Politics and Architecture: A Literature Review

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Chapter Two: Methodology

In this chapter the research methodology used in the study is described. Theoretical analysis, data collection, interviews conducted as collaborative method and the data sources are clarified.

2.1 Literature Review

In the following paragraphs I will illustrate the methodological inspiration I take to examine the confrontation between formal planning and informal slums in Zhengzhou. In accordance to the research questions stated in the instruction, the theoretical lenses I adopt could be categorized into three domains.

2.1.1Power and Governmentality

Space is a vital part of the battle for control and surveillance of individuals (Michel Foucault, 1988), and urban planning is one of the crucial tools to execute state control. The first analytical goal of this dissertation is to present a political analysis of urban plans based on a coexistent, confluent, and conflictual theory of power.

Regarding the mixed nature of power and the coexisting arts of government, fascinating contributions have been made to the domains of psychology (Rose,1998), liberal governmentality (Barry, Osborne, & Rose, 1996), insurance and risk management (O’Malley, 2002) and ecological governance (Darier, 1999; Binkley & Capetillo, 2010). Foucault’s conception provides a wider spectrum of political phenomena than what is traditionally defined as “political” (e.g. citizens, state, political representation, freedom, etc.), by including classically non-political phenomena like machines, air, water, animals, plants and space. He suggested that there are three types of power: sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical, which I intend to draw on to clarify some of the complex relationships of power operating at urban planning, especially on the control over internal migrants. Their degree of intensity, mutual relations of overlap, and antagonism will be analyzed in Chapter Four, but here I would like to point out how the categorization of sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical are relevant to the case study in China.

Sovereignty, Foucault says, creates a territorial pact, and the major function of it is guaranteeing borders. Sovereign power is then exercised within the borders of a territory (M. Foucault, 2009). The household registration system in China is an overlap of social and geographic division, which creates an invisible but strict border between the rural and urban areas. Binary exclusion, territorial rules and even punishment for unruly migrants[1] were implanted to secure the urban territory.

The task of discipline is to impose a partitioning grid within the interior of the territory established by the sovereign and produce bodies that are both docile and capable of having their bodily movements directed (Foucault, 1979). In China, internal migrants are surveilled, supervised and reformed through disciplinary power so as to make them persist, obedient and able to endure hardship. When a person steps out of the rural area and enters the city, he must be prepared to be expelled, to work without social welfare, to endure general discrimination and to be silent in his endurance.

More than a disciplinary mechanism that acts on individuals, biopower acts as a control apparatus exerted over a population as a wholeto achieve an optimal outcome in a multivalent and transformable framework (M. Foucault, 2009). Architecture, or urban planning, in this respect, is a form of biopolitics. Reconstruction of the built environment, street, rivers and even vegetation, has become political mechanisms for direction or redirection of migrant bodies.

The constellation of political strategies can be explained through Foucault’s studies, which contributes to the question of how to control the migration of people. In trying to understand why governments are seeking to “sedentarize” people, James Scott came to see these schemes as “a state's attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and the prevention of rebellion” (Scott, 1998). According to Scott full-fledged disasters of social engineering require a combination of four elements: the legibility of a society, “high-modernist” ideology that believes itself in mastery of nature and society, an authoritarian state willing to use all its coercive power to implement these schemes, and an incapacitated civil society which is easiest to find in times of war, depression, crises, or efforts at national liberation.

China still has a long way to go in developing a stronger civil society under the authoritarian social structure, therefore when the state got too deep into a tunnel vision to achieve utopian changes, disasters inevitably happened (e.g. the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution). The household registration system, which dated back to the disastrous fragments of Chinese history, is part of the simplified narrow vision. Its negative impact on urban development and human rights protection needs to be to further revealed before major changes could take place.

2.1.2 Segregation and Marginality

One of the by-products of the household registration system is urban villages, which currently shelter the majority of the migrant population in the city, separately from the urban system. I intend to shed light on its consequences upon the society and evaluate planning policies designed to deal with it though residential segregation analysis.

Park presented the very first definition of residential segregation in 1926, as a link that exists between both the social distance and the physical distance (Park, 1926). Since then various definitions have been contributed to a better understanding of the residential segregation concept (e.g. Timms, 1975; White, 1983; Jargowsky, 1996), with the most influential one drawn by Massey and Denton, considering residential segregation as a multidimensional phenomenon based on five dimensions: evenness, exposure, clustering, centralisation and concentration (Massey & Denton, 1988). Over the decades, numerous quantitative approaches have also been proposed aiming to evaluate the different indices and measures (both spatial and non-spatial) of residential segregation. As quantitative analysis will not be carried out in my dissertation, please refer to the researches below for more description: James and Taeuber (1985), Massey and Denton (1988), Wong (1993), Anselin (1995), Reardon and O’Sullivan (2004), Echenique and Fryer (2007).

