Saturday, April 9, 2016

Andrew B. Kipnis's "From Village to City"

Andrew B. Kipnis is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat, and reported the following:
Over the past 25 years the Chinese county seat of Zouping has developed from a relatively impoverished town of 30,000 people to a bustling city of more than 350,000, complete with factories and high rises, parks and bus routes, shopping malls and school campuses, and its own bureaucracy, hospitals, school system and police force. In this book, I depict the transformations of Zouping as a place, the transformations of the lives of the formerly rural but now urban people who reside there, and the interrelations between the two. While examining a site that has industrialized and urbanized, that has undergone a demographic transition and increased integration into national and global markets, I pay close attention to how practices, imaginaries, ideologies, dreams and nightmares from the past are reproduced in the present. I develop new ways of theorizing the transformations typically associated with “modernization” through the concept of “recombinant urbanization.” While Zouping is clearly prospering, it is not depict a utopia. Dynamics of patriarchy, alienation and anomie, processes of class formation and exclusion, and problems like pollution and traffic jams accompany more positive changes like increasing material comfort and growing cosmopolitanism.

The book is organized into two parts, the first giving overviews of different ways the place has changed and the second focusing on the lives of the different groups of people who have moved to the city. Page 99 comes in the third chapter of the first part, which examines how the consumptive universe of Zouping has evolved over the past 25 years. The chapter focuses on the new technologies people have come to consume and the ways in which these technologies both transform people’s lives and enable them to reproduce practices from the past in new ways. Much of page 99 is devoted to the recent history of internet cafes and computing technology. Internet cafes had an early peak during the 1990s but faded late in the decade as most people began purchasing their own computers. But the cafes re-emerged during the 2000s as Zouping began attracting a large number of migrant workers who had no place to keep a computer. Male migrant workers use the cafes primarily for gaming, but also chat with friends from their hometowns. One surprising use of computers has been in primary school classrooms. Many literature teachers now require students to contribute to a class blog rather than keep a handwritten diary. The result has been an increase in the amount students write, but a decrease in handwriting abilities. An eleven year old boy I knew, whose father ran an electronics repair shop, wrote almost every day about his father’s TV repairs. He would detail the twists and turns of each repair—when a replaced part or re-soldered wire did or did not make the TV work again. Because of the importance of written characters in Chinese society, some teachers and parents lament the decline in handwriting ability and worry that it will affect the children’s future careers as some employers still ask for handwritten materials in the job search process.
Learn more about From Village to City at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue