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Urbanization in Between: Theorizing Urbanization in Rapidly Industrializing China

A talk presented by Dr. Andrew Kipnis of Australian National University, this paper examines the growth of one mid-sized Chinese city as a case in which intimate linkages between the rural/socialist past and the urban/capitalist present remain socially important.

November 13, 2012 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Modernization theory emphasizes the discontinuities of capitalist urbanization—abrupt shifts in kinship practice, orientation towards community, ways of life, individuation, etc.  Contemporary Chinese urbanization is taking place at breakneck speed, and most anthropological studies of this urbanization have occurred in China’s largest urban areas, where migrant workers are sharply displaced from their rural homes and classic social processes, including the intensification of anomie and “individualism,” loom large.  But much of China’s urbanization is taking place in mid-sized metropolises—places that 20 years ago were dusty towns of 10-20,000 people which today are cities of 200,000-400,000 people.  This paper examines the growth of one such city as a case in which intimate linkages between the rural/socialist past and the urban/capitalist present remain socially important.  Many of the in-migrants, for example, come from the surrounding countryside, and often return to their villages on weekends to farm.  Kin links between the urban center and surrounding villages remain strong and members of villages often rotate between urban and rural homes.  Child care and schooling occurs across the rural/urban divided.  Moreover, the industrial conglomerates of the expanding city have their roots in the rural industries of the socialist era, and the social/political institutions of the city retain traces of the socialist past.  Other in-migrants, however, are from more distant locales, and among them alienation, anomie and the simplification of kin relations are apparent. This paper grapples with how to theorize the side-by-side occurrence of these processes. 

Andrew Kipnis is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He is editor of Chinese Modernity and the Individual Psyche (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan), co-editor of The China Journal, and author of Governing Educational Desire (U. of Chicago Press, 2011), China and Postsocialist Anthropology (Eastbridge, 2008), and Producing Guanxi (Duke U. Press, 1997). His current research focuses on rethinking processes of urbanization through an ethnographic study of a rapidly growing mid-sized Chinese city.


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies, Confucius Institute