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Sophia Woodman

The literature on contentious politics in China largely concentrates on forms of overt protest. It is well known that protesters also regularly use quieter and more institutionally acceptable forms of claims-making to press the authorities to resolve their claims. But some people using such strategies manage to get their issues resolved without resorting to extra-legal and officially frowned upon protests, while others give up their claims, due in part to persuasion by local officials and activists. This chapter examines the daily practices of contention that go on in neighborhoods and villages, and thus are usually invisible to researchers of contentious politics. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in resident and villager committees in Tianjin in 2008–09, the chapter looks at both the making of claims and what I call the “politics of gossip and talk” in the everyday routines of these organizations. Through these data, the chapter examines the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable forms of claims-making in these contexts, and how the status of complainants and their relationship with the staff and activists of these institutions shape the reception of their claims. The committees are often viewed as a means of controlling grassroots society; but this chapter argues that the connections they create with local residents—a mode of rule I term “socialized governance”—also provide channels to officials that some people use to assert claims and seek to reshape the local meaning of official norms.