CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 6: Working-class cultural spaces: comparing the old and the new
Cultural transformation is central to class formation. In this chapter we understand culture to be the distinctive ways of expressing, articulating, and reproducing working-class life – especially through performing arts and exhibitions – that are essential to the class identity and class consciousness of China’s working classes, both old and new. We begin with three basic assumptions. First, culture, narrowly defined as such, always exists, although its content and means of expression vary over time. Second, different working-class groups have different working-class cultures that may or may not be congruent with each other. Third, when a culture materializes it produces cultural spaces – tangible built environments and intangible relationships such as through cyberspace – that embody and reflect the social structures of the working-class group being analysed. Our conception of class and class consciousness follows the cultural constructivist tradition of E.P. Thompson (1966), which emphasizes lived experiences and actual human relationships in historical processes ‘in the making’. This is a departure from the classic Marxist tradition, which assumes an almost deterministic relationship between economic and power structures (modes of production) on the one hand, and the formation of class and consciousness on the other.
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