The drives of residential segregation can be classified into two groups: endogenous (e.g. income and individual preference) and exogenous (e.g. public policy and real estate market dynamic). In this respect, Nightingale believes that there is essentially no such thing as truly voluntary segregation, or “good segregation”(Peach, 1996); and he argues that segregation acts as a political agent to reinforce unequal power relations in cities, assisted by popular support and sustained by the land and economic markets which benefit from it (Nightingale, 2012). In the case of urban villages, the causes come from both categories: social and physical division was created by public policies in the first place, then enhanced by the income disparity and social inequality between the urbanites and the rural migrants, as well as their willingness to live with peers.

Regarding consequences, there has been no consensus reached by scholars. Positive consequences may appear in the short term regarding the migrants’ formation of social capital and networking. At the same time negative consequences are well acknowledged, including joblessness, health, academic performance, criminality, perpetuation of poverty and bad income distribution. However, new findings (mainly data from the Moving to Opportunity programme) have shown that residential segregation has almost negligible effects on households well-being (it is still an open question and a subject of debate). I believe the existence of urban villages, as a form of segregation, has mix consequences in Chinese society, and its negative impacts will be examined mainly through marginality theories.

Marginality is generally used to describe and analyze socio-cultural, political and economic spheres, where disadvantaged people struggle to gain access (societal and spatial) to resources, and full participation in social life (Andersen & Larsen, 1998; Brodwin, 2001; Heikki & etc, 1999).

Societal marginality is by and large reflected on the underlying social conditions of people, represented by poor livelihood options (lack of resources, skills and opportunities), reduced or restricted participation in public decision-making, less use of public space, lower sense of community and low self-esteem (Brodwin, 2001; Larsen, 2001). Marginalised people are usually discriminated against, stigmatized, ignored and often suppressed on the basis of race, gender, age, culture, religion, ethnicity, occupation, education and economy by the mainstream (Larsen, 2002). The dimension of spatial marginality is usually linked to the geographical remoteness of an area from major economic centres (location), and refers to areas that are difficult to reach in the absence of appropriate infrastructure and therefore isolated from mainstream development (Brodwin, 2001; Hurni, Wiesmann, Schertenleib, & North-South, 2004).

In Urban Outcasts Loic Wacquantdraws on a comparative analysis of the black ghetto of Chicago and the deindustrializingbanlieueof Paris to demonstrate that urban marginality is not everywhere the same (Wacquant, 2008). In the same manner, this dissertation intends to contribute to the study of urban marginality, by illustrating the similar yet different situation in Chinese urban villages. How the root causes of inequality, vulnerability and exclusion in urban villages are linked with spatial and societal marginality and the overlap between the two will be further elaborated in Chapter Four.

2.1.3 Resistance and the Right to the City

In one of the most well-known quotes of Michel Foucault, he claims that “Where there is power, there is resistance” (Michel Foucault, 2012), which also applies to the confrontation between formal planning (public policies) and informal slums (urban villages). As I indicated before, for a better understanding of power it is necessary to strengthen resistance studies.

The theoretical concept of “everyday resistance” was introduced James Scott, as a kind of resistance that is not as dramatic and visible as rebellions, riots, demonstrations, revolutions, civil war or other such organized, collective or confrontational articulations of resistance. He also argues that these activities are tactics that exploited people use in order to both survive and undermine repressive domination, especially in contexts when rebellion is too risky (Scott, 1985, 1992). Based on this framework, research has grown within numerous fields, including studies related to specific social spaces, such as the workplace (Huzell 2005) and the family (Holmberg & Ehnander 2007), and among specific groups of population, such as women, low-skilled workers, migrants, gay (Myslik 1996; Campbell 2004), minorities, and “new agents” (e.g. white-power activists (Simi & Futurell 2009)).

However, a problem with the concept of “everyday resistance” is that it risks labelling many other expressions of difference, deviation, or individuality as “resistance”. Therefore although the oppositional act from urban villages is quiet, dispersed, disguised or seemingly invisible, whether it is or to what extent it is a form of “everyday resistance” needs to be discussed. Moreover, this concept has also been criticised of creating a dichotomy between the “disguised resistance” (everyday resistance) and “publicly declared resistance”. Asef Bayat, for example, prefers an alternatively concept of “quite encroachment”: “the silent, protracted but pervasive advancement of the ordinary people on the propertied and powerful in order to survive and improve their lives…marked by quiet, largely atomized and prolonged mobilization with episodic collective action” (Bayat, 2000).

