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High Modernism and Local State: Neighbourhood Reconstruction in Post-Maoist China

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Recent anthropological scholarship approaches modernism from different perspectives and examines a variety of ‘forms and norms’ that are conceived of as modern in different contexts across the borders of nation-states (Rabinow 1989, Holston 1989; Scott 1998; Collier 2011). Engaging with this body of literature, and in the light of Feuchtwang’s (2004) description of state projects, my work discusses the subtle politics surrounding a Chinese variant of modernism and the ways in which it is played out in a surviving old-town neighbourhood in central Beijing and beyond prior to the Olympics. It reveals that, despite active adaptation to the overwhelming global capitalist discourse, the ‘coming-of-age’ of China in the post-Maoist period does not turn away from ‘actually existing socialism.’ Devolution entails new forms of governmentality, which enhance, rather than diminish, neighbourhood governance. The now localized state continues to reconstruct grassroots urban society without promoting much of a sense of community or civil society in the way these are understood in the West. My work attempts to, in Litzinger’s (2002: 34) terms, “reconceptualize the meaning of Chinese socialism in the context of global capitalist modernity.”

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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