Bin Xu

Associate Professor

Office: Tarbutton Hall 211



  • Ph.D. in Sociology, Northwestern University, 2011
  • M.A. in Sociology, University of California, Davis, 2005
  • B.A. in Politics, East China Normal University, China, 1996


I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. I received my Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University.

My research interests are situated at two intersections. The first intersection is within the disciplinary boundary of sociology: between cultural sociology and political sociology. The second intersection is between two broader “fields”: general sociology and China studies. My primary identity is a cultural/political sociologist, but I also have enjoyed the cross-fertilization between sociology as a general social science and China studies as a field of area studies. My ultimate intellectual goal is also twofold: to develop generalizable knowledge without sacrificing a 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 two interrelated lines of research.  

The first line of my research interest focuses on how an authoritarian state—in my case, contemporary China—interacts with a burgeoning civil society in various situations. The main empirical focus of my past project is the situation of disaster, in which heavy casualties and suffering make moral and political issues visible and urgent. My book with Stanford University Press, titled The Politics of Compassion: the Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (available here), combines cultural sociology with extensive data from interviews, observations, and textual materials to examine how civically engaged citizens 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 on the world of civic engagement in contemporary China but also contributes to the cultural sociology of civil society by revisiting Tocqueville’s “habits of the heart” argument in an authoritarian political context. The book has received positive reviews from more than ten journals and won the Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in the Sociology of Culture from the American Sociological Association (2018) and Honorable Mention for Best Book on Asia/Transnational from the American Sociological Association (2018). In addition to the book, I also use the data from this project and other cases to address another important question: How do modern states perform to shore up their legitimacy especially in the situations in which their citizens suffer from catastrophes? This issue is significant for both substantive cultural/political sociology and sociological theory of performance.

Along this line of research, I currently am working on my third book, provisionally titled The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach to Civil Society (forthcoming from Polity Press, in its acclaimed Cultural Sociology series). This book will provide a theoretical introduction to and discussion of the cultural sociology of civil society and takes a global perspective to discuss some pressing issues such as civility, authoritarianism, and populism. The book will serve as a theoretical foundation for my research agenda in next ten years. It will be finished in 2021.

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 through 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 has been published by Cambridge University Press in 2021 (available here ).

My previous work on collective memory also deals with WWII memories in China, nationalism, mourning, and disaster and trauma.

My articles have appeared in leading journals in sociology and China studies, such as Sociological Theory, Theory & Society, Social Problems, The China Quarterly, The China Journal, and so on. I have won awards and grants from the American Sociological Association (ASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). I was selected as one of the Public Intellectuals Program (PIP) fellows at the National Committee on US-China Relations, a prestigious program designed to nurture young China specialists to facilitate mutual understanding between the United States and China.

Please visit my personal website ( for more information and news.



Cultural Sociology, Political Sociology, Social Psychology, Political and Cultural Sociology of Disasters, Collective Memory