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Rethinking social power and the right to the city amidst China’s emerging urbanism


  • Junxi Qian
  • Shenjing He


In this paper we engage with a theoretical reflection on the concept of the right to the city amidst China’s emerging urbanism. In particular, we conceptualize the right to the city as embedded within the complex geometries of power relations throughout the production process of China’s urban modernity; and in this sense assert the right to urban life is inevitably entangled with a social project of altering dominant power structures. We suggest that the rights of three social groups—namely socialist workers in work units, rural migrants, and urban redevelopment displacees—to the modern Chinese city is situated within the uneven distribution of social power and corresponding infrastructures of social control, which contribute to these social groups’ structural marginality in the process of urban social formation. In some cases, these social groups may be endowed with substantial rights to social welfare but the dominant power structure is left unquestioned and unchallenged, resulting in latent forms of social vulnerability. Therefore, the concept of the right to the city needs to be captured as a combination of the distribution of things (social welfare) and the mobilization of process (structural change). In this sense, a Hegelian teleology of linear social development to comprehend the rights issue amid China’s emerging urbanism must be called into question. Keywords: right to the city, social power, Chinese city, urban marginality, social structural change

Suggested Citation

  • Junxi Qian & Shenjing He, 2012. "Rethinking social power and the right to the city amidst China’s emerging urbanism," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(12), pages 2801-2816, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:12:p:2801-2816

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