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The reflective peephole method: ruralism and awkwardness in the ethnography of rural China

By Hans Steinmüller


Starting with Arthur Smith’s metaphor of the ‘peephole method’, this article explores the issues of ruralism and awkwardness which underlie much ethnographic fieldwork in rural China. In the first part, the continuing influence of ruralism—the idea that the Chinese countryside represents the ‘real’ China—is discussed. This idea is based on a radical conceptual separation of the countryside and the city, which denies modern everydayness to the countryside. If we accept that the modern everyday is now present in rural China and that ordinary people are aware of ruralism and its opposites (urbanism and modernity), we need to find research methods suitable to address the entanglement and the social uses of ruralist and modernist representations in everyday life. In the second part of the article, I argue that the ‘reflective peephole method’ could be such a method. Starting from the awkwardness I felt in my own fieldwork in south-western Hubei Province, I argue that the dilemmas of the ‘peephole method’ might be a good starting point for reflecting on the intensified ambiguity of moral discourse and action in contemporary rural China

Topics: DS Asia, HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Australian Anthropological Society
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2011.00125.x
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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