Heat and Noise: Public Life as Socioaesthetic Practice

Authors: Jonathan Bratt*, Arizona State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory, China
Keywords: urban, public, social, aesthetic, lefebvre, china
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Bacchus, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban livability and living together are significant problematics in an age of rapid global urbanization. These problematics are especially significant in places like China, where the urban population is expected to reach 900 million by mid-century. Urban social life includes an aesthetic dimension comprising sensory experience with crowding, noise, and other elements of ‘indirect’ social interaction. In the Chinese language, one term frequently used to denote this aesthetic sociality is renao, translated literally as ‘hot and noisy’ and denoting a crowded social gathering and space with a lively, bustling quality. The term appears in Chinese texts dating back a millennium, and renao remains a pervasive element of urban public life and popular discourse in contemporary China’s densely-populated cities. Renao as ‘heat and noise’ constitutes what Lefebvre calls a ‘residue’, excluded from logics organizing the production and consumption of objects or the formation of the built environment, yet integral to everyday creative social activity. As such, renao as aesthetic experience offers an alternative to the spectacular consumption increasingly prevalent in post-reform China, as well as possibilities for social disalienation and for recomposition of the urban oeuvre. This paper draws on fieldwork in the city of Tianjin, China to articulate renao as socioaesthetic practice and alternative urbanism.

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