In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.
My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.
For the curious, a series of posts on Ghanian entrepreneur, Desmond Koney’s visit to Shenzhen.
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Friday, April 20, 2018, Handshake 302 had the privilege of hosting Wu Xiaoya’s (吴晓雅) sharing about her recently published book, Baishizhou: Shenzhen’s Center and Periphery (白石洲：深圳的中心与边缘。深圳报业集团出版社，2018). Roughly twenty people squeezed into the backroom at Banxian Coffee House, which graciously offered its space for the two-hour event. Of note? The audience comprised a representative sample of the young intellectuals interested in Shenzhen’s urban villages, including recent college graduates who currently live in urban villages, graduate and doctoral students from Shenzhen University, and several second generation Shenzheners who are active in the city’s 公益 scene. We gathered not only to discuss Baishizhou specifically, but also the so-called “urban village phenomenon.” Continue reading
Our trip began with Mark Zuckerberg “forced to apologize to the world” for allowing Cambridge Analytica to mine Facebook users’ data and influence the US and other elections. It ended with the notice that “From July 1 Aadhaar to have face recognition facility too.” Aadhaar means “foundation” in English and refers to the 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It turns out that we are the bits and pieces necessary to animate the Franken-city, where “bots” belch ugly comments into debate and Russians in virtual trench coats haunt our digital consciousness.
If Cyber City housed the National Capital Region’s elites and their high-culture status, the city’s middling aspirations have taken root just outside the northern edge of Old Delhi. On our final morning of field research, we traced the stubborn history of Delhi’s entrepreneurs on its first metro line. Older metro routes to get people, revolts against it. Placed on broad roads and convenient for construction. With changing technology and demands for metro they are taken tracks and station to people. So more risks in terms of construction. Cut through neighborhoods to build tracks. Red and yellow were first. To get away from politics of naming got exceptions to archaeological laws, land acquisition laws. Making money through real estate. 2010 women only. Indeed, the stations of the metro not only offer a sociology of the living city, but also comprise a catalogue of shifting allegiances, reminding us that Southasia stretches northwest from the capital region into Bangladesh and Afghanistan, hinting at the deep trade networks that once sutured the ancient civilizations of Eurasia and their redeployment toward the adhoc construction of the modern nation state, as well as the ways in which regional histories and cultures meet like opposing currents, creating whirlpools. Most often the whirlpools of everyday life are very small, like when a bathtub drains. But sometimes, maelstroms form and when the wind calms, the survivors wash ashore in another world.
It is tempting to claim that the Franken-city is the horrific manifestation of instrumental reason. Concocted in back alleys, where rats flourish and human children play, the Franken-city pumps fresh blood to its urban core and spits out desiccated bodies along its public transportation lines and logistics corridors. At the broken edges of the city, the prosthetic veins seem more dodgy and our compatriots live by picking through plastic bottles and accumulated debris, hoping to place their offspring in a downtown office building, where sararīman mine data in air-conditioned cubicles and die of overwork. After all, Frankestein’s experiments—much like our own forays into development—aimed to revive dead flesh, without questioning what might rise from the grave. He confesses, “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation…” And thus at the moment of his triumph, Frankenstein realizes his ultimate failure. “[N]ow that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.”
On Friday morning, March 23, we departed comfy rooms at India Habitat Centre after a sixth floor breakfast of dhal and yoghurt, fresh fruit and grains. Our caravan comprised three sports vehicles, each with five or six researchers and a driver. As we navigated the roundabouts of Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave, we came upon thousands of students and teachers marching from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to India’s Parliament House in order to protest the suppression of sexual harassment claims against a JNU professor who was allegedly being protected from investigation by the university Vice Chancellor.
Our guide for the day Pranav Kuttaiah explained the importance of JNU and the students’ activism. For many young Indians, attending a public university is the first time that they meet people from other castes, regions, and classes. They then work together to achieve academic and personal goals, modeling alternative relationships to those dictated by tradition and inequality off campus. Consequently, public universities have been transformational spaces for Indian youth and for the country more generally. However, the Modi regime has decided to “grant autonomy” to JNU, a move which would lead to privatization of the world class institution. As in much of the world, India’s private universities have high class teachers and offer challenging curriculum, but only for the wealthy, hence the anger over the Modi regime’s decision which would simultaneously buttress unequal access to education as well as pre-empt opportunities for young people to experience social alternatives. Continue reading