Accepted paper:

Plasticization and its Discontents: The Alchemy of Waste in the Construction of China's Capitalist-Communist Identity.


Alison Hulme

Paper short abstract:

The waste of the West is being turned into gold; rubbish is hot property in the dump towns of Shanghai's suburbs. Through networks of recycling factories, manufacturers and literal and virtual trade fairs China's capitalist-communism is developing faster than any known economy. How is this new identity materialized through the 'China price' object? When profit is made from excess, what are the discontents?

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the ways in which western 'waste' is providing valuable raw materials for the Chinese economy; how this waste is then re-sold to the west in the form of commodities at 'China price', and how other types of waste emerge in the form of pollution. It will therefore examine how waste is re-appropriated as a valuable resource in a globalising world and how the discontents of such an alchemy involve collateral damage and raise new social, political and ecological risks. It will also tackle issues of identity. I will discuss how people and places gain identity through products due to the concentration of highly specified skills in certain areas; how the creation of 'value' through material things is impacting upon older traditions and networks; and how loss of identity means rural practices are transposed (normally with terrible consequences) to urban situations. The 'dump towns' of Shanghai will be explored here as a case study of the influx of rural peasant farmers to urban areas and livelihoods. Finally, this paper attempts to understand how, despite embroilment in free-market economics, manufacturing in China retains benefits through agglomeration practices rather than economies of scale, and how this relates to the desire to create and portray capitalist-communism.

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Social and material exchanges