‘The revolution will not be televised’: the institutional work of radical change in China’s Cultural Revolution

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Political Power, 2015, 8 (1), pp. 61 - 83
Issue Date:
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© 2015, © 2015 Taylor & Francis. Mao Zedong sought both to destabilize existing institutional categories for ordering meaning, and impose new ones, initially through the Great Leap Forward and subsequently during the Cultural Revolution. The paper explores the institutional work that made this process of radical change possible. At its core was the construction and deployment of a set of binary categorization devices. These are explored in the paper to argue that persistent and morally sophisticated institutional work is necessary to make radical change possible. Macro, meso and micro processes of institutional work operate in parallel, reinforcing each other and articulating utopian desire with local possibility. There is no single revolutionary event, no central scene to be represented. Together, leaders and followers at several levels participate in the processes of categorizing and managing the result of such categorizations. Categorizations of radical change have explicitly stigmatizing purposes and managing categorization/stigmatization is an important institutional work, instrumental for radical change.
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