In 2016, the Chinese government announced its plan to introduce a so-called Social Credit System that aims to measure its citizens creditworthiness in an encompassing sense. Pilots are run, among others at student campuses in Shanghai and Beijing where the system is known as Sesame credit. Students can earn merit points which allow them get access to free cleaning services, but also to better rated Tinder-like websites. The Chinese government’s aim is to have the system obligatory for all Chinese citizens in 2020. Reactions from the West are largely negative and express the fear of an authoritarian state that, as in Black Mirror’s episode Nosedive, will grade and control an individual’s behavior into its most intimate detail. The Chinese government claims it is not using methods that are different from those used in western countries.
This course aims to test that claim by studying several comparative case studies that trace the Chinese Social Credit System to its own historical roots and situate it against historical and contemporary efforts in the West to regulate and control individual behavior of which Bentham’s Panopticon project has become, perhaps, the most famous exemplar. We will discuss several episodes in which we examine a) the so-called Ledgers or Merit and Demerit of the late Ming Period, a period of substantial socio-economic turmoil; b) utopian social experiments at the turn of 18th century Europe; c) the movements in the American Progressive Era and the Chinese Republican Period to rationalize the household and household expenditures; d) contemporary initiatives to install so-called nudge-units for public policy and to use convenience apps to influence (consumer) behavior. These cases will be put in contrast with the Chinese Social Credit System and with apps and platforms such as WeChat, Shihu or the highly censored Weibo.
We will pay specific attention to accounting systems to register, control and change an individual’s behavior. The introductory week and the last week will be used to introduce the course and for student presentations.
Sessions will be structured around the discussion of key essays and book chapters. Students will have to read each text in preparation of the respective session. Students will be asked to keep track of their behavior in one of the manners discussed during the course (ledger of merit and demerit, moral thermometer, household expenses, tracking app). In the closing week, we will enact a so-called meet-up session in the style of the Quantified Self movement, where students are expected to present and discuss in a Q&A the results of their self-tracking. Students are expected to relate the course texts to their own experience and cultural background as an important input in class discussion. Students are supposed to take notes on the class discussions on an alternating basis. These notes will be distributed in class to keep track of the themes of the discussions and to enhance coherence between sessions.
Students’ grades will be composed of three pillars:
1. An evaluation of students’ self-tracking behavior at a show and tell meet-up (40%)
2. Class participation (20%)
3. An essay on (one of) the course cases (40%)
A mid-term grade will be communicated to the Globalization Program office based on a mid-term assessment of self-tracking behavior and class participation.
Upon finishing this course students should be able to
- evaluate contemporary governmental initiatives to govern and nudge individual (consumer) behavior.
- analyze such initiatives through the lens of history
- situate such initiatives against their proper cultural background
- read and discuss historical, anthropological and sociological texts
- use self-tracking and ethnographic methods to observe and reflect on one’s own and other’s behavior
Readings (provisional list)
Bailey, Paul. 2000. ‘Active Citizen or Efficient Housewife? The Debate over Women’s Education in Early-Twentieth-Century China’. In Education, Culture, and Identity in Twentieth Century China, Glen Peterson, Ruth Hayhoe & Yongling Lu (eds). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 318–47.
Blamires, C. P. 2008. The French Revolution and the Creation of Benthamism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (chapter 2)
Chiang, Yung-chen. 2001. Social Engineering and the Social Sciences in China, 1919-1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (chapter 2).
Dworkin, G. 1988. ‘Paternalism: Some Second Thoughts’. In The Theory and Practice of Autonomy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 121–29.
Fisher, Gareth. 2011. ‘Morality Books and the Revival of Lay Buddhism in China’. In Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Adam Yueh Chau (ed.). London: Routledge, 53–80.
Foucault, Michel. 2012. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage. (selected fragments)
Foucault, Michel. 1988. ‘Technologies of the Self’. In Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Luther et al. (eds) Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16–49.
