Suspension: Mobilities, Aspirations, and Socio-Political Stagnation in China

17-18 September 2018
St Hugh's College, Oxford

Convened by: Biao Xiang, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA); Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), Fellow of St Hugh’s College

Conference Programme (Provisional)

This conference aims to rethink the socio-political meaning of migration in, from, and to China through the idiom of suspension. Suspension firstly indicates a working life strategy. Migrants intentionally suspend, or put on hold, some aspects of their lives in order to maximise others. For instance, they may work long hours away from home, foregoing the joys and duties associated with being family members, friends, and neighbours. They may suspend needs related to social reproduction in order to speed up wealth accumulation.

Although such suspension can be self-inflicted, it is not entirely voluntary. Government regulations—be it the hukou policy, the management of foreign populations, or the overseas labor deployment system—often prevent settlement and exclude migrants from the local community. Even the everyday working experiences can sustain these arrangements: migrants are debarred from public engagement as their lives are encapsulated within dormitories in factories, camps on construction sites, or gated condominiums.

Suspension renders migrants economically productive and yet politically passive. Although migrants are indispensable for economic growth, in the Chinese case they appear to have induced minimal impacts or systemic changes on public life and its organisation. This is despite their size (nearly 280 million internal migrants in China alone), their young age relative to the general population, and above all their drive and energy. Indeed, while suspension can lead to hypermobility, where people move frequently and repeatedly without the prospect of settling down, this intensification of movement seems to dissipate rather than ignite grassroots energy that could propel self-organisation and social change from below. Moreover, growing international migration to China, as the on-going project Immigration and the Transformation of Chinese Society reveals, has not led to more open, tolerant, and reflexive outlooks among the Chinese population.

Download the programme here: 2018-05 Suspension Programme

If you have any questions, please email: biao.xiang@anthro.ox.ac.uk

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