Peri-Urban China: Conducting and Coping with Fieldwork Research Challenges

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: China Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Gallier B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Organizers: Mi Shih, Siu Wai Wong
Chairs: Mi Shih


In recent years, there has been a distinctive effort from the Chinese state to roll out an urban planning regime in an attempt to fully incorporate the extended peri-urban region into the state territorialisation processes. Peri-urban China, however, is a region characterized by fragmentation of all sorts. State power is fragmented because land-owning villages have historically operated on the basis of their own logic of civic territoriality (Hsing 2010). The regulatory regime and policies are fragmented because exceptions and ad hoc decisions have a long history here. Land ownership is fragmented because state-owned land and collective ownership often exist side by side. Lives are fragmented because villagers have been subjugated to many rounds of reform attempts and a long process of political othering (Siu 2007). The urban process is fragmented because each village has confronted urbanization with its own history, kinship network, culture, and collective assets. Peri-urban China has undoubtedly emerged as one of the most productive sites for understanding the interplay between urbanization, state restructuring, agency, and space reproduction. These processes of fragmentation, however, have created some unique challenges to researchers, especially those using fieldwork as their primary research method.

In this session, we are interested in learning from each other how researchers cope with conceptual, methodological, and political challenges in peri-urban China in particular and in fieldwork research more broadly (Flyvbjerg 2004, Heimer and Thøgersen 2006, Yeh 2013). We invite people who have encountered challenges related to conducting fieldwork research in the context of peri-urban China to join the session. Our questions include but are not limited to:

1. How to engage in fieldwork as a research method to better understand the co-existence of dissolution and continuation of informal rural norms/traditions and their interaction with state urban policies that attempt to reconfigure the governance landscape in peri-urban China.

2. How to draw meaningful conclusions from context-specific case studies. This challenge is especially relevant given that fieldwork research often shows a whole range of locally specific governance structures and practices that are neither static over time nor homogeneous across different regions.

3. What archives are open to the public? How to use municipal archives extensively while avoiding the pitfall of repeating the state line uncritically.

4. How to overcome the language barriers of local dialects: e.g., how to design interview questions and conversation talk points to better understand the local dynamics.

5. How to access to and stay connected with villages and communities.

6. How to connect observational data, interviews and archival research. Given the fluidity of and obstacles to fieldwork research, how may each of the three methods inform the overall research design and operation?

7. How to handle state control/surveillance over fieldwork research: What cautions should researchers take?

8. How to deal with the tension between single and multiple case studies, and how to handle disparities and similarities between cases.

We invite those who are interested in the topics listed above to join the session. Please send an abstract of no more than 350 words to Mi Shih ( and Ivy Wong ( by October 13.

Participants will be notified by October 20, and must register for the conference and submit their abstracts through the AAG website by the October 25 deadline to be added to the paper session.


Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2004. Phronetic planning research: theoretical and methodological reflections. Planning Theory & Practice, 5(3): 283-306.
Heimer, Maria and Stig Thøgersen, 2006. Doing Fieldwork Research in China. NIAS Press.
Hsing, You-Tien. 2010. The Great Urban Transformation. Oxford University Press.
Siu, Helen. (2007) Grounding displacement: Uncivil urban spaces in postreform South China. American Ethnologist 34(2): 329–350.
Yeh, Emily T. 2013. Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development. Cornell University Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jesse Rodenbiker*, University of California, Berkeley, Muted Photovoice: Reconsidering the Limits and Opportunities of Visual Participatory Methods 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Haoxuan Sa*, University of Helsinki, Xiaojia villagers in China: from serendipitous developers to speculators 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Jianyi Li*, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Douglas Webster, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Manufacturing-led Peri-Urbanization in Central China: The Case of Wuhan’s Dongxihu District 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Mi Shih*, Rutgers University, Small-Scale Place Making? Reflections on Place-Based Research in Peri-Urban China 20 9:00 AM
Presenter Siu Wai Wong*, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Jinlong Liu, Renmin University of China , Bo-sin Tang, University of Hong Kong, Understanding China's Urban Transformation From A Micro-historical Perspective 20 9:20 AM

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