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Authors: Steffen, Megan Amanda
Advisors: Borneman, John W
Zhang, Li
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: accidents
urban studies
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Asian studies
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Based on 25 months of ethnographic fieldwork research conducted between March 2013 and March 2016 in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, this dissertation focuses on the influence of unpredictability on how people make social relationships and decisions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). After Reform and Opening Up in 1978, the PRC underwent an unprecedented transformation from the largest remaining planned, socialist society to the world's fastest growing economy with a GDP second only to the USA’s. By working with people from many different backgrounds—including migrant workers, entrepreneurs, wealthy housewives, urban villagers, white-collar workers, and students—this dissertation examines how people deal with the accelerating social, economic, and geographical shifts associated with liberalization. It investigates these shifts in several different realms of life, such as within the real estate industry, with agents or middlemen, and among family members. Each chapter documents specific examples of accidents, social practices, and serendipitous windfalls as well as changing explanations of these events. Through a longitudinal study of personal narratives, I analyze the psychological processes through which people create and then revise the meanings they give to events and to their lives. I argue that the PRC’s recent rapid infrastructural, economic, and social changes have created unexpected outcomes that people must interpret, explain, or—in some cases—willfully forget. While some people are left behind by the PRC’s new narratives of progress, others embrace the future’s radical indeterminacy by embracing a presentist conception of time and a sense that things haven’t yet become fixed in place. By developing unpredictability as an analytical concept, this dissertation contributes to classic anthropological studies of causality, as well as more recent work on emerging capitalist markets, risk, and uncertainty.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

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