Progress in Western Rurality Research in China
2016, 36 (3):
Rurality is the core concept of Western multi-disciplinary rural studies, especially rural geography. The combination and conflict among rural sociology, agrarian political economy, rural geography saw the diversity and abundance of rurality topics. The evolution of academic trends in social science and the transformation of rural society respectively in the terms of theory and practice pushed the development of rurality studies. In popular discourse, rurality simply represents different features, which distinguish the rural from the urban, like lifestyle, economy structure, land use and so on. The ways of ‘knowing’ rurality are under the constantly fluid condition: from the ontology of rurality and the macro social economic structures at the early stage to the existence of rural ‘others’ finally to the hybrid complexity of modernized rurality. With the deepening of rurality studies, a series of hot topics came into being one after another: rurality index, discourse of rurality, social difference, daily performance. Though approaches to rurality are various, the power relations and social differentiation rather than the social spatial features became main research directions with the influence of cultural turn and rocketing-up of post-modernism in rural studies. In another word, against the background of the multi rural interests, the representation and reproduction of rurality rather than ‘objective’ rural index have a great importance to understand the representative and material production and reproduction of rurality and politics of rural change under the context of modern capitalism. This review, based on social and academic background of rurality studies, focuses on the social construction of rurality and its burgeoning trends in Chinese rurality studies. The social constructionist treats rurality as the process and product of social, cultural construction not the existed reality, stresses on power relations and otherness. The transition from the former approaches to the social constructionist could be viewed as the transformation from materiality of rurality to its representation, from the rurality itself and macro structural dynamics to the ‘knowing’ means of rurality. The present China rurality study focuses on rurality index and its quantitative models, the concerned researches contain important practical meanings for governmental departments to understand rural problems and make the reasonable solutions for rural planning and rural regeneration. In western rural studies, due to its indication of linear development view and lack of interpretive potential for rural change, rurality index is criticized greatly. In nowadays rural China, the modernization discourse of rural development dominates, while the unequal power relations and ‘othering’ of disadvantaged peasants are overlooked at some degree. Under such social, academic context, social construction of rurality could provide alternative and critical lens to deconstruct dominant discourses of rurality and discover power relations and interest conflict among different social groups.
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