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urban salon
Professionalism, volunteerism, and neoliberalism: questions of subjectivity and governmentality in urban China

Friday 3 December
6 for 6.15pm



Pearson Building, Gower Street, G07, UCL

Lisa Hoffman (Urban Studies, University of Washington Tacoma)

Wendy Larner (Bristol)




In recent years, centralized planning in China has been roundly critiqued, resulting in the devolution of urban planning, the marketization of labor relations, and the adoption of new mechanisms for generating economic
growth and providing public welfare. In the process, new practices and spaces of subject formation have emerged, specifying particular kinds of “desirable” citizens. Based on research in Dalian, a major port city in northeast China, this paper considers two increasingly commonplace subject forms and what their emergence underscores about contemporary urban governmentalities.  First is the urban professional, an ever more familiar identity that appeared with the end of state-directed job assignments for college graduates and an official aim to foster more “self-enterprising” human capital. Second is the individual volunteer who donates time, energy and resources to help solve social problems in the city.  The paper argues
that the emergence of professionalism and volunteerism do not represent the “end” of state governance per se, but rather the emergence of new forms of governing in the city. In particular, the paper argues that through the analysis of professionalism, we may identify a “late-socialist neoliberalism” that weds neoliberal techniques of governing with Maoist era politics of building the nation through labor, producing what I have termed “patriotic professionalism.”  The discussion of volunteerism also
underscores the complex genealogies of such practices, including socialist traditions of “serving the people,” capitalist practices of “donating” time and assets through philanthropic acts, and neoliberal practices of shifting responsibilities to individuals and other community groups.  This analysis of professionalism and volunteerism thus also affords us the opportunity to ask how we may make sense of neoliberalism in contemporary modes of governing the city.

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