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Dr Catherine Owen

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

I am British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, 2017 - 2021.

The project explores citizen participation in processes of policy making and delivery in Russia and China. In particular, it conducts an interpretive comparison of participatory budgeting initiatives and the implementation of recycling policies in St Petersburg and Shanghai. This approach seeks to remain faithful to the situated nature of local political meanings, while highlighting common trends and processes. The comparison starts from the recognition that both Russian and Chinese states face similar problems of governance as their state bureaucracies have transformed from those ‘command and control’ bureaucracies of the Communist era to forms of regulatory statehood. At the local level, this transformation is producing new relationships between citizens and municipal officials, which are expressed through new institutions and practices of participation. 
In particular, both Russian and Chinese leaders have had to devise new mechanisms that cater for both the state’s growing need to involve citizens and civic groups in the governing process and citizens’ growing desire for meaningful participation, without destabilising the broader non-democratic regime. While the solutions vary significantly, some common trends are discernible. The book explores these trends, and develops the concept ‘participatory authoritarianism’ in order to capture the way in which local practices of citizen participation are integrated into broader structures of authoritarian governance.

Research interests

 I have three main research interests:

* Participatory governance under authoritarianism, with a focus on Russia and China.

This work builds on my PhD thesis and my British Academy postdoctoral fellowship and explores the ways in which citizens are encouraged to particpate in local policy-making and delivery in Russia and China. This research has been published in a variety of articles, and is the subject of my book manuscript. In December 2019, I and my Fudan-based colleague won the Exeter-Fudan Fellowship, which sponsors an academic exchange during 2020 (postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19), allowing us to develop our joint research agenda into participatory governance in Shanghai.

* Russian and Chinese activities in Central Asia

Here I build on my work as research fellow on an ESRC-funded project led by Prof John Heathershaw, entitled Rising Power and Conflict Management in Central Asia (2012-2016). I have subsequently developed an on-going research interest in the development of China's Belt and Road Initiiatve (BRI) in Eurasia, which I have explored in a number of policy briefings and co-authored journal articles.

* Decolonial and non-Western approaches to knowledge production in International Relations

I was drawn to this topic during my participation in the Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice (PCAP), and it has resulted in one peer-reviewed journal article and an on-going research project with Dr Beverley Loke in which we explore the  ways in which the Global IR agenda is being engaged with in IR departments around the world.


Other information

I am Programme Director for the MA in Global Politics at the Penryn campus.

I act as reviewer for the following journals: Slavic Review, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of International Relations and Development, Government and Opposition, Social Movement Studies, Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, Polish Political Science Review, Chinese Journal of International Politics, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Perspectives on Politics, and Central Asian Survey.

I am Research Associate at UK based think tank, the Foreign Policy Centre.

I am Ambassador in Europe 2020 - 2022 for the Fudan Development Institute (FDDI), Fudan University's premier global-facing research institute.


Following my Bachelors at Durham University in Modern European Languages (French and German), I spent time in Berlin working as a translator, journalist and historical guide, and in St Petersburg working as an English teacher and volunteer with the Russian human rights organisation, Memorial. These experiences forged in me a deep interest in the politics and lived realities of post-communism.

I returned to academia to undertake, first, an MA in International Relations and then a PhD, both at the University of Exeter, the latter which was awarded in 2015. The thesis examined Russian state discourses and social practices of civic participation in local governance during the Putin era.  

Upon completion of my PhD, I moved to Xi'an, China, and spent two years working as Lecturer in Central Asian Studies in the Department of History and Civilization, Shaanxi Normal University, where I remain affiliated as a Visiting Professor.

In September 2017, I began a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which allowed me to build on my PhD research and explore participatory governance in Russia and China from a comparative perspective. Following the completion of the Fellowship in January 2021, I will take up a position as Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Exeter's Penryn campus.

I have held Visiting Fellowships at the European University at St Petersburg (2012), Fudan Development Institute, Shanghai (2017), the St Petersburg branch of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (2018), and the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki (2019).

In January 2020, I became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

I speak fluent French, German and Russian, and intermediate Mandarin Chinese.

When not at the university, I can probably be found on my bicycle somewhere along the back lanes of Devon and Cornwall. 

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