Dr David Tobin

School of East Asian Studies

Lecturer in East Asian Studies


Full contact details

Dr David Tobin
School of East Asian Studies
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Dr David Tobin joined SEAS in 2021 after working as Hallsworth Research Fellow in the Political Economy of China at the University of Manchester. His work is located in the overlap between Asian Studies and Global IR, using critical theory to frame results of detailed empirical fieldwork on the politics of identity and the everyday.

David completed a PhD in Politics at the University of Manchester (2013) following intensive Mandarin language training at Peking University and Xinjiang University. He has lectured in Politics and East Asian Studies at the University of Manchester, University of Glasgow, and the University of Nottingham-Ningbo.


PhD Politics (Univ. of Manchester)

MA Contemporary China (Univ. of Manchester)

MA Research Methods in Political Science and IR (Univ. of Sheffield)

MA (hons) Politics (Univ. of Glasgow)

Research interests

David’s research uses discourse analysis and ethnographic methods to explore the relationship between identity and security in global politics. How and why are identities treated as security matters? What are the effects of treating identity as a security matter? His research answers these questions by focusing on the ethnic and international politics of China, specifically ethnic relations and violence in Xinjiang.

His first book, Securing China’s Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang (Cambridge University Press) bridges the gap between Global IR theory and micro-fieldwork approaches to ethnic relations in Chinese Studies. It employs an innovative theoretical approach drawn from Postcolonial theory and critical IR to analyse the relationship between identity and security in Chinese policy-making and ethnic relations between Han and Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The book is based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Xinjiang, including during the 2009 violence, from interviews to participant-observation of security practices. The book argues that China’s party-state exacerbates cycles of violence between Han and Uyghurs in Xinjiang by targeting Turkic and Islamic identities as national security threats.

David was invited to present his book to the UK All-Party Parliamentary China Group in October 2020 and to provide evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal. He considers public-engagement and providing robust analysis for policymakers to be core components of research and knowledge production.

David’s current research builds on his fieldwork to explore both the official thinking behind China’s current “fusion” ethnic policies, including interment camps and inter-generational separation practices, and the social and emotional impact of state violence and family separation on the global Uyghur diaspora.



Tobin, David (2020) Securing China’s Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang. Cambridge University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108770408.


Tobin, David (2022) The "Xinjiang Papers": How Xi Jinping commands policy in the People's Republic of China, University of Sheffield, Policy report.

Tobin, David, Murphy, Laura, and Elimä, Nyrola (2022) 'Until Nothing is Left: China's Settler Corporation and its Human Rights Violations in the Uyghur Region', Report for the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University. https://www.shu.ac.uk/helena-kennedy-centre-international-justice/research-and-projects/all-projects/until-nothing-is-left

Tobin, David et al (2021) 'State Violence in Xinjiang: A Comprehensive Assessment', Report for the Uyghur Tribunal.


Tobin, David (2022) 'What does Genocide feel like? An Autoethnography of Visual Affect', HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 12(2): 357-366

Tobin, David (2021) Genocidal Processes: Social Death in Xinjiang. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 45/16. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2021.2001556

Tobin, David (2020) A ‘Zero-Sum Struggle of Life or Death’: Han and Uyghur Insecurities on China’s Northwest Frontier, The China Quarterly, 242. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S030574101900078X.

Tobin, David (2019) Minor Events and Grand Dreams: Ethnic Outsiders in China’s Post-Colonial World Order, Positions - Asia Critique, 27/4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7726968.

Tobin, David (2011) ‘Competing Communities: Ethnic Unity and Violence on China’s Northwest Frontier’, Inner Asia, 13/1.


Tobin, David (2022) Window of Opportunity: The Xinjiang Emergency in China’s ‘New Type of International Relations’, in Clarke, Michael (ed) The Xinjiang Emergency: Exploring the causes and consequences of China’s mass detention of Uyghurs. University of Manchester Press. Website: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526153111/

Tobin, David & Barabantseva, Elena (2020) Politics of Ethnic Identity in China, Oxford Bibliographies – Political Science. Oxford University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199756223-0306.

Tobin, David (2016) Between Minkaohan and Minkaomin: Discourses on Assimilation Amongst Uyghurs, in Smith, Joanne and Zang, Xiaowei (eds) Language, Education, and Uyghur Identity in Urban Xinjiang. Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315726588.

Tobin, David (2015) Worrying About Ethnicity: A New Generation of China Dreams, in Kerr, David (ed) China’s Many Dreams. Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: 10.1057/9781137478979_4.


David has conducted broadcast interviews for the BBC and the Conversation and is regularly quoted by international media outlets on Chinese politics and ethnic relations in Xinjiang, including the Wall Street JournalAssociated French Pressthe GuardianViceFrance 24, and the Straits Times.

Tobin, David (2021) How an independent tribunal came to rule that China is guilty of genocide against the Uyghurs, the Conversation.

Tobin, David (2021) Peering into China’s Decision-making: What are the ‘Xinjiang Papers’? Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

Tobin, David (2021) ‘Securing China’s Northwest Frontier: a Conversation with David Tobin’, Made in China Journal.

Tobin, David (2020) ‘Securing China’s Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang’, New Books in East Asia Podcast.

Tobin, David (2020) ‘China Once Celebrated its Diversity. How Has it Come to Embrace Ethnic Nationalism?’, The Guardian.

Tobin, David (2013) ‘Xinjiang Dreams: Worrying About Ethnicity’, University of Nottingham China Policy Institute.

Tobin, David (2013) ‘The Tiananmen Attack and China’s Insecurity Problem’, Beijing Cream.

Tobin, David (2012) ‘China’s Divided Leadership, China’s Divided Society’, University of Manchester Critical Global Politics Cluster.

Teaching interests

My teaching philosophy is that teaching should enable students to understand the world from different perspectives in an empirically grounded manner. I seek to create a comfortable yet challenging learning environment in which students can respectfully challenge and learn from different approaches using empirical research to bring to life broader disciplinary debates and complex theoretical concepts.

My teaching is research-led and uses up to date primary sources to explain complex theoretical concepts and broad historical patterns. My goal is to enable students’ capacity for independent, critical thought that is strongly grounded in detailed empirical knowledge. I encourage students to conduct their own focused research while assisting them in framing its findings within broader conceptual and disciplinary debates.

I place great importance on students being well prepared for lectures and seminars so they are ready to think and to create a relaxed but challenging environment through discussion and co-operative dialogue.


David is a steering committee member and contributor to the Xinjiang Documentation Project.