What We Are Reading Today: Governing the Urban in China and India by Xuefei Ren

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Updated 10 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Governing the Urban in China and India by Xuefei Ren

Urbanization is rapidly overtaking China and India, the two most populous countries in the world. One-sixth of humanity now lives in either a Chinese or Indian city. 

This transformation has unleashed enormous pressures on land use, housing, and the environment. Despite the stakes, the workings of urban governance in China and India remain obscure and poorly understood.

In this book, Xuefei Ren explores how China and India govern their cities and how their different styles of governance produce inequality and exclusion. Drawing upon historical-comparative analyses and extensive fieldwork (in Beijing, Guangzhou, Wukan, Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata), Ren investigates the ways that Chinese and Indian cities manage land acquisition, slum clearance, and air pollution. 

She discovers that the two countries address these issues through radically different approaches. In China, urban governance centers on territorial institutions, such as hukou and the cadre evaluation system. 

In India, urban governance centers on associational politics, encompassing contingent alliances formed among state actors, the private sector, and civil society groups. Ren traces the origins of territorial and associational forms of governance to late imperial China and precolonial India. She then shows how these forms have evolved to shape urban growth and residents’ struggles today.

As the number of urban residents in China and India reaches beyond a billion, Governing the Urban in China and India makes clear that the development of cities in these two nations will have profound consequences well beyond their borders.


What We Are Reading Today: Two Cheers for Higher Education by Steven Brint

Updated 13 August 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Two Cheers for Higher Education by Steven Brint

Crushing student debt, rapidly eroding state funding, faculty embroiled in speech controversies, a higher-education market disrupted by online competition—today’s headlines suggest that universities’ power to advance knowledge and shape American society is rapidly declining. But Steven Brint, a renowned analyst of academic institutions, has tracked numerous trends demonstrating their vitality. After a recent period that witnessed soaring student enrollment and ample research funding, universities, he argues, are in a better position than ever before.

Focusing on the years 1980–2015, Brint details the trajectory of American universities, which was influenced by evolving standards of disciplinary professionalism, market-driven partnerships (especially with scientific and technological innovators outside the academy), and the goal of social inclusion. 

Conflicts arose: Academic entrepreneurs, for example, flouted their campus responsibilities, and departments faced backlash over the hiring of scholars with nontraditional research agendas. Nevertheless, educators’ commitments to technological innovation and social diversity prevailed and created a new dynamism.

Brint documents these successes along with the challenges that result from rapid change. Today, knowledge-driven industries generate almost half of U.S. GDP, but divisions by educational level split the American political order. Students flock increasingly to fields connected to the power centers of American life and steer away from the liberal arts. And opportunities for economic mobility are expanding even as academic expectations decline.