Media, Universities and Social Movements

Sociologist Dingxin Zhao argues that in an authoritarian society, social movements are radical while in democratic states, social movements are reformist. In his book, The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement, Zhao argues that even though Western societies position the media as an independent agent, Zhao’s research shows that the media tends to portray the views of the dominant culture. By representing the majority, the media are actually conformist.

In an authoritative regime, the media are under state control. Zhao argues that in China in the mid-1980s, the media tried to escape state control by reporting positively on the student protest movement. Similarly, Zhao argues that universities are more radical in an “underdeveloped authoritarian regime” than in Western societies. In China, the university system “over produced” students who then joined radical social movements.

Zhao’s comparative focus on state institutions and social institutions remains ever useful.  

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Photo: Dingxin Zhao (University of Chicago) speaking at the Third Chinese Political Sociology Workshop. By UChicago Beijing via Flickr.

Source: The Other Sociologist.

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