At University of Trento, Italy, I’ll teach “Studying Memory, Mobility, and Forcible Migration” at International Summer School in Ethnography (September 5-8, 2023) sponsored by Dept of Sociology at Trento. Students, register now! Professors, please circulate this great opportunity!

A special issue on “Toward a Cultural Sociology of Disaster” edited by Ming-Cheng M. Lo and me just came out. Check it out here. Some articles in the issue are open access. 

My new book “The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach to Civil Society” (Polity) came out in the UK and the US. Check it out here. A synopsis of the book can be found here.

My second book “Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China” (Cambridge University Press) was published in 2021 in hardback and e-book. It is now available in paperback. A synopsis of the book can be found here.

Academic Bio

I am Bin Xu, Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Emory University.

My research interests are situated in the intersection between politics and culture, broadly defined, with a regional focus on East Asia, especially China, and with a global and comparative perspective. My ultimate intellectual goal is twofold: to develop generalizable knowledge without sacrificing sensitivity to context-specific processes and local knowledge; to address important public issues without losing scientific rigor and intellectual depth.

This research agenda has been reflected in three interrelated lines of research.


The first line of my research interest focuses on civil society, particularly civic engagement, volunteering, the voluntary sector, and state-civil society relations. In my empirical work, I have addressed how a burgeoning civil society under authoritarianism interacts with the state—in my case, contemporary China—and how citizens and organizations understand the meanings of their civic engagement in an undemocratic context. This topic is addressed in my book The Politics of Compassion: the Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (2017, Stanford University Press), which has received positive reviews from more than ten journals and won the Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in the Sociology of Culture from American Sociological Association (2018) and Honorable Mention for Best Book on Asia/Transnational from American Sociological Association (2018). The book draws on extensive data from interviews, observations, and textual materials to examine how individual volunteers, associations, and nonprofit organizations who participated in the rescue and relief effort after the Sichuan earthquake acted on the ground, how they understood the meaning of their action, and how the political context shaped both their actions and the meaning they attributed to them. This book not only provides a window into the world of civic engagement, volunteering, and voluntary sectors in contemporary China but also contributes to the cultural sociology of civil society by revisiting Tocqueville’s “habits of the heart” thesis in an authoritarian context.

My theoretical work on civil society advocates and develops a cultural sociology of civil society with a focus on empirical examination of moral-political values, civil society actors’ interpretations of the values, and norms of interactions in civic engagement. This theoretical thinking was presented in a theoretical book that provides the first systematic survey of the cultural sociology of civil society and offers a committed global perspective on pressing issues in today’s world: The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach (Polity, 2022). In the book, I demonstrate that civil societies remain vibrant, animated by people’s belief that they should and can solve such issues and build a better society. Central to this cultural aspect of civil society is the “culture of democracy,” including normative values, individual interpretations, and interaction norms pertaining to features of a democratic society, such as civility, independence, and solidarity. The culture of democracy varies in different contexts and faces challenges, but it shapes civic actions, alters political and social processes, and thus is the soul of modern civil societies.


Second, collective memory. I have published a book and a few articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation—the 17 million Chinese youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. I draw on the data collected from 2007-2018, including life history interviews, ethnography, and archival research, to address how members of this important generation interpret meanings of their past difficulties and sufferings in the countryside, how those interpretations are represented and expressed in autobiographic memories, cultural objects, and commemorative activities, and what their memories tell us about this generation’s mentality. This project aims to understand the Maoist legacy by reading the minds and hearts of those “Chairman Mao’s children.” It also aims to generate a theoretical framework from Karl Mannheim’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s theories to address a few general issues related to generation, class, and memory. The book, titled Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2021. My previous work on collective memory also deals with WWII memories in China, nationalism, mourning, and disaster and trauma.


Third, symbolic politics. To some extent, all my research interests and projects have to do with symbolic politics, which can be defined as the symbolic-cultural aspect of political processes and actions, including, but not limited to, rituals, narratives, rhetoric, and so on. To be distinguished from the other two lines of research, this line focuses on the symbolic politics of the state. My central question is: How do modern states perform to shore up their legitimacy and seek consent from civil society, especially in situations in which their citizens suffer from various catastrophes?

I have done research projects on how states perform in disaster situations. In two of my articles (2012 in Sociological Theory and 2016 in China Quarterly), I examine how the Chinese state actors used individual performance, narratives, and rituals to construct the state’s moral images and enhance its legitimacy in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake. The articles also indicate the limitations and dilemmas of such symbolic politics. To extend this line, I have also co-edited with Ming-Cheng M. Lo a special issue on “Toward a Cultural Sociology of Disaster” with Poetics, a leading journal in the field of cultural sociology, including my article which compares Chinese and American states’ performance in the Sichuan earthquake and Hurricane Katrina. The research project I am currently working on further extends this theoretical thinking to a significant public issue: the American and Chinese states’ cultural responses to the COVID-19 crisis. While current academic and public discourses are filled with simplistic comparisons of the two countries in terms of number of cases and regime type, my project focuses on “cultural responses”—how the states endeavor to use meaningful narratives and symbolic actions to address issues about citizens’ suffering and death amidst the disaster.

My CV can be found HERE Updated!

Information about my publications by subject can be found HERE

Information about my teaching can be found HERE

You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter (@binxuatlanta).

My books can be found in most universities’ libraries and also be purchased on publishers’ websites and Amazon (here’s my author’s page)


(The picture below was taken in a Qiang village in Mao County, Sichuan, which was hit by a massive earthquake in 2008)