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«Date:_ Approved: _ Ralph Litzinger, Co-Supervisor _ Anne Allison, Co-Supervisor _ Charles Piot _ Michael Hardt Dissertation submitted in partial ...»

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Culture in the Age of Biopolitics:

Migrant Communities and Corporate Social Responsibility in China


Jennifer Chien

Department of Cultural Anthropology

Duke University




Ralph Litzinger, Co-Supervisor


Anne Allison, Co-Supervisor


Charles Piot


Michael Hardt Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Cultural Anthropology in the Graduate School of Duke University i v


Culture in the Age of Biopolitics:

Migrant Communities and Corporate Social Responsibility in China by Jennifer Chien Department of Cultural Anthropology Duke University Date:_______________________



Ralph Litzinger, Co-Supervisor ___________________________

Anne Allison, Co-Supervisor ___________________________

Charles Piot ___________________________

Michael Hardt An


of a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Cultural Anthropology in the Graduate School of Duke University Copyright by Jennifer Chien Abstract This dissertation examines the conjuncture of Corporate Social Responsibility and migrant social life in the urban space of Beijing as a problematic of what Foucault called biopower, where distinct logics of market and state power deploy techniques of civil society and culture in the form of public-private partnerships. The unique effect of this conjuncture is an expanding logic of power that obfuscates lines of antagonism between capital and labor, requiring new theoretical and methodological insight into how power, resistance, and antagonism might be conceived in the biopolitical era.

Drawing on recent work on biopower and new theories of antagonism and subjectivity, I argue (following Badiou’s work) that both power and resistance must be articulated in their divided tendencies, which allows us to work through how certain tendencies may be contradictory and complementary, and to redraw the lines of antagonism at the level of subjectivity in terms of these divided tendencies. These lines of antagonism don’t fall between public/private, market/state, or civil society/state, but along a process by which subjectivities are produced and sustained at a “distance” from the logic of their placement in society, or integrated into power by various strategies of civil society and culture. The practices and theoretical productions of one migrant cultural organization in Beijing, whose project centers on the production of new migrant subjectivity and culture in the transformation of self and society, provides insight into how we might conceive of politics as new forms of “distance” from the logic of biopower.

Through over twelve months of intensive fieldwork and follow up trips on the intersection between Corporate Social Responsibility and migrant social life in Beijing, I trace the techniques by which antagonistic subjectivity is intervened upon. First, I

–  –  –

reveal a theoretical impasse in the displacement and disavowal of revolutionary culture to grapple with how to re-think antagonistic contradictions in the pervading market logic of difference. The continuation of this impasse into the biopolitical era is brought into focus through the state and market turn to “culture industries” that include, mirror, and delimit migrant social life in Beijing. Problematizing the rise of self-articulated migrant subjectivity and migrant culture amidst these public-private projects, I then turn to the practices of one migrant organization whose project draws upon a legacy of struggle for self-organized and self-run migrant collective practices to successfully confront and block a situation of forced demolition and displacement. Analyzing how elements from state, market, and “civil society” interacted through public-private partnerships in the situation of daily migrant struggles, I identify the importance of the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in the urban space of Beijing and the growth of biopolitical practices of intervention upon the migrant issue. I argue that the effect of the diffusion of Corporate Social Responsibility as a social practice is to enroll migrants as active participants in a social life that makes their subjectivities and productive activities visible to the public sphere. Lines of antagonism can thus be drawn by taking up distinctions between subjectivities oriented toward “the public,” “self-governance,” and the CSR “community,” versus collective self-organizing. I conclude by arguing that if biopower seeks to mirror practices of resistance and power by drawing upon the selfactivities of cooperative subjects, then thinking about the self-organized and self-run migrant organization as a new form of “distance” may shed light on how antagonism and political struggle might be redefined today.

v Contents Abstract

  List of Figures


1. Introduction: Biopower and Antagonism

  1.1  The Figure of the Migrant and Corporate Social Responsibility

  1.2  Biopolitical Challenge


1.3 Chapter Outline


2. The Production of “Migrants” and “Culture”


2.1 Introduction


2.2 Historical Background: US Disavowal

  2.2.1 Legacies

  2.2.2 Maoism and Culture

  2.2.3 Global Maoism French Maoism Maoism and Decolonization

  2.2.4 Backlash

  2.2.5 Cultural Turn

  2.2.6 Literature Review: Migrant Subjectivity


2.3 Historical Background: China Disavowal

  2.3.1 Post-Mao Culture

  2.3.2 Culture Industries


2.4. Rise of “Migrant Literature” and “Migrant Culture”


2.5 Conclusion


3. Migrant Workers Home Organization


3.1 Introduction


–  –  –

3.3. Capacity to Hold a Position (Torsion)

  3.3.1 What Does “Migrant” Mean?

  3.3.2 Becoming Migrant


3.4 Opening to the New


3.5 Consistency

  3.5.1 Social Space

  3.5.2 Global Space


3.6 Conclusion: Autonomy?


4. Corporate Social Responsibility from “Above”


4.1 Migrant Schools, Demolitions, and Social Responsibility

  4.1.1 Tongxin Experimental School

  4.1.2 New Citizens School


4.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and Public-Private Partnerships

