Xinzhi Zhao

Position title: Ph.D. Candidate: Political Theory | Comparative Politics


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Research Interests

Modern Western political thought, Enlightenment political thought, political and social epistemology, moral psychology, knowledge and democracy, comparative political thought


Xinzhi Zhao is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research explores the proper roles that academics ought to play in facilitating the transformation of citizens’ unreflective political preferences into reflective understandings of their interests. In particular, she seeks to theorize what academics should do to help citizens perceive their interests in ways that are more resistant to manipulations by partisan elites and less susceptible to cognitive biases caused by power asymmetries. Her dissertation, “Another Path to Enlightenment: David Hume and Adam Smith on Philosophers and the Public,” recovers from Hume’s and Smith’s writings a “narrative approach” to cultivating citizens’ enlightened reflections on their interests. She suggests that this approach sidesteps the pitfalls of prevailing conceptions of intellectual elites’ public obligations and has implications for the education and public participation of social scientists today.

Zhao is interested in how the history of political thought can speak to contemporary concerns. Her peer-reviewed articles can be found in The Adam Smith Review (Vol. 14, forthcoming) and Política & Sociedade (Vol. 20, No. 47, 2021). She also made an invited contribution to Hobbes Studies (Vol. 35, Issue 1, 2022).

Aside from her research, Zhao is passionate about teaching. She received the “Inaugural Teaching Assistant Award” from the Department of Political Science at UW-Madison in 2020 and was selected by the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison as a Teaching Mentor in 2022.

Originally from Beijing, Zhao received bachelor’s degrees in international politics and history (2012) and a master’s degree in comparative politics (2015) from Peking University. She has also been an exchange student at the University of Tokyo and Seoul National University. Before coming to Madison, she studied political theory at Duke University as a master’s student and received an M.A. in political science from Duke in 2017.