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The Cambridge City Seminar Series: The Nearby—A Scale of Knowing

Professor Biao Xiang
When Feb 23, 2021
from 05:30 PM to 07:00 PM
Where Online
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Residential communities in Chinese cities are increasingly subjugated to 'the last 500-metre governance/economy' imposed by government and capital. At the same time, citizens' lives are shaped by virtual interactions and are disassociated from their physical surroundings. Responding to these processes, and inspired by the experiences of a group of migrant garment producers in Beijing, this talk explores a vision of 'the nearby'.

The nearby is a space of representation (Lefebvre)—a lived space that generates intimate knowledge about how the social world is constituted in concrete and contradictory ways, thereby suggesting potentials for changes. The nearby has to be consciously constructed by inhabitants instead of given by outsiders. As a 'scale', instead of a predefined 'level' or a bounded 'unit', the nearby constitutes a platform where diverse inhabitants interact (e.g. vegetable vendors outside gated communities, migrant security guards at the gate, and residents inside) and where multiple social forces entangle. Taken as a basis of knowing and making the world, such a scale may create new perceptions and actions. This paper wishes to contribute to an emerging movement among artists and social workers in China that aims to reconstruct place-based lifeworlds.


Speaker's biography:

Biao Xiang (项飙) is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Director of Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. Xiang has worked on various types of migration in China, India and other parts of Asia. He is the winner of the 2008 Anthony Leeds Prize for his book Global Bodyshopping and the 2012 William L. Holland Prize for his article ‘Predatory Princes’. His 2000 Chinese book 跨越边界的社区 (published in English as Transcending Boundaries, 2005) was reprinted in 2018 as a contemporary classic, and his 自己作为方法 (Self as Method, co-authored with 吴琦) is ranked No.1 Most Impactful Book 2020 in China by Xiang’s work has been translated into Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, German and Italian.

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