  4.2.1 Methodological and Theoretical Issues

  4.2.2 Literature Review


4.3 Corporate Social Responsibility and Global Capitalist Restructuring.................. 164   4.3.1 Workers Struggles

  4.3.2 Capitalist Restructuring


4.4 Neoliberal Traditions and Technologies of “Civil Society”

  4.4.1 Neoliberalism and Development

  4.4.2 Domestic “Social Forces”

  4.4.3 CSR and the “Public”

  4.4.4 The Wealth at the Bottom of the Pyramid


4.5 Conclusion


–  –  –

5.1 Introduction: Urban Self-Governance


5.2 Green Living


5.3 The “Self-Governing Community”


5.4 The “Migrant Community”


5.5 Conclusion


6. Conclusion


6.1 Lines of Antagonism


6.2 Life Beyond “Languages and Bodies”



  viii List of Figures Figure 1: Targeted districts with high concentrations of villages-in-the-city in the 2008 plan “The Beijing City Communist Party Committee Views On The New Patterns for Leading the Integration of Rural-Urban Economic Social Development” (map edited from official website of Beijing Tourism Administration to show relevant districts)....... 91   ix

1. Introduction: Biopower and Antagonism “Everyone, including the Maoists, is after all called upon today, after the Cultural Revolution and May ’68, to take a stance, to discern the new with regard to the meaning of politics in its complex articulation, its constitutive trilogy: mass movement, class perspective, and State…Such is clearly the question of any possible philosophy today, wherein we can read the primacy of politics (of antagonism) in its actuality.” (Bosteels 2011, 138)

1.1 The Figure of the Migrant and Corporate Social Responsibility In the summer of 2008 and 2012, I was coordinating a group of Duke University students who were volunteering their entire summer at a middle school for migrant children in a southern “urban village” of Beijing’s Daxing district. One particular night left a deep impression on me. I still I remember vividly looking across the small faces in the school courtyard, and seeing mixed expressions of genuine and fake smiles, tired, angry whispering and shuffling of dozens of feet. That night, it had been almost two hours now, that over 100 middle school children out of over 500 who boarded at the school had been kept outside to pose for a photo shoot with a young Chinese celebrity, who herself was growing impatient. The photographer was also frustrated, and couldn’t quite capture the migrant children in the configuration that he wanted—which he described as a mix of joy and longing. I could feel that familiar sense of overprotection and self-righteousness that came so often, too easily, during my time at this school. Just a week before, an American family had visited as well, taking up the students’ time to honor the family’s presence—the typical performances and songs. The American family was on a three-month cross-continental journey in honor of their deceased son, visiting the places where their son had volunteered his time for others. Even though only a few students who had interacted with their son remained, the fifth graders patiently dedicated the precious week leading up to exams to allow the grieving family to undergo their healing process by engaging with the students in light-hearted games and songs. A week before that, a physician from Chapel Hill, NC brought his family to the school for an “educational vacation,” where the typical tourist destinations of Beijing now included a stop by the migrant school to learn about “China’s inequalities.” Those memories converged to lend this night’s photo shoot with a sense of unmeasured frustration for the participant-observer turned spectator. The Duke student volunteers under my supervision were particularly indignant, as they were shaken by past experiences of young students fainting during long events in the dry heat of the Beijing summer. When the actress finally finished her photo shoot close to midnight, the students, along with their exhausted teachers, were allowed to return to their dorms.

That night served to capture a growing puzzlement that I was watching a specific phenomenon in which the figure of migrants functioned within an economy of production and consumption. This was one of the few legally registered migrant schools in Beijing that was attempting to address how migrants could become integrated into mainstream society through the existing education system, which is perhaps why such spectacles are tolerated by school staff. In addition to the use of public media to offset the political sensitivity of creating institutions for migrants, or at least certain instantiations of institutions, there was the pervading belief by school staff that exposing disadvantaged migrants to “the world” by encountering cosmopolitan citizens may somehow change the “fate” of migrants, revealing to me the multilayered dynamic of imagination, subjectivity and affect, and material reality that complicate the social inequalities of migrants in China. Over the course of the following ten weeks, I couldn’t quite grasp what I was witnessing, and indeed implicated in. With such instances of public attention and concern, migrants had become vehicles for an emotional catharsis, or an empty placeholder for various affects and desires—the healing process of the grieving family, the social compassion of the celebrity, the “social problem” to be rendered transparent by the student researcher or the journalist, the transformative experience of the corporate volunteer or the visiting donor, etc. As I watched how these affective burdens were assumed and grappled with by migrant youth, I wondered how these various forms of immaterial production and consumption have come to occur in the name of migrants, yet were at the expense of, even removed, from their materiality.

In other words, migrants had disappeared in the production of their effect.

1.2 Biopolitical Challenge This particular migrant school and the struggles it faces in the complex spotlight of public and global concern has become a common experience shared across many of Beijing’s migrant schools and their surrounding migrant settlements in the aftermath of the 2008 Olympics. It soon became clear to me through my time spent volunteering with different migrant social organizations now proliferating in Beijing that in this urban space, at least on the surface, instead of widespread injustice and discrimination leading to moments of eruption, there was general mainstream concern and interest in integrating Chinese migrants into urban society. Rather than finding capital or the authoritarian state against labor in a clear-cut antagonism, I found the blurring of these categories in a maze of public-private partnerships. There were many reasons for this situation, including the unique social space of Beijing,1 simultaneously more open and closed to different possibilities in comparison to the regimes of control in the factory.

Nevertheless, I was unprepared for the well-intentioned, good hearted, and dedicated people who became outraged and mobilized around migrant social injustices in mainstream society, as well as the making of celebrity migrants. My ethnographic experience of the popularization and spectacularization of the figure of the Chinese migrant immediately posed a challenge at the level of theory and method.

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