The inner (net-)workings of authoritarian regimes...

17th Central Committee | Social Networks | Chinese Elites | Hu Jintao

My research is situated in the growing subfield of studies on authoritarian regimes. In my dissertation, I redirect the field's attention from irregular leadership change and formal institutions - like parties, elections, and parliaments - to the role of informal institutions in facilitating stable turnover among the leader's entourage. I propose that social network analysis offers a principled, but nevertheless nuanced, method to conceptualize and measure some informal institutions.


The core of my dissertation project consists of three papers, focusing on the substantive question of turnover in the context of China's ruling inner circle, the theory explaining those changes, and the method to infer the relevant network, respectively.



The final book project will make a comparison with a similar network of Soviet elites and discuss results from a study on the corruption network of former Politburo Standing Committee member and Security Czar Zhou Yongkang (co-authored with Wang Yuhua), as well as future research on purges and anti-corruption campaigns. An examination of social networks formed earlier in the career in the Central Party School will explore how individuals enter the elite pool, using random assignment to cohorts as identification strategy.

My related working papers deal with elite politics in other settings. "Yes, Emperor” - Controlling the Bureaucracy in an Authoritarian Regime investigates the importance of elite connections for high-level appointments in the historical context of Qing Dynasty China (1644-1912). I find that the Emperor prefers provincial governors with higher educational achievements and fewer ties to elites, likely because they are more dependent on him personally, and thus more loyal.


In Finding Support Elsewhere, I provide evidence that holding elections allows the dictator to deter military coups by revealing that he has another source of power outside the elite. The deterrence is stronger if the elections were deemed free and fair.


... and the ties to the outside world


In other working papers I examine these sources of power and instability outside the elite. In Degrees of Separation, I explore how the elite network is connected to the wider citizenry in Kazakhstan, by asking respondents to forward a message to government representatives through a chain of acquaintances. Individuals with more relatives working in the government express a higher level of vague satisfaction with the state and are more likely to vote – so are respondents closer to the regime along the transmission chains.


Networks among ordinary citizens are also the focus of How to Spot a Successful Revolution in Advance.

In Networks of Power (3rd paper), I plot a social network among the top elites in the Chinese Communist Party using career and promotion data. I demonstrate that individuals holding specific network positions that make them popular coalition partners have a higher chance of ascending to the Politburo,  while those that occupy strategic positions often are powerful patrons.


Coalition Formation on Networks (1st paper) uses an agent-based model to show why those network positions help individuals entering the inner circle. It also explains how grey eminences can wield power without holding official positions.


Moving Beyond Factions (2nd paper, JEAS, forthcoming) argues that informal politics is better conceptualized as networks than factions, and finds that co-worker ties are most likely to capture the informal structure relevant among political elites.

16th Central Committee | China | Elites | Hu Jintao | Factions | networks

It develops an agent-based model of how potentially dangerous protest activity spreads along social ties within a country. Contrary to common expectation, I find that increased segregation and fractionalization can make the emergence of large-scale protests more likely.


Finally, in (Why) Do Revolutions Spread? I create a data base of large-scale popular protests and use a spatial model to examine why and how revolutions spread. In particular citizens in closed regimes appear to take protest in countries with similar regime type as a reason to update their beliefs about the true popularity of their ruler.

Revolution | Simulation | Agent-based Modeling | Protest

© 2019 Franziska Keller

Promotion network in the 17th Central Committee (2007)