The form of resistance cannot be isolated from the power it counters. Resistance, be it hidden of “spectacular” (Bhabha), is situated in certain time, space and relations, and engages with different discourses. Therefore everyday resistance can happen between or at the side of open resistance, and vice versa. In the case of Chinese urban villages, there are occasions when the hidden everyday resistance becomes public, collective and formally organized. It is important to analyze the resistance of the urban villages (some of which they do not regard as “resistance” themselves), but not necessary to determine exactly when and where “everyday resistance” happens; what is more crucial is to understand what they are seeking through their resistance.

Originally proposed by Henri Lefebvre as both a “cry and a demand”, David Harvey describes the right to the city as “a collective right which goes beyond merely accessing individual urban resources, a freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities…the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights”(Harvey, 2012). During rapid urbanization, old parts of the city is constantly being wiped off and the city is becoming an alien entity, or, as Harvey puts it, the space where surpluses of capital are being generated. In this frenzied pace of change, the marginalized population, are being invisibilized and pushed out of the city to its edges. As stated before, very often they try to access physical space in the city and other services in very quiet, ordinary and subtle ways, but Harvey suggests that the marginalized people should come together as a community and take control of the “surpluses” which are generated at the expense of the cities.

However, Harvey has been criticised of romanticizing the city as a controllable entity, and failing to recognize the multiple mediums by which people try to negotiate their access to the city. Beyond an abstract rights claim, what radical utility does this concept of “the right to the city” have for the present situation in China, and how might it become, as Harvey suggests it could, “both working slogan and political ideal” for the urban villagers (Harvey, 2003)? Could theaccess to the city be conceptualized in terms of rights, or is it the spaces through which people develop belongingness and ownership that should be examined? These questions will be further examined through case study in Chapter Three and Chapter Four.

2.2 Case Study

2.2.1 Data Collection

In order to examine the confrontation between formal planning and informal slums, data needs to be collected from both realms.

Official plans (authorised by central governments) and original documents of public policies related to urban planning, construction regulation, migration management and social welfares are collected to evaluate the relationships of power operating. Statistical data regarding the renovation project of urban villages in Jinshui District, including duration, size, developing mode, renovation plan, and major obstacles (if any) also belong to this realm.

Geographic data of urban villages in Jinshui District and their surrounding environment, including transportation system, infrastructure system, housing price in the real estate market and distribution of public facilities are collected to analyse the resistance of urban villages, or in other words, their impact on the urban development.

2.2.2 Interview

Interviews referred to in Chapter Four were carried out by my collaborator in China. Due to the limit of time and location, I did not choose the method of field work or questionnaire survey. The interviews were conducted in an informal manner, with the aim of providing personal experience and perspectives, not official historical “truth”, to the empirical research.

At the request of the interviewees, personal information will not be provided.

2.3 Data Source

Geographical data dated prior to 1984 were sourced form historical maps and documents that belong to the private collection of a native Zhengzhou citizen, Mr. Niu.

Geographical data (including official maps) from 1984 onward were provided by the Mapping Institute of Henan (a subsidiary of the Surveying and Mapping Bureau of Henan).

Data regarding the four central plans conducted in Zhengzhou were provided by the Urban and Rural Planning Bureau of Zhengzhou.

Data regarding the urban villages and renovation projects in the Jinshui District were provided by the Urban Village Renovation Office of Zhengzhou.

Other social and economic data referred to in this dissertation was primarily collected from the government website, or provided by the Archive of Zhengzhou and the Urban Development Archive of Zhengzhou.

All the written materials from the above mentioned sources were originally in Mandarin Chinese, and the translation (if any) was conducted by myself; some of the numerical data were concerted form Chinese units.

Detailed information will be provided for each figure and table.

2.4 Summary

It could be concluded from the preceding description that the research presented in this dissertation is purely qualitative. By drawing on the studies of Foucault, Scott, Nightingale, Wacquant, Harvey and Castells, the theoretical framework of this dissertation consists of three parts: power and gavernmentality, segregation and marginality, resistance and the right to the city. The urban development, especially the issue of urban villages in Zhengzhou will be examined under this framework, aiming to answer the research questions proposed in the instruction.


[1] Before 2003, rural migrants who do not have any of the three certificates: ID card, residence permit and working certificate, can be legally expelled by force. The policy was abolished after the tragic death of a migrant worker.

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