The sociologist watching the China-watchers: A conversation with David McCourt


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This week on Sinica, Kaiser chats with David McCourt, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis. For the last several years, David — who is not himself a China specialist — has undertaken a sociological study of “China-watchers,” and has presented his findings to date in a series of papers as he prepares to publish a book. Focusing on China-watchers as a community, he offers fascinating insights into how they interact to shape the major narratives of “engagement” and “strategic competition.

5:24 – Who counts as a “China-watcher”?

13:53 – A taxonomy of China-watchers

21:43 – Small e engagement and capital E Engagement

28:35 – The sociological sources of China policy

37:54 – What China policy positions tell us about America

45:14 – Habitus and China policy orientation

55:19 – The China-watching community and American presidential administrations, Obama to Biden

A transcript of this conversation is available at


David: Gregoire Chamayou, The Ungovernable Society: A Genealogy of Authoritarian Liberalism

Kaiser: The works of the great American political scientist Robert Jervis, who died on December 9, especially Perception and Misperception in International Politics and System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life