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Refocusing Asia series: Remaking Taiwan During Democratization: Society and State

Date : 2024-01-12 Department : International Doctoral Program in Asia-Pacific Studies
【Article by IDAS】
The International Doctoral Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS) invited Professor Thomas Gold, Professor of Sociology Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley, to deliver a speech on “Remaking Taiwan During Democratization: Society and State” on January 5th, 2024. It is part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the College of Social Sciences (CSS), the CSS Refocusing Asia lecture series. Professor Gold’s research focuses on many aspects of the societies of East Asia, primarily mainland China and Taiwan. Through this lecture, Professor Gold presents his current research interest in looking at society-led change in the state during Taiwan’s march toward democracy.

Placing his current research in conversation with his earlier works that looked at development in Taiwan in the late 1970s and 1980s with a developmental state perspective, Professor Gold argued that the dynamics of the relationship between state and society have reversed since democratization, and the rise of society requires a new way of looking at the process of democratization. That is, we should see democratization as not limited to the political field but as part of transformations within and across many fields.

How did the society in Taiwan become empowered in the face of overwhelming state power in all fields? Based on Pierre Bourdieu’s and Neil Fligstein’s works, Prof. Gold applied field theory to study political change. To understand the effect of society on Taiwan’s political institutions and the transition of power from a party-state under the Kuomintang, Professor Gold presented cases to illustrate the fragmentation of state power and the formation of social institutions. The dispersal of power into wider society was assisted by the trouble in maintaining the myth of retaking China as time and political realities progressed. Demographics would also influence this change as the youth grew up with different historical and social perceptions. Professor Gold concluded that the party-state could not solve mounting problems opening the political space for social initiative. He stated that things that are taken for granted are ever-changing, as agency is dispersed.

Professor Gold provided us with a comprehensive review of what happened in Taiwan over the past decades. In the open forum, significant interest was expressed in applying Professor Gold’s theory to the upcoming January 2024 Taiwan presidential election, and the implication of his research on the political parties in today’s Taiwan. Prof. Gold expressed his view that there is significant difficulty in transferring influence from one arena to another and that observers should pay close attention to changes in the rules of the game, and the restructuring of benefits.
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