American Ethnologist

Communities of complicity: Notes on state formation and local sociality in rural China

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ABSTRACT

In this article, I deal with the tension in rural China between vernacular practice in local sociality and official representations related to processes of state formation and with the ways in which this tension is revealed and concealed through gestures of embarrassment, irony, and cynicism. Such gestures point toward a space of intimate self-knowledge that I call a “community of complicity,” a concept derived from Michael Herzfeld's outline of “cultural intimacy.” I illustrate how such communities are constituted with examples involving Chinese geomancy (fengshui), funerary rituals, and corruption. I contrast this approach with arguments made about “state involution” in China.

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