- Everyday Modernity in China
Everyday Modernity in China is a collection of essays, and its central theme is how everyday experiences should be taken as a crucial location for understanding the effects of modern transformation in China. These essays, nine in total, cover a wide range of topics and argue for a number of different theoretical points. It is difficult, in such a short span, to summarize everything discussed in the collection, but several important aspects may be outlined. First, there is an interesting historical dimension. Several chapters, for example, by Lu, Karl, Sheehan, and Wang, have taken up the problem of modernity by engaging with a historical critique of its conceptualization. These studies should be called conceptual histories, and they have tried to trace the genealogies of "modern" conceptions, such as the notion of the everyday itself, in the discursive traditions of China. It is important, as these studies have suggested, to understand the meaning of a possibly different kind of praxis informed by the conceptual schemes of modernity. Second, there is a necessary and yet interesting comparative, or more precise, transnational or translocal dimension. Chapters by Cook, Dong, and Yan, for example, examine how a certain mode of transnational or translocal practice was given birth by a new set of conditions or forces in modern or contemporary contexts. These studies, either on the question of migration, internal or external, or on the problem of banking and traveling, examine the conditions under which a different form of life, or a different possibility of seeing and envisioning, emerged. Third, serious attention is paid to the problem of everyday technology, such as in recycling or water supply management. The last two chapters, by Goldstein and Boland, bring the reader to the unconventional topic of social science research and allow the reader to think about the materiality of everyday experience in a new light.
This volume, as a collection of essays in the true sense of the term, is an exemplary example of the kind of work that we often read these days. The work has driven us to an intriguing and extremely important locus of intellectual concerns [End Page 601] of our time, but it seems on other hand, to stop short on its way for a more strenuous intellectual interrogation that should have been made in order to shed further theoretical light on the rich, detailed empirical materials of the book. In fact, the question of modernity and everydayness is an excellent direction for further scholarly pursuit, but slightly scattered arguments in different chapters do not seem to move toward a general theoretical position. In other words, the work might not have produced the kind of sensation hoped for by the editors in their introduction, one that would make the reader understand the theoretical significance of such a collection. There seems to be a slight discrepancy between the theoretical hope, articulated in the introduction, not very complicated but ambitious, and the actual materials in the collected rather than collective writing. It does read, if a patient reader were to take up the book and go through all the chapters, as if the empirical research in each chapter, rich and enlightening, were originally written for different purposes or audiences.
Two general theoretical points should be highlighted. First, the book reaffirms the view, which is correct and needed, that one should not look for a sweeping total force of modern transformation in the enormous world of China. Given its historical complexity and cultural diversity, as almost an accepted wisdom, scholars should not try to find uniformity in the effects of modern forces; instead, they must be patient and careful enough to look for specific configurations or reconfigurations of modern effectiveness. This is one of the chief reasons for the editors of the book to insist on the divergent, manifold possibilities of everyday experiences in incorporating the modern order of things, which has gained, in recent years, a global connotation. As implicitly suggested by this volume, the life-world...