‘Going out and seeing the world’ – aspirational temporalities in peri-urban China

Authors: Samuel Berlin*,
Topics: China, Cultural Geography, Development
Keywords: China, urbanization, development, desire, aspiration, time, affect
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many scholars (Anagnost 2004, Pun 2016, Rofel 2007, Yan Hairong 2003, Yan Yunxiang 2009) have documented changes in subjectivity in post-socialist China. Their focus has been on changes to material and discursive experience of life and forms of desire and discipline unleashed by the waning of the Maoist demand for the negation of self-interest. The subjective forms that have emerged are shaped by and are key actors within the Chinese developmental project – they are coterminous with the bodies on the ground (presumably) working towards the ‘Chinese Dream’.
The developmental paradigms underlying these changes are based in a progressive conception of time. Both Marxist and neoliberal theorizations of development envision historical development as leading to increased well-being away from ‘primitive’ social organisation. Chinese governance has emphasised a progressive time horizon to justify political illiberalism and poor labor conditions. The promise the Party makes is speed – that hard work will pay off for the individual over the lifespan within a national rejuvenation uplifting the whole nation.
Using materials collected from fieldwork conducted in a small Shandong city, I will argue that the desires essential to producing ‘socialist subjects with Chinese characteristics’ gain efficacy through their territorialization within a temporal framework of aspiration by the subject. Instead of taking a genealogical view, I will argue that these subjective forms should also be viewed in terms of desirable futures that they strive towards, which have not yet arrived but are hoped for and lived through aspiration as social facts in the present.

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