Presentation "Categories of poverty: Asking for alms in Chinese urban space" by Ryanne Flock at the DVCS 2023
News from Nov 28, 2023
As part of the DVCS Conference XXXIV, which took place from November 24 - 26, 2023, at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in Erlangen, Worldmaking member Ryanne Flock (Social Worlds: China's Cities as Spaces of Worldmaking) gave a talk on "Categories of poverty: Asking for Alms in Chinese Urban Space". As well, Ryanne Flock was elected to the DVCS Board for the upcoming term.
In past and present China, the figure of the beggar stands for the deviation from norms and normality, from the accepted structure of the sedentary society. But as the social and political contexts change, so does the understanding of “qigai” (beggar) and the characteristics associated with the term. This paper analyses the idea of the beggar from a historical, political and academic point of view as well as through the perspectives of people engaging in panhandling today. To do so, I conduct an integrated review of (Chinese) documents focusing on panhandling in Chinese cities and contrast it with my empirical research on beggars’ appropriation of urban public space. The latter’s data derives from non-participant observations as well as interviews with panhandling people in the city centre of Guangzhou, China’s metropolis of the South. How can we understand “qigai” in a Chinese context is the guiding question to show the changing perspectives on poverty and social deviance in China’s past and present. First, I elucidate how associated terms framed qigai as a social class and a social caste, as a member of a political organization or pejorative symbol to govern migrants throughout Chinese history. Second, I juxtapose the definition of beggars via membership with focusing on the activity of panhandling and suggest understanding the latter as a performance of hierarchy-building misery embedded in the Chinese cultural framework. Finally, the paper analyses the differentiations between ”real” and “fake” beggars as discussed in Chinese academia and panhandlers in Guangzhou. As taught by the sociology of knowledge, being aware of those categorizations changing in context and perspective is crucial when tracking structures of inequality by analyzing data and statistics of the government and other parties. Moreover, as norms and deviance are socially constructed, the figure of the beggar gives insights into ideas of “citizenship”, social belonging, and discourses of marginalization.