Gere, Cathy. 2017. Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and beyond. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press. (chapter 3)
Goldstein, Carolyn M. 2012. Creating Consumers: Home Economists in Twentieth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. (chapter 1)
Helpern, David. 2014. ‘Policy and Wellbeing: The UK Government Perspective’. In Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume VI, Interventions and Policies to Enhance Wellbeing, Felicia A. Huppert & Cary L. Cooper (eds). Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 1–20.
Lauer, Josh. 2017. Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America. Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism. New York: Columbia University Press. (chapter 5)
Lejeune, Philippe. 2011. ‘Marc-Antoine Jullien: Controlling Time.’ In Baggerman, Arianne, Rudolf Dekker, and Michael Mascuch (eds), Controlling Time and Shaping the Self: Developments in Autobiographical Writing since the Sixteenth Century. Egodocuments and History Series, v. 3. pp. 95-120. Leiden and Boston: Brill.
Pykett, Jessica, Rhys Jones, Rachel Lilley, Mark Whitehead, and Rachel Howell. Neuroliberalism: Behavioural Government in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge, 2017. (chapters 4 and 5)
Schneider, Helen M. 2011. Keeping the Nation’s House: Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. (chapter 5)
Shue, Vivienne, and Patricia M. Thornton (eds) 2017. ‘IV. Governance of the Individual and Technique of the Self’. In To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 299–308.
Thaler, Richard R. and Cass R. Sunstein. 2009. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New York: Penguin Books. (introduction)
Brokaw, Cynthia Joanne. 1987. ‘Yüan Huang (1533-1606) and The Ledgers of Merit and Demerit’. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 137–95.
Chen, Yongxi, and Anne S.Y. Cheung. 2017. ‘The Transparent Self Under Big Data Profiling: Privacy and Chinese Legislation on the Social Credit System’. The Journal of Comparative Law 12 (2): 356–78.
Culp, Robert. 2006. ‘Rethinking Governmentality: Training, Cultivation, and Cultural Citizenship in Nationalist China’. Journal of Asian Studies 65 (3): 529–54.
Jiang, Xin. 2007. ‘Establishing Efficient Social Credit System in China from American Experience of Social Credit System’. Canadian Social Science 3 (6): 64–66.
Lupton, Deborah. 2014. ‘Self-Tracking Modes: Reflexive Self-Monitoring and Data Practices’.
Mann, Susan. 1994. ‘The Cult of Domesticity in Republican Shanghai’s Middle Class’. Jindai Zhongguo Funü Shi Yanjiu 2 (June): 179–201.
Miller, Peter. 1992. ‘Accounting and Objectivity: The Invention of Calculating Selves and Calculable Spaces’. Annals of Scholarship 9 (1–2): 61–86.
Ramadan, Zahy. 2018. ‘The Gamification of Trust: The Case of China’s “social Credit”’. Marketing Intelligence & Planning 36 (1): 93–107.
Sunstein, Cass R. 2015. ‘Fifty Shades of Manipulation’. J. Behavioral Marketing.
Zanasi, Margherita. 2013 ‘Western Utopias, Missionary Economics, and the Chinese Village’. Journal of World History 24 (2): 359–87.
Journal articles and blogs
Daum, Jeremy. 2017. ‘China through a Glass, Darkly. What Foreign Media Misses in China’s Social Credit.’ China Law Translate.
Koetse, Manya. 2018a. ‘Open Sesame: Social Credit in China as Gate to Punitive Measures and Personal Perks’. What’s on Weibo, 27 May 2018.
Koetse, Manya. 2018b. ‘Can’t Enter Uni Because of Daddy’s Bad Social Credit – The Blacklist Story That’s Got Weibo Talking’. What’s on Weibo, 15 July 2018.
Wade, Samuel. 2017a. ‘China’s Social Credit System: Black Mirror or Red Herring?’ China Digital Times, 16 February 2017.
Wade, Samuel. 2018b. ‘Social Credit: Orwellian Nightmare, or “Crude Tool”?’ China Digital Times, 15 May 2018.
Wade, Samuel. 2018c. ‘College Rejection Threat Highlights Social Credit’. China Digital Times, 20 July 2018.