Written by David Tobin.
My primary research interests are critical approaches to identity politics, nationalism, and international relations theory using China and Xinjiang as case studies. My research focuses on how to use ethnography as method in International Relations theory and how the concept of performativity can be applied to the securitisation of identity. For the China Policy Institute Blog, I will be writing broadly about intersections between domestic and international politics and between identity and security in East Asian international relations. I will be looking at questions such as rising nationalisms, Sino-Japanese relations, and East Asian interactions with Central Asia as questions of identity politics. I work within a post-structuralist approach asking ‘who is China?’ and ‘who is Asia?’, thus framing international politics not as a geopolitical struggle but as ongoing series of identity contestations.
Prior to my present role at Glasgow University, I was lecturer in Chinese politics in the Department of Politics at the University of Manchester from 2012-13 where I completed my PhD. My PhD thesis, ‘Nation-Building and Ethnic Boundaries in China’s North-West’, examines how the concept of performativity can be applied to the securitisation of identity in official discourse and the politics of the everyday. The empirical focus is how the party-state’s attempts to deepen integration of Xinjiang into China shape popular responses and resistance from both Han Chinese and Uyghurs. The analysis draws from one year of ethnographic fieldwork in Xinjiang’s largest city, Ürümchi. ‘Competing Communities’, my analysis on the relationship between ethnicity and nationalism in contemporary China, was published in 2011 for Inner Asia. I am currently working on converting my thesis into a monograph. My next research project explores how China’s increasingly influential public intellectuals theorise the role of ethnicity in China’s rise to global superpower status.