Dr Luigi Tomba
Presented by: Dr Luigi Tomba, Associate Director, Australian Centre on China in the World, Australian National University
This talk is based on the book The Government Next Door: Neighborhood Politics in Urban China (Cornell University Press), that was recently awarded the 2016 Joseph Levenson Prize by the Association for Asian Studies. The book 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 research draws on ethnographic accounts of neighbourhood life and politics in Beijing, Shenyang, and Chengdu and depicts how such local "translation" of government priorities takes place.
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.
Luigi Tomba is currently an Associate Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University. He is the incoming director of the University of Sydney China Studies Centre.
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