American Hegemony and the Rise of China

David M. McCourt is an assistant professor of sociology. His project, which involves working with the US-based "China-watchers", was awarded a 2016-17 ISS Individual Research Grant. He provided this update in May 2018.

How did this project come about? What inspired it?

I have had a longstanding interest in conceptions of America's role in world politics, and the institutions (think tanks, research institutes, academic disciplines) that shape it. The decision to focus on US foreign policy toward China was more accidental, but has come to limit the scope of my study (fortuitously, as events have turned out since I made the decision two years ago.)

How has it progressed since you received an ISS Individual Research Grant?

Very well. The ISS grant funded a research trip to Washington DC to interview US-based China experts (so-called "China Watchers"). In total, I've now interviewed 71 people for my study.

What notable or surprising findings can you share at this point?

The most surprising finding I would say is the very existence of a vibrant community of China watchers in Washington and beyond who carry on an almost constant conference on China. By that i mean there are hundreds of dedicated China specialists struggling over expertise on China (a massive country no one person could possibly be an expert on). Interestingly, the individuals who populate the struggle are pushed and pulled by the pressures from outside the community: from the various academic disciplines to squeeze their China research into disciplinary boxes; from the media to talk authoritatively about issues often far from their specialty; from the political realm, where China means different things to different people. Uncovering this world and thinking about how it works, and how it impacts US foreign policy toward China, has been the most notable aspect of the study so far.

What is the next step?

The next step is to complete the interviewing part of the project (around 60 more are planned), and to begin the planning and writing phase. I hope to begin writing in Winter 2019. My aim is to publish at least one book and several articles. I have ideas for a more historical manuscript and a more contemporary focused book. If I can fruitfully combine them I will. I expect to publish key findings articles in IR and sociology journals, and up to three more articles, including one public-outreach type article (to a journal such as Foreign Affairs.)

Learn more about David M. McCourt.