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Social Worlds Workshop

Date: January 13-15, 2022

Location: Würzburg/hybrid

Organizers: Prof. Dr. Björn Alpermann (University of Würzburg) and Prof. Dr. Elena Meyer-Clement (University of Copenhagen)

Children at a Watercourse

Children at a Watercourse
Bildquelle: Ryanne Flock

On January 13-15th, the research team of "Social Worlds: China's Cities as Spaces of Worldmaking" invited former and future fellows as well as interested colleagues for a workshop in a hybrid format to Würzburg. Coming from different empirical research backgrounds, the participants presented their perspectives on social worlds as sites of knowledge production in Chinese urbanization.

A first group of papers focused on processes of image building and impression management through state actors and in collaboration with the respective public. Xie Kailing (University of Birmingham) focused on "Gendering National Sacrifices: The Making of New Heroines in China's Counter-COVID-19 TV Series" (co-author: Zhou Yun). She demonstrated the gendered construction of selfless behaviour in new series running on state television celebrating China's success in fighting the Covid virus in Wuhan. Michael Malzer (University of Würzburg) showed how officially advertised ideas of "civilized " behaviour are linked with regional development plans in his paper "From Arabian Nights to China's Bordeaux: Wine, Local Identity, and Ningxia's Place within the Chinese Nation". Antonie Angerer's (University of Würzburg) paper "From Consumer to Consumer/Producer of Spectacle: Rural-Urban Transformation Mediated by the Social Media Platform DouYin" looked at the image construction of Xiong'an, a mega-city yet to be built, but very alive in social media worlds showing the "fun" of being urban. In her paper on "Understanding China's Cities of Spectacle: Campaign-style Governance of Urban Public Space in Guangzhou", Ryanne Flock (University of Würzburg) argued for the spectacularization of everyday life in Guangzhou when negative images such as poverty and "backwardness" are banned from public space by state actors in the service of profit and prestige.

A second focus lay on questions of social strata, subjective positioning and social relationship networks of urbanites and migrants. Mao Jingyu's (University of Bielefeld) paper "'Friends are those who can help you out': Unpacking the Understanding and Experiences of Friendships among Young Migrant Workers in China" focused on friendship ties between migrants in Yunnan and highlighted their instrumental and emotional importance during the migration process. Social embeddedness also played a crucial role in Bettina Gransow's (Freie Universität Berlin) paper. In "Secret heroes: Becoming urban Xiaojies in Shenzhen's Jianghu spaces", she showed the social world of prostitution in urban villages, actors relationships and identity construction. "Status Change and Social Identities in Contemporary Urban China" by Björn Alpermann (University of Würzburg) conceptualized social trajectories as an alternative to classical terms such as "class" to better understand Chinese society.

Overall, the workshop elucidated the context of Chinese urbanization in (re)making social worlds – as shown above. Most convincingly, René Trappel (University of Freiburg) examined "Authoritarian Inclusiveness: Resettlement and Political Integration in Urbanizing China" and uncovered the complex reciprocity between state actors and the resettled rural population in contemporary Gansu province. Further discussants and participants were: Mia Hallmans (University of Würzburg), Hannah Klepeis (Leiden University), Elena Meyer-Clement (University of Copenhagen), Alessandro Rippa (Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich), and Zhang Yunpeng (KU Leuven).

Over the three days, the vivid discussion of each paper extended the exchange between the different disciplines and various insights on social worlds in contemporary China. The fruitful debate will continue, and a potential publication is being planned.