University of Connecticut

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Geography Colloquium - Mi Shih

Friday, April 6, 2018
12:20pm – 1:10pm

Storrs Campus
AUST 446

In the past several decades, China's rapid urbanization has been largely predicated on village land expropriated by the state. Existing scholarship has described this process of state-led urbanization, which in turn underpins the territorialization process of state power. In the Pearl River Delta region, villages have, however, managed to stubbornly continue to exist in the face of land expropriation even though their holdings of collective landownership have become much smaller. In this talk, I focus on the historically contested state-village power relations in this southern region in China and ask how we might start to imagine a different urbanization process. Building on ethnographic fieldwork research conducted in Yonghe village in peri-urban Guangzhou, I use the sanctuary of the collective to describe the protection of livelihood and human vitality that are made possible by the use of collectively owned land. The kinds of socioeconomic relationships that have formed around Yonghe are less subordinate to the logic of market economy than commodified urban land use would allow. Viewed from the center of Guangzhou, Yonghe is a backward village enclave in a large industrial zone. In the vast peri-urban region outside the city, however, Yonghe is a sanctuary for the marginalized villagers. An alternative process of urbanization has been made possible around Yonghe village. Yonghe village, however, has struggled for years from long-term pollution in the heavily industrial area. Between 2008 and 2016, Yonghe villagers were involved in a fierce debate over whether to relocate themselves elsewhere in order to give their next generation a clearer environment. I argue that those moments of debate, negotiation, and struggle most clearly show that state-led urbanization is a deeply power-reinscribing and exploitative process.

Mi Shih is an assistant professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University. Her research involves two major areas. The first is how China’s rapid urbanization reshapes property relationships and people’s everyday lives in the city. Employing in-depth ethnographic fieldwork both in Shanghai and Guangzhou, she examines the shifting urban-rural boundaries, people’s livelihood changes, land rights, and community-based planning. One of her current projects focuses on China’s recent experimentation with commodifying the development rights of collectively owned village land. Her other major research area is transfer of development rights (TDR) in Taiwan. Building on mixed research methods, she has examined Taiwan’s TDR history and its impact on housing prices. Her current project focuses on analyzing several crucial questions about TDR, including land finance mechanisms, socioeconomic impacts on neighborhoods in close proximity to TDR, and how to improve TDR’s land value capture effectiveness for planners in Taiwan.


Scott Stephenson []

Geography Department (primary), UConn Master Calendar, Urban and Community Studies, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies

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