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My first “academic” article, one that reflects upon my own field experience in Beijing’s green belts, has recently been published in the City journal.

This paper has plenty of meanings for me. It is the very first chapter that was finished all through my thesis. I can still remember the readings I did for this paper, and the drafts I wrote and then scratched – all happened at the moment when the deadline of my thesis was approaching yet I was still in the middle of nowhere. It was also a revised version of the paper that won the third place in the student paper competition of China Geography Specialty Group at this year’s (2017) AAG Annual Meeting.

But most importantly, it shows the reflections I had after doing two spells of fieldwork by myself. Its starting point is a puzzle I had when in the field and its concluding remarks are at best an invitation for further discussions and debates on how to do fieldwork on the urban frontier with our bodily space-time. These works should be further developed, and I hope this paper could contribute some empirical observations that have not been registered in the literature before.

Below is the abstract of this paper, and the full access can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604813.2017.1353342. Please feel free to contact me at y.zhao25#lse.ac.uk (replace # by @); all comments and suggestions are warmly welcome.

 

Abstract

Great urban transformations are diffusing across the global South, removing the original landscape of urban margins to make of them a new urban frontier. These processes raise questions of both validity and legitimacy for ethnographic practice, requiring critical reflection on both spatiality and method in fieldwork at the urban margins. This paper draws on fieldwork experience in Beijing’s green belts, which could also be labelled the city’s urban margin or frontier, to reflect on the space-time of encounter in the field. I aim to demonstrate how space foregrounds not only our bodily experiences but also ethnographic investigations of the daily life, and hence becomes a method. Beijing’s green belts symbolise a historical–geographical conjuncture (a moment) emerging in its urban metamorphosis. Traditional endeavours (immanent in various spatial metaphors) to identify field sites as reified entities are invalidated over the course of the space-time encounter, requiring a relational spatial ontology to register such dynamics. The use in fieldwork of DiDi Hitch, a mobile app for taxi-hailing and hitchhiking, reveals the spatiotemporal construction of self–other relations needing recognition via the dialectics of the encounter. In this relational framework, an encounter is never a priori but a negotiation of a here and now between different trajectories and stories as individuals are thrown together in socially constructed space and time.

 

Keywords

urban ethnography, spatial ontology, spatial metaphors, the dialectics of the encounter, DiDi Hitch, Beijing

 

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