EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P040)

Technologies of relatedness: different practices of intimacy in Asia

Location A-007
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenor

Roberta Zavoretti (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the connections between technologies of the self and the emergence of particular modes of relatedness in the context of Asia's increasingly liberalised economies and societies.

Long Abstract

This panel explores the connections between technologies of the self and the emergence of particular modes of relatedness in the context of Asia's increasingly liberalised economies and societies.

'Technologies of the self' can be interpreted broadly, ranging from material ways in which individuals modify or treat the physical body to more Foucauldian notions of self-discipline and regulation. 'Relatedness' indicates those modes of sociality that provide social actors with a horizon of development, as well as with a sense of identity. We conceptualise self-regulatory efforts as practices that require constant, everyday commitment from the part of social actors, and are therefore pivotal to the fostering of relatedness: the building of a shared past, present and future.

We are specifically interested in examining new ways in which social actors practice intimacy in the context of Asian countries' wider neoliberal economic and political changes. On the one hand, states and markets increasingly reward those particular forms of collaboration and connection which validate entrepreneurialism and transactional relations; on the other, these institutions need to rhetorically reconcile market logics with other, often contradictory, discourses of morality and intimacy. The panel interrogates the ways in which different social actors deal with these discursive tensions and the reasons behind their different trajectories. In some cases, social practices aim at mediating between different, apparently divergent, discourses of intimacy and relatedness. In other instances, the presence of competing discourses provides social actors with a space for re-negotiating the boundaries of hegemonic models of intimacy.

Discussant: Paul Boyce (University of Sussex)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Too glam to marry" performing class and defying normative relatedness in urban China

Author: Roberta Zavoretti (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic data collected in the city of Nanjing, China, in 2011-2012 and 2014, this paper looks at unmarried couples’ living arrangements and at how they relate to the institution of marriage and to politics at large.

Long Abstract

This paper draws on ethnographic data collected in the city of Nanjing, China, between 2011 and 2014, to explore unmarried couples’ living arrangements and how these relate to the institution of marriage and to wider political issues.

Most Chinese urban citizens regard marriage as the mark of passage into full adulthood, and automatically associate it with childbearing. For this reason, universal marriage is largely considered to be the norm, especially for females. For both men and women, protracted singlehood is considered to be an abnormal status. Bachelors are often seen as unsuccessful and even as socially dangerous (Greenhalgh) while women who remain unmarried into their thirties are readily labelled as shengnu (leftover women).

In this context, in the paper I introduce an unmarried couple that has been cohabiting for over fifteen years. Even under continued social pressure, the couple defy largely accepted social norms by refusing to marry and have children in view of their ideas regarding the family and the state. Yet, their living arrangements include cohabiting in owned property, and a shared budget driven from the earnings of the male partner. Their expensive lifestyle also evokes the models of heterosexual lifelong partnership that most people in urban China associate with the ideal married couple. Through the couple’s voices, I compare this arrangement with marriage and explore how their own discourses about the politics of marriage and the family intertwine with their ideas about lifestyle, class and the state.

“The ghosts in your genes”: reshaping Chinese relatedness epigenetically

Author: Janelle Lamoreaux (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Reproductive toxicologists in China that investigate “the ghosts in your genes” through epigenetic research of birth defects are reshaping relatedness between past, present and future, as well as between physician and patient understandings of socio-biological intimacy between generations.

Long Abstract

Chinese relatedness has often been studied by anthropologists through practices of ancestor worship, where the presence of ghosts have been understood as a means of distinguishing kin and making sense of societal transformation. Based on research among developmental and reproductive toxicologists in China, this paper discusses contemporary bioscientific practices that are both reshaping relations between kin, as well as between the past, present and potential futures through investigations of “the ghosts in your genes.” Building on the work of Judith Farquhar (2005), who encourages ethnographers of China to look at the way social change impacts bodily dispositions, I explore epigenetics as a kind of bio-scientific genealogical rendering of the exposed body in history. In trans-generational epigenetic studies of birth defects, toxicologists attempt to isolate the mechanisms through which a “non-inheritable” disease moves across generations, placing renewed emphasis on the uterine environment. Here, the uterine environment becomes a place in which lineages of exposure converge, giving new life to the social and chemical exposures of the past through the descent of epigenetic alterations. How do such scientific renderings of the past impact and inform physician and patient understandings of socio-biological intimacy between generations, especially during a moment of increasing national and regional birth defects? How might hauntings from the past, faced in the present, speak to scientific, medical and citizen concern about the quality of China’s reproductive future?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.