Rural spaces, urban textures: Media, leisure, and identity in a Southern China industrial village

Matteo Tarantino, Chung-Tai Cheng

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroChapter

1 Citazioni (Scopus)


The processes of industrialization opened by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1978 has rendered urban space in some areas of China increasingly fluid and subject to fast and profound transformations. In this chapter we intend to focalize on the transformations undergone by a small village in southern China, a part of the Dongguan municipality known as Danning, and reflect on their implications for workers’ individual and collective identity. Specifically, we are here interested in transformations that are related to leisure-related practices of the space users (whose importance has been studied e.g. by Rojek, 1985, 1989), which we studied by means of ethnography and in-depth interviews. Due to its proximity to an increasing number of important manufacturing complexes, Danning has seen since the 1980s a massive influx of migrant workforce from the inner provinces. The space of the village has been changing ever since to accommodate for the housing, feeding and leisure needs of these new area users. If the former two have settled into more or less established patterns, the latter, being related to sociotechnical processes located outside the village/firm/worker relationship, has been continuously driving spatial changes into the village space. In other words, if housing settled into the offering of either cheap apartments or dormitory space, and the feeding into opening (equally cheap) provincial restaurants or booths, media-related needs have required a continuously changing space, in terms of materiality, practices and representations. Consumption, entertainment, and leisure for migrant workers have become big business, which in turn transforms the appearance of these areas. Especially after the acceleration and intensification of market-oriented reforms in the early 1990s, shopping malls, supermarkets, game zones, cinemas, Internet cafés, and other consumer facilities have increased substantially in newly industrialized spaces. Literature has already stressed the role of a specific representation of “city life as media-intensive” as an important pull factor for rural laborers from agricultural villages towards newly industrialized spaces (Law and Peng, 2008). Moreover, we found a growing symbolic and economic investment into non-work time by workers, as a time to search for their own interest and enjoy leisure and entertainment – more and more by consuming global products through media commodities. The village space must accommodate these forces within its spatial morphology. In the chapter, we identify three phases in the sociospatial pattern producing “entertainment and communication space” in the village. The first (1990s – 2000) was dominated by village-centred entertainment, in which leisure spaces were shared and collective (TV-viewing in stores, bookstores, public dancing etc.). The second phase goes from the 2000s to 2008 and sees the rising of mobile phones, which allowed the workers individualized consumption and leisure spaces – thus weakening the role of leisure in reinforcing collective identities. Here the village becomes a content provider for mobile terminals in absence of internet access for migrants, by opening dedicated shops selling pirated music, video and books for mobile terminals. Here the purchase of content remains a shared activity, while consumption is individual. The third phase (from 2009 to the present days) sees the space of the village lose its centrality for leisure needs, as widespread cheap 3G connections allow fully individualized (if hyper-connected) leisure and consumption spaces. In conclusion we discuss how this trajectory appears to weaken fragment the potential of leisure spaces and times for the elaboration of workers’ collective identities, with potential negative consequences for their bargaining power and therefore, ultimately, for their living and working conditions.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteCommunicating the City: Meanings, Practices, Interactions
EditorGiorgia Aiello, Matteo Tarantino, Kate Oakley
Numero di pagine15
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2017


  • City
  • Media


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