Accepted Paper:

Invested in Ambivalence: Internal Colonialism and State Capitalism in Southwest China  


Ryan Parsons (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork of a town in southwest China to explore the contours of market-led development and the mechanisms through which it produces social inequality. The project builds on the internal colonialism thesis and related works in the political sociology of development.

Paper long abstract:

How might the internal colonialism thesis explain patterns of regional development and stratification in China, and how has China managed to avoid many of the conflicts associated with this process? Recent transitions towards market-oriented development practices and increased integration of rural and urban spaces suggests that these questions have taken on new urgency in the study of development in China. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in 2016 and 2017 (with additional fieldwork planned for summer 2018) to synthesize a possible theoretical answer, I explore three facets development in a small town in southwestern China: the waning authority of traditional religious figures, the increased role of outside investors in mining and industrialized agriculture, and the standardization of cultural practices within the local "ethnic tourism" sector. Within each process I document how the state and allied business leaders work to (a) highlight their role in advancing the region's material development while simultaneously (b) distributing the responsibility for social conflict or increased inequality across a network of anonymous external factors (such as global commodities markets) and ambiguous ethnic hierarchies. The project aims to reexamine theories of state formation, and the internal colonialism thesis's arguments regarding subnational processes in particular, while also increasing the role of ethnic stratification in China within sociological theory. More broadly, the project calls for increased analysis of the "quotidian success" of statecraft by highlighting the delicate social and political processes that make "routine" political incorporation into the state possible.

Panel K01
Critical junctures of change: comparative subnational politics, spatial inequalities and development (Paper)