Kristen E. Looney

May 3, 2021

Mobilizing for Development

The Modernization of Rural East Asia

Cornell University Press 2020

Dr. Kristen Looney’s Mobilizing for Development: The Modernization of Rural East Asia published by Cornell University in 2020 interrogates how countries achieve rural development and offers a new way of thinking about East Asia's political economy that challenges the developmental state paradigm. Based on archival research and fieldwork in Asia, the book provides a comparative historical analysis by comparing China's development experience (1980s–2000s) with Taiwan (1950s–1970s) and South Korea (1950s–1970s). The book highlights the role of the state in rural development and sensitize readers to the variation in the region. While the focus is often on institutions, Dr. Looney pushes us to see the dynamic impact of state campaigns on infrastructure, sanitation, and housing in rural areas. The analysis departs from common portrayals of the developmental state as wholly technocratic and demonstrates that rural development was not just a byproduct of industrialization. Rural Modernization campaigns, defined as policies demanding high level of mobilization to affect dramatic change, played a central role in the region and that divergent development outcomes can be attributed to the interplay between campaigns and institutions. As Dr. Looney expands and challenges the developmental state literature, Looney advances a new way of thinking about the political economy of East Asian and encourages political scientists to study rural development.  

Dr. Kristen Looney is an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Government at Georgetown University. Her areas of specialization include comparative politics and the political economy of China and East Asia.

Daniella Campos assisted with this podcast.

Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists recently appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and “Retreat from the Rule of Law:Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” was published in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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