- Locating China: Space, Place, and Popular Culture
In the past two decades, research in the social sciences and humanities has witnessed a growing interest in space, place, and, more recently, scale, and how these key analytical categories of geography are related to social, economic, and cultural change. Geographers are of course delighted to see this “spatial turn” in its sister disciplines, but at the same time important conceptual and methodological shifts have also occurred in geography itself. Conceptual shifts in geography in the 1970s and the 1980s were characterized by a move away from logical-positivist “scientific” epistemology emphasizing the development of abstract, grand, general, and, preferably, universally valid theories of space and the construction of spatial forms with predictive powers. What emerged were approaches that recognize the contingencies of place and time; emphasize cultural, historical, and local specificity; and are concerned with understanding place-specific processes of change. Also important was the recognition that space is far more than simply a container and that spatial and social processes are mutually affective. Then, beginning in the 1990s, the importance of scale, a time-honored analytical category in geography, has been elevated to a new height through sophisticated studies.
The book under review is a clear testimony to the “spatial turn” in China studies. Before moving to the individual chapters of the volume, it should be noted that the field of China studies had experienced a “spatial turn” as early as the 1960s, thanks to G. William Skinner, who first brought Christaller’s central place theory to China studies in his research on market towns. In the 1970s, such geographic concepts as the physiographic region (Skinner’s “macroregion”), nested spatial hierarchy, rank-size rule, and core-periphery relations were also used in studies of China’s historical urbanization. It is interesting to note that this spatial or geographic “turn” in China studies took place when geographers were abandoning structural and metanarrative approaches, questioning space’s independent existence, arguing against the conventional view that space is simply a geographic container in which events take place, and moving toward the views that space is relative rather than absolute, that place is socially constituted, and that place is impregnated with meanings and values. These shifting conceptions in geography have differentiated space from place and brought new ideas about place to the analytical foreground in geography and, increasingly, in other social science disciplines. At the same time, extensive discourses by geographers on globalization and localization and widespread deliberations on the nature of scale since the [End Page 262] 1990s have further raised the level of respectability of geography among the social sciences, as we will see from the book under review.
The book contains ten chapters contributed by scholars from geography, anthropology, history, and media studies. In “Introduction: The Politics and Production of Scales in China: How Does Geography Matter to Studies of Local, Popular Culture?” Jing Wang, the editor of the book, states that the book uses “‘geography’ as the conceptual anchor” to examine “the political economy of place, space, and popular culture in contemporary China,” to discuss “the production and consumption of culture in local places,” and “to explore ways of developing a critical paradigm that puts the methodological question of space at its heart” (p. 1). After delineating the conceptual framework of the volume centering on space, place, and scale, Wang, a specialist on Chinese culture and media, uses more than half of the space in the thirty-page introductory essay to go over rather freely but briefly a wide spectrum of spatial themes relevant to China, ranging from SARS (an odd topic to begin) and its scale implications, the nature of locale and locality and the production of the “local” in terms of popular culture, the “rescaling” of administrative space in terms of yindi zhiyi (meaning each place should take appropriate actions to accomplish something according to its local conditions), space-economy and the state, and transboundary and networked spaces. Wang has...