Governing (through) trustworthiness: Technologies of power and subjectification in China's Social Credit System

Chenchen Zhang

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This article examines the technologies of power and subjectification in China’s Social Credit System through a theoretically informed analysis of policy and legal documents as well as narratives of social credit practitioners, including both local officials and representatives of business partners. It is suggested that the ongoing project is best understood as an assemblage – a heterogeneous ensemble of discourses, regulations, policies, and any number of programmes aiming to govern social and economic activities through problematizing, assessing, and utilising the “trustworthiness” of individuals, enterprises, organisations, and government agencies. Drawing on governmentality studies, the article explicates the operation of governmental and disciplinary-pastoral modalities of power in the project, which are interrelated in their logics and overlapped in the tactics employed. While the former is oriented towards achieving effective economic governance and improving regulatory compliance through a “technological fix” based on data sharing and quantification, the latter aspires to shape individual behaviours and dispositions as well as the collective mores of a locality. The idea of social credit is envisioned to not only produce, but also channel the (neo)liberal homo æconomicus with the socialist-traditional homo moralis. However, the relationship between liberal and socialist subjectivities and that between rationalization and moralization is by no means a coherent one. The assemblage of social credit government is characterized by contradictions and contestations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalCritical Asian Studies
Early online date30 Sept 2020
Publication statusEarly online date - 30 Sept 2020


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