Iza Ding is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, with a secondary appointment in public policy at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. As a scholar of political development and legacies across the communist and post-communist world, she uses diverse methodological tools to explore pressing public policy issues. She has active projects in the realms of environmental policy, legal development, bureaucratic organizations, and public opinion. Dr. Ding received her Ph.D. in government from Harvard University, and her B.A. from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, earning a dual degree in political science and Russian and Eastern European studies. She has in-depth knowledge and field experience in China, Poland, Vietnam, and North Korea.

Currently, Dr. Ding is completing two book manuscripts. The first book, entitled, “The Performative State: Public Opinion, Political Pageantry, and Environmental Governance in China,” explores how the environmental bureaucracy in China redeems itself in the eyes of the citizens in light of its severe environmental problems, the associated public outcry, and significant administrative challenges. After five months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Chinese EPA and an original national public opinion survey, she shows that under the dual constraints of low capacity and high scrutiny, the Chinese EPA engages in “performative governance” – the theatrical deployment of language, symbols, and gestures to project an image of good governance to citizens, and that performative governance is effective at placating public sentiments. This challenges the prevailing theory of “performance legitimacy”—a notion that is popular in the media and academic circles—by demonstrating that states can legitimate themselves through performativity and not just the delivery of material benefits. The manuscript is based on her doctoral dissertation, which received two best dissertation awards from the American Political Science Association.

Dr. Ding’s second book manuscript, “The Autocrat’s Moral-Legal Dilemma” (co-authored with Jeffrey Javed, postdoc at the University of Michigan), was inspired by a series of high-profile legal cases that have generated strong public controversy in China, such as the divorce of Wang Baoqiang – a popular “grass-roots” actor whose wife and agent had an affair; the detention of Lu Yong – China’s “drug king” who smuggled leukemia medications and sold them at an affordable price to leukemia patients; and the sentencing of Yu Huan, who committed premeditated murder of a gangster who sexually assaulted his mother. The book explores the acute “moral-legal dilemma” that developmental-authoritarian regimes such as China face. That is, weakly institutionalized political systems often ignore established laws and defer to popular morality — popular perceptions of what is proper and just — in their legal rulings in order to maintain their moral authority, and, by extension, their legitimacy. This deference to popular morality, however, necessarily comes at the cost of legal development: their survey experiments in China reveal that when legal rulings conflict with citizens’ moral intuitions, they become less likely to support the rule of law.

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