A different place in the making: the everyday practices of rural migrants in Chinese urban villages

Yuan, Y. 2011. A different place in the making: the everyday practices of rural migrants in Chinese urban villages. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design https://doi.org/10.34737/9011q

TitleA different place in the making: the everyday practices of rural migrants in Chinese urban villages
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsYuan, Y.

This dissertation presents an ethnographic research into two Chinese urban villages, where thousands of rural migrants who were bureaucratically categorised as ‘floating population’ established their settlements in the city. The goal of the research is to display the place-making process through the everyday practices of the rural migrants in their urban settlements and to examine the relationship between this place-making process and the formation of the migratory identity in contemporary Chinese urban society. Based on long-term participative observations and in-depth interviews, an impressionist picture is painted to depict the lived world of rural migrants in this small, marginal, yet complex, colourful neighbourhood. This picture contains vivid snapshots of various aspects of people's everyday life in the place, including street life, tenancy relationships, neighbourhood interactions, housing forms, television and public telephone consumption, as well as festival celebrations, most of which are put into academic documentation for the first time. All these scenes commonly affirm the active engagements of the rural migrants in the place-making politics of this unique urban locale and their flexible emplacement in the locality, which defies the ideological construction of this group as always displaced, floating, and out of place in the city. More importantly, the urban villages, as the principal geographical form of rural migratory settlement in Chinese cities, provide a prime example of the ‘progressive sense of place’ in 21st Century Chinese urban society that is featured by multiplicity, fluidity, and connectivity. At the same time, this research distinguishes itself from previous work on the same subject with its sharp focus on the place-making process occurring at the micro and banal level. It has discovered that people’s daily activities like dwelling, walking, street gathering, telephone calling, deliver an empowering space where place is not constructed by conscious planning and design, but by bodily doing and living. Beyond the phenomenological geography of lifeworld which tends to be depoliticised, the study sheds light on the question of asymmetries of power and socio-economic inequities in the lifeworld in the urban villages and tries to represent the rural migrants’ spatial struggles in the place as a tactical resistance that does not necessarily direct towards some end or form, but has the potential to undermine and deflect the totalising ambitions of the dominant power strategies. The above insights drawn from the two urban villages are not only informative in understanding Chinese rural migratory communities in the urban setting, but also revelatory in awakening the sense of place and grasping the complexity of the broader place-making politics in the late modern and transitional society.

Keywordsplace-making; everyday life practices; migratory settlement; spatialstruggle; Chinese rural-urban migration; ‘urban villages’
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Publication dates
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.34737/9011q

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