Prof. Dr. Sarah Eaton, CeMEAS Director, 09.2014 - 09.2019

Prof. Dr. Sarah Eaton, CeMEAS Director, 09.2014 - 09.2019

Sarah Eaton holds a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Toronto (2011). Prior to arriving at Göttingen, she was an Associate Professor of Chinese Political Economy (2013-2014) at the University of Oxford’s School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo (2012-2013) and a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford (2011-2012). Her research interests and teaching expertise centre on Chinese political economy, inclusive of its regional and global dimensions.

Where did you study? What did you study? In which field are you working in?

My doctorate is from the University of Toronto in the field of politics. In graduate school, my training centered on the fields of Chinese politics and political economy but, as is common in the North American system, I also had to establish a working knowledge (assessed through comprehensive exams) of two of the so-called “sub-fields” of political science. Since my research interests meshed best with the sub-fields of comparative politics and international relations I chose these as my areas of focus. While it hasn’t always easy to balance the need to learn as much as I could about China (and Chinese) with the breadth requirements associated with my training as a political scientist, on the whole I see this immersion in both area studies and social science as quite helpful to my current research and teaching activities.

I now work in the field of Chinese political economy which is a somewhat amorphous field composed of diverse researchers—along with a large number of political scientists there are economists, sociologists, anthropologists and, of course, Chinese area studies specialists. The different academic languages we speak as well as diverse methodologies means that the inter-disciplinary exchange isn’t always as fruitful as it could be but, in recent years, certain themes of interest to people in many disciplines, in particular “institutions,” have provided the basis for interesting engagement across disciplines.

What are your main research interests?

My main research interests are in Chinese political economy, Chinese politics, comparative political economy and international political economy.

What are your current projects?

I have just completed a project that began with my doctoral dissertation that examines the so-called “advance of the state” in China in recent years. After much additional research and re-writing I now have a completed manuscript, The Advance of the State in Contemporary China: State-Market Relations in the Reform Era which is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

This project has led to a co-authored work, now taking shape, which uses the tools of survey research to examine Chinese citizens’ beliefs about the appropriate role of the state in the marketplace.

My other major current research project concerns China’s quite novel approach to “greening growth.” Carrying on from past research on how China’s cadre management system shapes this process in somewhat unanticipated fashion, along with a co-investigator, I am now in the process of designing a study that looks specifically at the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in China’s emerging green planning system.

What led you to pursue this research?

The advance of the state project emerged really from a period of “soaking and poking” while living in China in 2007 and 2008. At that time, discussion within China of the “advance of the state and retreat of the private sector” (国进民退)—associated with perceived state favouritism towards large SOEs and constraints on private enterprise development—was really lively but was still quite neglected in the academic literature. I remember the day that Michael Wines from the New York Times wrote a piece about the issue in 2010 and two of my committee members emailed it to me saying “Oh! We finally get what you’re on about!” It was a good day.

How is your research unique?

My research takes a longer-term view of the advance of the state in China. Many have seen the new assertiveness and muscular presence of China’s large central-level SOEs in the domestic market and, of course, in global markets (especially resource markets) as a trend dating back to about 2002. Using archival sources and findings of case study research in the airlines and telecommunications industries, I argue that the roots extend back much further, to the mid-1980s when the state first decided that to creating state-owned national champions in key sectors would be a top priority.

How would you describe your work’s importance to an interested lay audience?

My work is really about the institutional foundations of what scholars now refer to as state capitalism in China. Some of this research has been somewhat ahistorical and, while I don’t claim to be a historian, I do hope to have added some depth to the discussion by highlighting the incremental, complex and often contested process through which the core institutions of China’s brand of state capitalism have come into existence.