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Call for Papers: Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers (San Francisco, CA, March 29 – April 2, 2016)

Session Title: Rural-urban continuum area as a “blind field” – Critical reflections on the spatiality of China’s urbanisation

Session Organisers: Yimin Zhao and Dr Hyun Bang Shin (London School of Economics)

This session aims to contribute to a lasting discussion on the spatiality of China’s urbanisation. In the last two decades, literature in urban studies has been witnessing considerable research on China’s urban questions such as “villages in the city” / “urban villages,” suburbanisation in the urban process, peri-urbanisation beyond metropolitan centres, and emerging migrants’ settlements in the urban periphery. When significant socio-economic conditions and transitions in China’s urbanisation process have been uncovered (such as the rise of dual urban-rural land market and the changing demographic characters), the spatiality of this process is still to some extent blurred. One reason of this blurriness is a hidden assumption of the urban as a pre-given and self-evident bounded entity. Yet the dynamics of urbanisation immediately makes this assumption problematic.

If we take a relational view of space and the “urban”, then more nuanced explorations are required to identify and uncover the temporal-spatial and political-economic mechanisms through which the “urban” becomes a process. It is here that the “rural-urban continuum area” (as the frontier area subject to be urbanised) should be put at the focus of investigations. Following Lefebvre’s (2003) conceptualisation, the rural-urban continuum area can be taken as a “blind field” between urban and rural layers/ periods/ fields. Though Smith (2003) claims that the “blind field” is more an (ideological) metaphor than an empirical observation, we would contend that the materialisation of this term can radically open a new approach through which the problematic representations of the urban reality can be questioned and the underlying mechanisms of the urban process can be revealed. And it is only in this way that the complexity of China’s urbanisation can be discussed to its full extent.

We want to take this session as an invitation to rethink the spatiality of China’s urban process through empirical research of the rural-urban continuum area which is still by and large a “blind field.” We invite papers investigating dynamic spatiality and temporality of the rural-urban continuum area from a relational and dialectical perspective. We are also interested in discussions of political-economic mechanisms underlying such dynamics. For instance, when we explore the power of capital and the establishment of the state-capital coalition in China’s urban process, a further (spatial) question can be raised with regard to how the stigmatisation of the “rural-urban continuum area” becomes a condition to activate the coalition in reality. If we focus on the state’s endeavours in (re-) territorialisation of the rural-urban continuum area, then more attentions are needed to depict the historical-geographical conjuncture in which transformed spaces are articulated with both heterogeneous cultural / historical elements and changing power relationship. These examples are by no means the boundary of discussions. All contributions related to the changing spatiality and political economy of China’s rural-urban continuum area are welcome to collaboratively uncover this “blind field.”

For those who would like to participate, please submit abstracts (or a brief statement of interests) of no more than 250 words by email to Yimin Zhao (y.zhao25@lse.ac.uk) by Monday 19th October 2015. Successful submissions will be contacted by 23rd October 2015 and will be expected to register and submit their abstracts online at the AAG website by October 29th 2015.

(Note: this session will have a discussant, TBC)


Lefebvre, H. 2003. The urban revolution. University of Minnesota Press.
Smith, N. 2003. Foreword. The Urban Revolution, by Henri Lefebvre. University of Minnesota Press. vii-xxiii.