harvest). Currently I am a corresponding editor for the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and the International Urban Planning Review. In addition to academic writing, I also write a monthly urban column for the THINKER magazine in Beijing.

Education

B.A. Comparative Literature, Jilin University, China, 1997; M.A. Urban Planning, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan, 2001; Ph.D. Sociology, The University of Chicago, 2007

Project Summary

With urban governance systems inherited from the earlier period of national development (1950s-70s), municipal governments in the global South now increasingly find themselves struggling to provide adequate housing, infrastructure, and employment to the urban poor. Rapidly urbanizing China and India provide excellent cases with which to examine the key urban governance issues in the global South. This project examines the disparate modes of urban governance over the course of the market reforms in China and India. It is widely argued that decision-making in China is fast, effective, but less legitimate because of the country’s non-democratic political system, and by comparison, India is “the largest democracy in the world,” so that its decision-making is more contested, but more legitimate among citizens. This project challenges the reductionist view that attributes problems of urban governance solely to the absence of democratic institutions, and instead, I explain the different modes of urban governance in relation to power dynamics between central and local authorities. My preliminary research shows that the different modes of urban governance in China and India derive from the ways in which fiscal resources and political power are transferred from the central to municipal governments. Based on fieldwork interviews and secondary sources, I identify four major factors that explain the different dynamics of central-local relations, including the historical legacy of central-local interactions, the fragmentation of political elites, the role of foreign direct investment, and the promotion systems of city officials.

Major Publications

  • Building Globalization: Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China (2011) Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Urban China, Gilded Age (Forthcoming, 2012) Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Architecture and Nation Building in the Age of Globalization, Journal of Urban Affairs, 2008, vo. 30, no.2, pp. 175-190. 

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