Practising collectivity: Performing public space in everyday China

Technoetic Arts 20 (3):203-224 (2022)
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This article investigates the specific cultural and collaborative nature of China’s public spaces and how they are formed through performative appropriations. Collective cultural practices as political participation were encouraged during the Mao era when cultural activities played a key role in workers’ education and participation. Since the opening-up period, performance in public space has become widespread in China and creates alternative community spaces that constitute alternatives to capitalist spaces of consumption. Using Habermas’s theory of communicative action, we argue that cultural practices performed in public space create a proletariat public sphere that plays a wider role in governance and China’s democratization. Further, the article examines performative practices in public space. It traces the popular activity of public square dancing through history and counters this research with a parallel study of a much younger skateboarding practice. The two practices are very differently rooted. Yet both practices appear to move through cycles of disruption and appropriation, followed by an affirmation of governmental rule. The studies reveal that western ideas of citizenship and individual leisure are less applicable. Public spaces are largely managed through collaborative practices, whereas contemporary scholarship reaffirms Fei Xiaotong’s description of Chinese society as individuals positioned within a complex network of concentric circles.

Author Profiles

Claudia Westermann
Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China


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