ACTIVATE! SERIES - Affect and the New Era: Reflections on Compassion, Care and Middle-Class Subjectivity in China by Prof Lisa M. Hoffman
Date : 17 Jan 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC

Jointly organized by the Asian Urbanisms Cluster of Asia Research Institute, and Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore.


Dr Sonia Lam-Knott, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


Broadly speaking, this paper examines the role of affective relations in governing in contemporary China. More specifically, and based on research in urban China on volunteerism, the paper examines affective relations of care and compassion among the middle classes. It suggests that affect – often ignored in analyses of governing – is in fact a critical aspect of managing social stability, implementing policy transitions, and shaping citizen-subjects. While the paper argues for more attention to what is termed affective governmentality, it also considers what we learn about middle class-ness in China by focusing on affective relations and practices of care. In particular, it draws our attention to forms of subject-making that cultivate both a self-focused professional and a class-specific “caring” by those individuals for objects such as “the environment” and “others” who may be in need (e.g., disadvantaged groups). The paper concludes that affect is an important site of governance and that such an analytical focus may also be significant for understanding subjectivity.

For Further Reading

- Chong, GPL. 2011. "Volunteers as the 'New' Model Citizens: Governing Citizens through Soft Power" China Information 25(1): 33-59.
- Fleischer, F. 2011. "Technology of Self, Technology of Power: Volunteering as Encounter in Guangzhou, China" Ethnos 76(3): 300-325.
- Muehlebach, A. 2011. "On Affective Labor in Post-Fordist Italy" Cultural Anthropology 26(1): 59-82.
- Richard, A. and D. Rudnyckyj. 2009. "Economies of Affect" Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15(1): 57-77.


Lisa M. Hoffman is Professor of Urban Studies at University of Washington Tacoma. She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology (UC Berkeley); MA in China Regional Studies (Jackson School, U Wash); and BA in Philosophy (Yale). Her research focuses primarily on contemporary governmental and subject formations in China, with attention to questions of urban processes and spatialities. She also has worked on US-based projects, including issues of subject formation and homelessness, and identity and Tacoma’s Japanese Language School.


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In recent years, the multifaceted forms of civic practices—ranging from participatory urbanism, to artistic interventions, and to street protests launched by activists—have become more prominent in Asian cities, attracting scholarly attention across different disciplines. The transformations in civil society have raised the following questions: What are the emerging challenges and contingencies the varied interest groups are facing? What kind of conflicts can arise during and after instances of civil activism, and how can these tensions be ameliorated? How can social engagement, practice and research be bridged together by, and for, different individuals and agencies? When does social engagement become perceived as civil activism?

This seminar series, jointly organized by Asian Urbanisms cluster (ARI) and the Department of Architecture, critically presents and examines the novel forms of civic practices that have manifested in the Asian urban context through a transdisciplinary framework. Bringing together academics, practitioners, students, and the general public interested in urban spatial strategies in relation to negotiate the formation and role of civil societies, the seminars seek to initiate discourse on the following themes: First, to explore how the varied stakeholders involved in civil society groups, including academics and educators, activists, artists, NGOs, NPOs, informal interest groups and community associations, political parties, and governmental organizations currently de/reconstruct the contextual and physical understanding of shared urban space in Asia. It is of interest to review the main goals of the novel civic practices, and the extent in which these aspirations are realised. Secondly, these seminars seek to articulate how stakeholders engage in the process of collaborative knowledge production through these practices. More importantly, the aim of the series is to conceptualise civic practices as a product of the distinctive trajectories of socio-economic development, spatial/cultural policies, and the structures of political governance in the Asian region. To reiterate, these seminars provide an overview on the distinctive challenges and opportunities that contemporary Asian cities pose for civil societies, and the kind of local and global characteristics that are emerging in these locales.


Asia Research Institute | Minna ValjakkaSonia Lam
Department of Architecture | Cho Im Sik & Lee Kah Wee

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