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Building Trust and Boundaries: Fieldwork in Shanghai

Building Trust and Boundaries: Fieldwork in Shanghai

Jonathan Sullivan18 Apr 2014Leave a comment

Written by Qin Shao.

In January 2004, I started my first six months of field research in Shanghai for a book project, Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity. Since then and until 2012, I returned to China for fieldwork in most of the summers and frequently exchanged emails and phone calls with the residents as their cases were evolving. The book is thus largely based on the residents’ oral history, their lived experience, and the materials they had gathered and produced as well as my own observations and recordings of their activities in their own environment.

The challenges and constraints of my field research were determined by the nature of the project. The project was politically sensitive. It studies the impact of the massive demolition and relocation in Shanghai, especially that of the forced eviction or domicide—“the planned, deliberate destruction of home causing suffering to the dweller,” as Douglas Porteous and Sandra Smith defined it in their 2001 book, Domicide: the Global Destruction of Home. The project dealt with a host of issues that challenged the Chinese government’s policies and regulations. These issues include the state-sanctioned violence in urban development, intimate details of rampant corruption, persistent grassroots protests by residents, and the tension between local governments and “nail housholds,” families that refuse to relocate on government terms. Therefore, I was not surprised that Shanghai’s security apparatus took an interest in my work.

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