My new research project is concerned with the intertwined topics of precarious life, rising inequalities, and politics of survival in contemporary urban Chinese society. It takes as its empirical case study the everyday lives, coping strategies, future aspirations, but also growing indignation and frustration felt by two marginalized populations situated in a sub/urban border area in Greater Beijing: (1) un(der)employed university graduates, or ‘ant tribes’ (yi zu 蚁族); and (2) intellectuals and artists in an artist village. Against the background of the massive urbanization and modernization drive in post-Mao China that has seen it emerge as a global powerhouse of growth, change and production in the new millennium, the visibility of injustices and inequalities has intensified in the last few years, and so has the expression of popular discontent. Reports emerge regularly that predict serious upheaval, imply a necessary progress toward democracy, or blast the authoritarian government. And yet, amidst expressing discontent with the problems and inequalities the growth has led to, most people seem to just ‘get on with it’.
By analyzing interdisciplinary literature and social media, and conducting empirical research, the project seeks to offer answers to two central questions: How can we understand human responses to these magnanimous shifts and seeming paradoxes as seen through two marginally situated phenomena, the ant tribes, fuelled by the rationale of the state-sponsored Chinese Dream, and critical artists, whose ideals and practices diverge from the mainstream ideal? How can we unpack the paradoxical and productive qualities of precarity and survival as lived experiences and even as aspirations and social possibility? By extension, the project seeks to place what I call ‘precarious China’ in conversation with related world changing processes in the current historical moment, as they relate to uprisings and protest, educational crisis, dispossession and poverty, but also in shaping the contours of new registers of ethical imaginaries and social possibilities.
More info here: http://www.iias.academia.edu/ElisabethLundEngebretsen