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A Different Place in the Making

The Everyday Life Practices of Chinese Rural Migrants in Urban Villages

Yan Yuan

The last three decades have seen dramatic changes in Chinese cities. While many tend to read these changes as the result of institutional reforms, macro planning, and top-down development, the author of this study focuses on the undercurrent at the bottom, from the margin, and without voice. Based on immersive fieldwork, she explores how a different place was created through the everyday life practices of rural migrants in two Chinese urban villages. Readers are invited to dive into a small, marginal, yet intricate and vibrant neighbourhood, where thousands of ‘rural outsiders’ found their settlement in the city. In this border space between the rural and the urban, place-making was not merely the government’s redevelopment plan that would sooner or later demolish the whole area, it was also a dynamic process unfolding through people’s everyday doing and living, such as their housing practices, street gathering, boiler house visits, public telephone calls, television consumption, and festival celebration. Featured by its cross-disciplinary horizon and intimate documentation, the present work exhibits an exemplary locale of a ‘progressive sense of place’ in contemporary China and provides original insights in how people’s everyday life acts as an alternative arena of the politics of place-making between multiple forces.
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Chapter 5. Co-inhabitation and Transformation: Knowing the Locality through Housing

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Chapter 5Co-inhabitation and Transformation: Knowing the Locality through Housing

The most essential component of human settlement is housing, not only because it provides us with a material shelter, but also because it functions as a key site ‘where symbolic relations are encoded in the everyday life and naturalised as physical patterns of behaviour’ (Bray, 1997: 57), whereby what Bourdieu (1977, 1990) calls habitus is nurtured and inculcated. As an ethnographic field worker, I was able to experience this first hand through my own settlement in the two urban villages.

My formal fieldwork started with house hunting. I spent three days searching the street ads pasted on poles and walls, meeting local owners, and viewing a great variety of properties. My first room was good in location, but after only two days, I had to move out for the fleas in the room made for sleepless nights. When I was worried about where else I could move to, by chance I met Zhang Shifu, a Songzi migrant whom I had known for years for he ran a bicycle repairing stall in front of my apartment. He introduced me to his landlord Qiang, who owned a house compound in Gaowang. Fortunately, Qiang happened to have a single room available for renting. I rented the room immediately without any hesitation, not only because I was generally satisfied with the condition and price, but also, living with someone that I was familiar with in the same compound made me feel...

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