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Accepted Paper:

Migrant worker museums in China: public cultures of migrant subjectivities in state and grassroots initiatives  
Eric Florence (CEFC and University of Liège) Junxi Qian

Paper short abstract:

This paper offers an ethnographic investigation of a state-run and a grassroots rural migrant workers' museums. How do the narratives produced in the two cultural spaces articulate with various layers of public culture that shape the representation of rural workers in post-Mao China?

Paper long abstract:

This paper offers a comparative ethnographic investigation of two rural migrant workers museums, one state-run in Guangzhou and another grassroots project in the suburbs of Beijing. Following Macdonald, we take museums as institutions « of recognition and identity politics par excellence » (Macdonald 2006) and as spaces involving complex fields of forces through which dialectics of popular culture and state formation are played out. In a first section of the paper, we delve upon the institutional context and we shed light on what the ideological foundations and justifications for the two projects are. In a second section, we document how the two permanent exhibitions are structured through specific layouts of objects, images and texts and we shed light on the ways in which rural migrant workers are being represented through these specific arrangements. We thereby engage with the following three questions: How do the two exhibitions articulate with various layers of public culture that shape the politics of representation of rural workers in post-Mao China and by what kinds of ethics of recognition are the two projects respectively informed (Sun 2014)? How do these two projects engage with gender-based and class-based differences and inequalities and do they shape more or less (dis)empowering forms of collective identity of rural workers ? Eventually, what does our study enable to infer about the changing modes of governing and regimes of power in today's China? The sources for this study are drawn from prolonged fieldwork by the two authors.

Panel P037
Museums as contested terrains: Memory work and politics of representation in Greater China
  Session 1 Sunday 3 June, 2018, -