The Government Next Door

The Government Next Door: Neighborhood Politics in Urban China

Luigi Tomba
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Government Next Door
    Book Description:

    Chinese residential communities are places of intense governing and an arena of active political engagement between state and society. InThe Government Next Door, Luigi Tomba investigates how the goals of a government consolidated in a distant authority materialize in citizens' everyday lives. Chinese neighborhoods reveal much about the changing nature of governing practices in the country. Government action is driven by the need to preserve social and political stability, but such priorities must adapt to the progressive privatization of urban residential space and an increasingly complex set of societal forces. Tomba's vivid ethnographic accounts of neighborhood life and politics in Beijing, Shenyang, and Chengdu depict how such local "translation" of government priorities takes place.

    Tomba reveals how different clusters of residential space are governed more or less intensely depending on the residents' social status; how disgruntled communities with high unemployment are still managed with the pastoral strategies typical of the socialist tradition, while high-income neighbors are allowed greater autonomy in exchange for a greater concern for social order. Conflicts are contained by the gated structures of the neighborhoods to prevent systemic challenges to the government, and middle-class lifestyles have become exemplars of a new, responsible form of citizenship. At times of conflict and in daily interactions, the penetration of the state discourse about social stability becomes clear.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5520-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Neighborhood Consensus
    (pp. 1-28)

    The first interview I did in Beijing in 2002 for this book was with a young couple. Both husband and wife worked as cooks in a restaurant, making a just-decent 2,000 yuan (US$240) per month. They were sitting in a restaurant at lunchtime, enjoying traditional Beijing noodles in one of the courtyards of their relatively fancy new neighborhood. I had hoped that by just sitting there and being a foreigner who could order his food in Chinese, I could attract the attention of the customers and start a conversation. And it happened. At that time, the neighborhood I was visiting...

  5. 1 Social Clustering: Neighborhoods and the Governing of Social Distinction
    (pp. 29-61)

    In 1997, discussing the American obsession with gated communities, Edward Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder wrote: “The setting of boundaries is always a political act. Boundaries determine membership: someone must be inside and someone outside. Boundaries also delineate space to facilitate the activities and purposes of political, economic, and social life.”¹ As mentioned in the introduction, the political and social use of such boundary-making exercises is nothing new in China, as clustering of social groups has been central to the classification of society as well as the organization and administration of the territory, the rationalization of consumption, and the policing...

  6. 2 Micro-Governing the Urban Crisis
    (pp. 62-87)

    These were the words of a community worker in Tiexi, a Shenyang district in which what remains of a once-mighty working class have, for the last two decades, been micromanaged at the level of the residential communities through a huge network of poorly remunerated cadres (mostly former workers themselves) for whom community work is not a glorious revolutionary task but another way of accessing much-needed state subsidies or receiving social security for their family.

    In discussion of the changes in Chinese cities, new governance strategies are sometimes linked to the progressive disengagement of the state and the Party from the...

  7. 3 Housing and Social Engineering
    (pp. 88-116)

    Governing has always implied, for the Chinese Communist Party, the aspiration to create citizens in harmony with the existing developmental project of the nation and willing to support it. Social normative institutions such as the household registration system or the work unit have greatly contributed to stratifying society along lines useful to the dominant socialist ideology (collectivization, class struggle, and the creation of “cities of producers”) on the one hand, while, on the other, organizing population and resources to achieve the important economic goals set by the planners. In the context of a development strategy that puts heavy industry first,...

  8. 4 Contained Contention: Interests, Places, Community, and the State
    (pp. 117-140)

    An increasing number of disputes related to collective housing accompanied China’s housing reform. In 2000, just two years after the reform that greatly accelerated the growth of homeownership, housing-related disputes reached the courts in about 166,000 cases nationwide, a 42 percent increase over 1997.¹ Disputes concerning housing sales more than tripled in 2001, prompting the popular press to call it the “year of the high-rise disputes.”² Conflicts about housing in urban neighborhoods were not a passing phenomenon. Between 2002 and 2006, Beijing’s Chaoyang district court heard 5,931 housing-related cases, while nationwide in the first half of 2009 there were more...

  9. 5 A Contagious Civilization: Community, Exemplarism, and Suzhi
    (pp. 141-164)

    The final practice of the neighborhood consensus is the promotion, through exemplarism, of urban and civilized practices of community. Classification, segregation, and place-specific manifestations of the activity of governing happen in the context of a civilizing effort that permeates much of the governing rationalities in contemporary China.¹

    The legitimacy of the post-Mao communist regime has relied on the simultaneous development of two aspects of civilization (wenming): the material (wuzhi) and the spiritual (jingshen). In the words of Børge Bakken, “Roughly, ‘material civilization’ represents the growth aspect of the model, and ‘spiritual civilization’ the social control aspect of it.”² Mainstream interpretations...

  10. Conclusion: Arenas of Contention and Accommodation
    (pp. 165-182)

    This book is about political practices and the rationalities of government that produce them. Practices of everyday interaction between the state and society often challenge the understanding of this relationship as merely antagonistic. While political practices make governing ideologies concrete, tools of domination, as they move closer to everyday life, have the capacity to adapt and differentiate. A particular rationality of government, such as the need to maintain social order, can therefore produce a multiplicity of governing practices. The legitimacy of such practices can be accepted or challenged, or it can be the object of bargaining, without necessarily affecting the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-226)