Organized Panel Session
Despite scholarly interests in responsiveness by authoritarian regimes, the field is in a state of conceptual disarray populated by incongruent definitions and measurements. To address this shortcoming, I propose a conceptual framework that differentiates between reactive responsiveness and institutionalized responsiveness. I first analyze responses by the Vietnamese state to highly disruptive incidents and everyday resistance to compulsory land requisitions from 2003 through 2013 based on my interviews and ethnographic observations. At the grassroots level, reactive responsiveness is strictly circumscribed around the government’s tactical management of citizen resistance in tandem with repression. I then trace the receptivity of the central government to the resounding signal of societal unrest and the legislative revisions undertaken by the Vietnamese National Assembly in 2013 to tighten the lawful scope for local discretion and compulsory land acquisitions. I argue that reactive, ad hoc and targeted appeasement by authoritarian regimes largely through provisions of immediate, de facto gains, like fire extinguishers during an emergency to expunge specific incidents, ultimately falls short from substantive responses characterized by programmatic and institutionalized change in law and policy. Absent institutionalized responses addressing the systematic cause that gives rise to unrest in the first place, reactive measures by authoritarian regimes often do not represent societal interests and preferences. Lastly, I apply the conceptual spectrum to the case of China to illustrate how the framework discloses important puzzles for research agendas on authoritarian responsiveness and comparative studies.