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Strategic recognition: Watching the state in Shenzhen

By Mary Ann O'Donnell


Based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, People's Republic of China, I offer a reading of Reform and Opening (Gaige Kaifang) in terms of how individuals recognized, manipulated, avoided, and responded to the Chinese state apparatus during the Deng years (1978--1997). I suggest that strategic recognition---a concept I develop through an analysis of the performance and interpretation of mianzi---provides useful insight into the political, economic, and cultural infrastructure of contemporary China. My analysis of strategic recognition in Shenzhen has a double focus: the changing structure of the Chinese state within a world system and the concomitant production of legal residents. This double focus allows me to track how interlocutors strategically read each other's mianzi and provides the empirical basis for a working definition of strategic recognition: the ability to judge relative degrees of freedom within relationships that were variously mediated by the state apparatus

Topics: Cultural anthropology, Economics, Political science, Sociology, Social structure
Year: 1999
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