Accepted paper:

Infrastructure politics and substantive economy in China: the cultural bases


Scott Lash (Oxford University)

Paper short abstract:

China's critical left proffers a public sector and infrastructure-driven Polanyian substantive economy. Here 'ontological' substance unpacks into cultures of lineage, analogism and religion. This is explored in the logistics of infrastructure-based development of rural eco-tourism.

Paper long abstract:

China's 2000 year-long literati-based elites and Confucian culture has been displaced by a modernity of infrastructure-building engineers. China's left political critique of neoliberalism has shifted from a township and village enterprise socialist market notion of the 'commons' to a politics where (Pudong and Chongqing models) the public sector drives private sector development. This has meant infrastructure (roads, bridges, electricity grids, digital telecoms and finance) as driver. Thus China's 'new rural reconstruction', has again shifted from a politics of the commons to one of infrastructure. Here both commons and infrastructure have been formulated via Polanyi's and Arrighi's notions of the 'substantive economy'. But the notion of (both ancient and modern) substance is Western and 'ontological' (Jullien). When scrutinised, the substance of the substantive economy (Sahlins, Strathern) deconstructs into for example gift exchange and the religious. In China's case, perhaps into a 'totemism' of lineage and ancestors, and a cultural paradigm of analogy and mimesis (Descola, Benjamin). We are back full circle to Max Weber of verstehen and Historical institutional (not neo-institutional) economics. With China moving to a fully-fledged consumer economy, we look at the development of rural eco-tourism. This involves small business start-ups based in a logistics of migration and remittances. This is complemented by land rental, low interest loans through co-ops, peer-to-peer fintech software, and massive tourism infrastructure projects. To what extent is this - including One Belt One Road - a replay of Western neoliberal geopolitics? To what extent is this a culturally unpackable substantive economy?

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Logistics, time and environment