Université de Strasbourg

Emergence of the Individual in China

Understanding the Emergence of the Individual in urban China since the Dismantling of the Working Unit System: Economic Transition, Social Transformation and Reconfiguration of Social Norms

USIAS Fellow: Pierre Miège

China has been going through profound transformations since the late 1970s, especially with the dismantling of the “work unit system” which used to govern all aspects of the life of urbanites, leading to a reconfiguration in social norms and the emergence of the “individual”. The research projects I conducted since 2008 on Chinese homosexual men suggest that these men benefit from more opportunities and spaces to develop their “self”, construct different social spheres, spaces and networks, in order to experiment with alternative lifestyles, social norms, and intimate relationships. More generally, younger generations are attempting to invent ways to reconcile norms that appear as contradictory, and to develop their own “self” in a context in which collectivized norms are weakened and the individualized subject is only emerging.

The question of individualization remains a new field of investigation in Chinese social sciences. It is therefore necessary to confront these observations with other national experiences and introduce in China the richness of the analyses that have fuelled discussions and disputes in Western countries, but also to learn from the experience of former socialist countries that have gone through comparable – though different – social, economic and political transitions.

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