Desiring and Disillusioned: Chinese Middle Classes in a Precarious Present
Yichen Rao (University of Michigan) and Grazia Ting Deng (Brown University)
Alongside China's rapid economic growth and increasing geopolitical clout in the past four decades, millions of Chinese "desiring subjects" (Rofel 2007) have achieved upward economic mobility through entrepreneurship, investment, education, migration, and other means. These middle-class urbanites have re-imagined and put into practice their notions of wealth, success, and lifestyles. Chinese middle-class discourses and identities have been particularly associated with consumerist desires, materialist ambitions and personal developments, such as gated communities of private homes (Zhang 2012), car ownership (Zhang J. 2020), parenting and educational investments (Kipnis 2011,; Kuan 2015), career ambitions and job flexibilities (Hoffman 2010, Lin 2021); training and self-development (Hampel 2021, Hizi 2021), international travel and study (Fong 2011, Lan 2020).
Yet, many of them are increasingly disillusioned by the precarity of their middle-class status. Neologisms like "involution" (neijuan) reflect a generational fear of "missing the last bus" (Xiang 2021), a hyper-competitive middle-class work culture (Santos, Rao, Xing, and Zhang. 2021), as well as other psychologized expressions of anxieties (Zhang L. 2020). The rapid accumulation of wealth has also provoked new anxieties about the ability to reproduce or even preserve that capital in China's fluctuating financial markets (Rao 2021) and amid global economic uncertainty. Some young middle classes, disillusioned about the job-based upward mobilities, dreamed of "getting rich overnight" (baofu) through speculative investments such as cryptocurrencies. Many others have also realized that money itself does not necessarily translate into social recognition in both domestic and transnational arenas.
This panel probes into the complex and contested desires and disillusionment about Chinese middle-class discourses and identities amid the precarious economic, social, and geopolitical present. We hope to develop new dialogues for the emergent aspirational projects of Chinese middle classes under the country's rapidly shifting economic landscapes and global entanglements. We welcome submissions from researchers of different disciplinary orientations whose study explores new discourses, experiences, and practices of diverse Chinese middle-class subjects embedded in their own sets of political, economic, and economic conditions (Osburg 2013, Zhang J. 2020, Zhang L. 2020) against the precarity and uncertainty. These discourses, experiences, and practices include but are not limited to new forms of wealth accumulations, entrepreneurial practices, education ambitions, job and work cultures, consumption patterns, media use and digital influences within and beyond the national border.
To produce a coherent panel, every presenter is expected to address the overarching research question of the panel: How do emerging forms of economic mobilities constitute the new Chinese middle-classes' identity formation manifested by both desires and disillusionment? To facilitate a lively conversation within the panel, we ask each of the presenters to deliver a ten-minute presentation followed by a five-minute commentary by the next presenter. We will then have a discussant to provide a fifteen-minute discussion on all the presentations and commentaries before the fifteen-minute Q&A session to engage the audience.
For those who are interested, please submit your paper abstract (250 words), a short bio (100 words), and contact information through the following link:https://forms.gle/xtqqKxsTLFPYRhqk8 by August 1st, 2022. Please send an email to Yichen Rao at firstname.lastname@example.org or Grazia Deng at email@example.com
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