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Gamble, Joceyln E. (1996) Opening the Door, Crossing the Stream: Changing Perspectives and Social Contours of 1990s Shanghai. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis comprises a series of ethnographic perspectives on China's largest city, Shanghai. It is based primarily upon seventeen months anthropological research conducted in Shanghai between 1992-94. As befits an ethnography of a contemporary metropolis it draws upon a diverse array of research data from electronic media to magazines and local drama productions. Above all, I focus upon and privilege the voices of local residents as they engaged in reflexive encounters with the ethnographer and other inhabitants. This account, then, is my fabrication of their constructions of their lives and their city. In the 1990s far-reaching economic reforms have been implemented which are designed to recreate Shanghai as a cosmopolitan, world financial and commercial centre. Policy makers and citizens are engaged in the difficult and potentially hazardous task of "crossing the stream" from a "socialist state planned economy" to a "socialist market economy", a transition which often involves adopting policies dramatically opposed to those which went before. This thesis aims to furnish, in an ethnographically evocative manner, new perspectives and insights on the parameters of that transition, and especially upon how social boundaries and identities are becoming reconfigured. In 1990s Shanghai many former certainties such as the Communist Party's monologic meta-narrative and boundaries, both spatial and social, are being dismantled, fractured, undermined or crumbling. Increasing choice, mobility and fluidity are unpicking and fraying the once encloistered texture of everyday life. Increasing pluralism, diversity of lifestyles and modes of livelihood provide new opportunities and risks. In the midst of a great deal of flux, ambiguity, uncertainty and juxtapositioning there seems to be evidence of newly emergent social contours such as the shift from predominantly ascribed statuses to greater scope for "aspirational identities". My narrative reflects these processes, and is critical of discourses which are prone to homogenization or dichotomization, both products of a misplaced urge to oversystematize and essentialize. Inter alia, this thesis explores changing representations of "society" and personal relationships; consumption and consumerism; the (perceived) consequences of Shanghai's half-open "door" to intra-national and global cultural flows; the differential markings of spaces within the city; and the emergent discourse of share dealers. Where possible I draw broad brush strokes but always with attention to the craquelure - those cracks and fissures which comprise them but which may have their own, different, stories to tell.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 16:57

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