Roots of the State: Neighborhood Organization and Social Networks in Beijing and Taipei

By Benjamin L. Read | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
The Little Platoon
Structuring the Neighborhood

The Nature of Administrative Organizations at the Grass Roots

Chapter 1 introduced the basic concept of administrative grassroots engagement (AGE): networks of state-sponsored organizations at the ultra-local level that facilitate governance and policing by building personal relationships with members of society. Here I explain this concept further and sketch out some of the historical processes that brought this kind of institution to such widespread presence in East and Southeast Asia today. From there, the chapter proceeds to a careful look at the Beijing and Taipei cases.

As we will see, these institutions are sticky: once created, they tend to persist and evolve, developing new purposes even as they shed others. In part, this stems from their tremendous utility to government. From a state’s perspective, cooperative links with local organizations are useful in several basic ways, all of which spring from the human presence and interpersonal networks that they embody. Rather than trample on local knowledge à la Scott’s high modernism, they instead afford access to it, thus making it possible to gather information that would otherwise be impossible or costly for distant bureaucrats to obtain (1998, 4, 88). They help bring trouble, threats, and deviants—however defined—to the attention of the authorities. They also allow for information flows in the other direction, which provides a way for the state to disseminate announcements, policies, and other messages efficiently. This propagating

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