We are seeking contributors for an edited volume on suzhi, or ‘human quality’ in contemporary China. Contributions examining suzhi in the context of Hong Kong and Taiwan are also welcome.
In every culture and historical period, certain key words and concepts capture the social imagination, informing and pervading a wide spectrum of discursive fields and practices. In contemporary China, suzhi is such a concept, having become a central element in a range of powerful discourses – family planning officials strive for a “quality population”; educators introduce reforms to develop “quality education” in schools; the Communist Party exhorts citizens to improve their moral and political quality as part of the campaign to construct a ‘socialist spiritual civilization;’ managers complain of the low quality of their workers and workers complain of the low quality of management; social elites lament that the overall quality of the population is too low to facilitate the introduction of democracy at the national level; parents try to improve the quality of their children with nutritional supplements and extra curricular activities; and people generally compete in the expression of high quality through conspicuous consumption, fashion and lifestyles.
Suzhi is of crucial importance to state governance and social control, and to the state’s promotion of market-oriented economic growth. At the same time, it is very much a part of popular culture, being reproduced by a range of social actors and in different popular discourses, including various forms of resistance to the state and status quo. The key to understanding the significance of suzhi is not to pin it down to a single definition, but rather to appreciate the power of a concept that everyone takes for granted but whose meaning can be manipulated and that varies enormously from one context to another.
In this volume, we wish to include chapters that examine suzhi in a variety of domains and discourses, including but not limited to those relating to:
the policing and management of mobility, space
labour, expertise, morality, production, reproduction and consumption
identity and differentiation according to gender, sexuality, race, class, region, and rural/urban background
ethnicity and culture
education and socialization
popular culture and the public sphere
Each chapter should address one or more of the following three broad sets of concerns and questions:
History and Genealogy: What are the modern origins, etymology and genealogy of suzhi? What similarities and connections can be drawn between contemporary discourses on suzhi, and those on ‘civilization’ ‘national characteristics’ and ‘development’ in both modern China and elsewhere in the modern world? How – through what key institutions and discourses, and at what key sites – are discourses on suzhi maintained and reproduced?
Governance and Governmentality: What kind of governance does suzhi contribute to? What does it contribute to state power, policing, the maintenance of social order, and/or the economy? Does the Foucaultian notion of (neo-liberal) ‘governmentality’ explain suzhi? Or can analyses of suzhi contribute to critiques of ‘governmentality’?
Experience, Identity, Agency and Power: How is suzhi discourse experienced, negotiated and shaped by different social actors, including those most commonly seen as its primary targets and objects, such as ‘peasants,’ women and members of ethnic minorities, as well as those, such as state officials and intellectuals, more commonly viewed as the subjects of suzhi discourse? How is suzhi implicated in the strategies of the powerful and those who would resist power? What is the relationship between understandings of suzhi and understandings of identity at the national, collective and/or individual level?
Tamara Jacka is Fellow in the Gender Relations Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. Her research interests are in gender relations and social change in contemporary China. Her publications include Women’s Work in Rural China. Change and Continuity in an Era of Reform (Cambridge University Press, 1997); On the Move: Women and Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China (Co-edited with Arianne Gaetano: Columbia University Press, 2004); Sisters from Outside: Rural Women in Urban China (M.E. Sharpe, Oct. 2005).
Gary Sigley is Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. His research interests include population discourse and globalisation and culture in contemporary China. His publications include ‘Liberal despotism: Population planning, government and subjectivity in contemporary China’, Alternative: Global, Local, Political, 2004, 29: 5, and ‘Yellow Peril: Sex, Politics and Moral Discourse with Chinese Characteristics’, in Elaine Jeffreys (ed) Talking Sex in China: Sex, Politics and Society (London & New York: Routledge, Forthcoming 2005).
Please send expressions of interest to Tamara (e-mail address provided in the contact information below) or Gary (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible. Abstracts of approximately 250 words should be sent no later than 31 May 2005.
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