Old Neighbourhoods, New Spaces: Urban Reconstruction and Governance in China’s Urbanization

Project: Research

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China has experienced an intense process of urbanization in the past twodecades. Cities expanded territorially and demographically at an unprecedented speed,and all over the country, unstoppable waves of development have supplanted thehistoric urban fabric. Existing literature tends to approach this urban revolutionprimarily as a by-product of the post-socialist governing order and the changes itmade possible. This project draws on social science studies on infrastructure, powerand spatial politics to develop a more nuanced, historically informed, framework ofanalysis. This approach brings together the reconfiguration of the built environment,forms of governance, and political economy as interactive processes and dynamicassemblages with multiple historical layers.The project will focus on three different case studies of old neighborhoodreconstruction in Guangzhou, South China. Combining archival research withethnographic investigation, the project will concentrate on three different criticalmoments of the process of urbanization in this southern metropolis: first, streetconstruction in the Thirteen Factory area in the western part of the city during theRepublican era; second, the socialist housing transformation of an old city centerneighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s; and, third, a contemporary urban villagereconstruction project in the new city center. The first case highlights the mutuallyconstructive process of infrastructural construction and urban governance when theimperial order collapsed and urban governance emerged. The second case attends tothe social and political remaking of the built environment in the socialist period,showing how the meaning of socialism among ordinary residents was reconfiguredthrough everyday life encounters. The third case looks at contemporary planningpractices and the complex relationship between knowledge production and politicallegitimacy in the context of a new political discourse of scientific development.With different analytical emphases, these three case studies of oldneighborhood reconstruction will exemplify a nuanced analysis of urbanization thattakes into account historically distinctive combinations of and evolving relationsbetween actors, political rationalities, government capacity, material constraints,expertise and economic practices. This approach adds significant historicalcomplexity to conventional accounts of post-Mao processes of urbanization, whilechallenging master narratives of urban transformation that give too much agency tostate actors. Outside the China field, the project will make an important contributionto recent debates on infrastructure, power, and governance in the fields of urbanstudies, anthropology, post-colonial studies, and STS, adding a much-needed non-Western perspective into what remains a largely Western-centric research agenda.


Project number9042610
Effective start/end date1/01/17 → …