Strategic ignorance : the tension between state and society at the grassroots level in China’s social reform
2017 ARNOVA-Asia conference: the nonprofit worlds in Asia: diverse perspectives from a fragmented field
Renmin University of China; ARNOVA
Under the policy guideline of “building a harmonious society”, the Chinese government has recently adopted purchase-of-services to support the development of social organizations and social services. Purchase-f-services is the signature initiative of “the enabling state” for empowering societal actors to share social provision responsibility. However, several empirical studies suggest, there is a lack of successful state-society collaboration at the grassroots level in many China’s metropolises. Then, a new puzzle emerges: why does the extent of collaboration vary across grassroots governments under the proactive purchase-of-services?
Based on the social origins theory and state in society theory, this study adopts comparative case study design to explain this new puzzle. It chooses the integrated family services centres in Guangzhou city as the field site. Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong province, is one of the pioneering metropolises in this wave of social reform in China. And the project of integrated family services centre is the flagship initiative of Guangzhou’s purchase of services from social organizations.
14 integrated family services centres, operated by different social organizations with different social origins and from different areas in Guangzhou, are selected for case study. The study reveals, grassroots governments’ indifferent attitudes to social organizations widely exist. The indifferent attitude could be conceptualized as “strategic ignorance” (Bishara 2015; Gross 2010; Hasmath and Hsu 2015). The comparative study suggests, since social services and social work profession are newly developing in China, street-level bureaucrats with better knowledge of them would collaborate better with integrated family services centres. More importantly, apart from background knowledge of street-level bureaucrats, structural factors, including prior collaborative relationships and close ties with grassroots governments, shape the current collaborative partnership between street-level bureaucrats and social organizations in purchase-of-services.
In the eyes of street-level bureaucrats, the newly developing social organziations, as emerging power holders, not only share but also challenge street-level bureaucrats’ traditional power and authority at the communities. As a result, they adopt “strategic ignorance”, in the name of the incapability of the new social organizations, as a response to the new political mission of purchase-of-services assigned by the superior governments.
Wen, Z. & Ngok, K. (2017, June). Strategic ignorance: the tension between state and society at the grassroots level in China’s social reform. Paper presented at 2017 ARNOVA-Asia conference: the nonprofit worlds in Asia: diverse perspectives from a fragmented field, Beijing.