This fall, doctoral candidate Tony Zhang will begin a new position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at St. Thomas More College in the University of Saskatchewan. Tony is currently completing his dissertation, Contextual Effects and Support for Liberalism: A Comparative Analysis, under the supervision of Professors Robert Brym (supervisor), Bob Andersen (Western) and Weiguo Zhang. He expects to defend his dissertation this summer and graduate in November 2017.
Tony’s dissertation abstract is as follows:
The dissertation studies how social contexts, especially contextual variations in political freedom, shape an individual’s liberal attitudes. It raises empirical challenges and methodological critiques of current literature using the case of China (Chapter 2). To fill the gaps that I perceive in the literature, I suggest considering political freedom as an additional predictor of the individual-level support for liberalism and validate my argument through a comparative analysis of 88 societies in the World Values Survey data (1981-2014). The comparative analysis (Chapter 3) finds countries of different levels of political freedom have drastically different value change patterns: politically free societies largely follow the existing Inglehart thesis; in politically unfree societies, however, the upper class and well educated populations are neutral or sometimes more conservative than other demographic groups. These findings suggest political regimes, especially non-free regimes such as autocracies, theocracies and dictatorships, actively manipulate the educational system to slow down value liberalization processes. To corroborate this suggestion, Chapter 4 pays close attention to the case of Taiwan, a society which experienced democratization during the 1980s and the 1990s, to see if the democratization led to educational reforms and, if so, whether they resulted in their intended goals. The empirical analysis of Taiwan supports the suggestion that a liberal educational reform makes younger cohorts who receive the reformed education more liberal. To sum up, based on empirical findings, the dissertation argues the political context is critical in shaping individual value orientations. The educational system is an important medium through which the political system promotes its preferred ideologies or cultural hegemony in Gramsci’s terms. The policy implication is that political change is a critical prerequisite for successful democratization and a healthy civil society; value liberalization can only be effective after political systems and educational systems are freed.
St. Thomas More College is a Catholic undergraduate liberal arts college located in Saskatoon and federated with the University of Saskatchewan. As an Assistant Professor, Tony expects to teach courses in introduction to sociology, collective behaviour and social movements, and deviance and crime in society. Tony plans to continue his research in public opinion studies, social movements and politics in East Asia.