Small-Scale Place Making? Reflections on Place-Based Research in Peri-Urban China

Authors: Mi Shih*, Rutgers University
Topics: China, Urban Geography
Keywords: Peri-urban China, Small-Scale, Place Making, Fieldwork Methods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Gallier B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper aims to examine how open-ended conversations about and fieldwork observations of low-profile, place-based, small-scale government programs work as research methods providing a useful entry point into the larger, and usually politically sensitive, process of state power territorialisation in peri-urban China. In recent years, peri-urban villages have increasingly become the most important focus of local municipal states’ urban community building programs in China. In Guangzhou, a series of place-based programs, including Safety Community (Pingan Shequ), Well-being Community (Xingfu Shequ), Model Community (Shifan Shequ), Three-Line Reform (Sanxian Gaizao, a program targeting the replacement of three types of cable lines in the village), and Family Comprehensive Services (Jiating Zonghe Fuwu), have since the late 2000s rolled out in the peri-urban villages. Village officials often treat these programs as routine, mundane, marginally effective tasks to perform. Fieldwork researchers in China commonly call these programs (politically) insensitive (bumingan) topics. In this article, I first describe my observations and conversations around these programs in a peri-urban area, focusing on the details of how each program was operated in the village. Second, I examine how these programs are a crucial interface where villagers encounter the local municipal state. This part of the examination focuses on how these small-scale place-making programs are relationally linked to the state’s larger development plans for peri-urban areas. Finally, I conclude by discussing how single-case studies based on open-ended conversations and fieldwork observations can re-inform conceptual understanding of peri-urban transformation and how state power works in China

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