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Local citizenship and socialized governance : linking citizens and the state in rural and urban Tianjin, China Woodman, K. Sophia

Abstract

This study uses the China case to revisit some of the central assumptions of the literature on citizenship, showing how citizens and states are formed in and through the local places where citizenship is practiced. It suggests that the location of the political and of citizens have been an understudied aspect of citizenship orders, not just in relation to the growing impact of global and transnational forces, but also in sub-state entities. Through fine-grained examination of the daily interactions between citizens and state agents, this study shows how citizenship in China is embedded in local relationships of belonging, participation and entitlement anchored in institutions that organize people in workplaces, urban neighborhoods and rural villages. Based on 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork in four communities in Tianjin, China, the study examines how two such institutions, the villager and residents committees, act as a nexus for participation and formal rights, while also providing social welfare to the needy. The practices of these institutions bind citizens to the state through a face-to-face politics that acts both as a mechanism of control and a channel for claims-making and pressure from below, a mode of rule I call “socialized governance.” Both enabling and constraining, this exists in tension with bureaucratic-rational forms of governance, such as the current Chinese leadership’s objective of “ruling in accordance with law.” While the frameworks for citizenship are set at the national level, its local, cellular character means great variation among places in both form and practice. My model of local citizenship helps explain patterns of economic and social inequality and of contentious politics in contemporary China. While the unsettling of the congruence between the national and citizenship has been widely noted, this study points to how local, national and global institutionalized dimensions of citizenship have consistently been mediated through or exercised in sub-state entities. The narrative of the nation-state has so dominated the literature on citizenship that it has generally made invisible the actual techniques and processes through which citizenship orders are made, re-made and contested. As a unitary state with a strong national project, the China case provides intriguing material for rethinking how the local shapes citizenship.

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