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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 6. Possession, Location, Connection: The place of television in home-making


Chapter 6Possession, Location, Connection: The place of television in home-making

To understand media, particularly television consumption as a dynamic factor in the migratory subjects’ settlement practices is not new in academic inquiry. The recent decades have seen a host of literature engaging in the intersection between electronic mediation and mass migration, which broadened and deepened our knowledge about the complex relationships between identity, place, and culture in the process of social and cultural transformation driven by modern migration (e.g. Gillespie, 1995, Morley and Robins, 1995, King and Wood, 2001, Ross and Playdon, 2001, Karima, 2003). However, it is striking to note that the studies in this field are almost overwhelmingly centred on the consumption of the contents mediated through television. What always evokes the enthusiasm of researchers are the moments when ‘moving images meet de-territorialised viewers’, which lead to ‘the new order of instability in the production of modern subjectivities’ (Appadurai, 1996: 4), whereas the material dimension of the intersection between television and migration tends to be overlooked. This theoretical bias reflects an unproblematic perception of the migratory subjects as always displaced and rootless on their migratory trajectory, having their identity formation overwhelmingly attached to the ‘virtual neighbourhoods, ‘imagined community’ or ‘displaced public spheres’ (Appadurai, 1996: 192). The bias also roots in the orthodoxy that characterises television merely as a medium of content, which has been only recently questioned.

The ubiquitous presence of the shining box in the rural migrant households and its integral permeation into...

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