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The state through its mirrors : an anthropological study of a 'Respect-the-Elderly Home' in rural China at the turn of the 21st century

Liu, Xiaoqian (2013) The state through its mirrors : an anthropological study of a 'Respect-the-Elderly Home' in rural China at the turn of the 21st century. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis represents an endeavour to study and rethink bureaucracy through an ethnography of the bureaucratic organisation called ‘Respect-the-Elderly Home’ (REH) in rural China in the first decade of the 21st century. Its contextual concern is to examine the phenomenon of old age support being transferred from primary groups (family and village) to the state in the processes of modern state formation, a context in which elderly support is portrayed by both the Chinese government and mainstream academic discourse as a symptom of family dysfunction and moral crisis; and a state project to build up REHs to host the welfare category of ‘Five-Guarantee Elderly’ is hailed to be practically therapeutic and ideologically significant. Based on long term fieldwork in one REH in southwestern China and more REHs generally (April 2010 – June 2011), this thesis reveals a secret function of this organisation, namely, ‘accommodative inversion’, and argues for a heterotopian looking-glass perspective to conceptualise it. The first chapter outlines the fieldwork setting in a way that its heterotopian qualities are simultaneously presented. The following chapters are divided into two parts. The first part delineates the realities of the institution-defined order and disorders of dining, spatial layout and temporal orientation, and explores the mechanisms which make the presumable incompatibility of these distinct orders practically irrelevant. The second part explores the dialectics of state and family in service delivery, guarantee and deprivation, and the condition of the residents as the served and the serving, and explains why structural inversions are inevitable through institutional processes beyond individual intention. This research brings the myth of our era – of bureaucracy and in particular of the Chinese bureaucracy – into a dialogue with the literature on bureaucratic organisation that has emerged in social science since the 1960s. More significantly, by disclosing and expounding the violent nature of state welfare, it presents a fundamental challenge to conventional understandings of benefactor and beneficiary in state provision.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Xiaoqian Liu
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Feuchtwang, Stephan and Harris, Olivia

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