Desire Economics: Affect and Social Competition in Chinese Megacities
This project follows my previous research concerning the phenomenon of marriage markets in present-day China, the importance granted to love in the Chinese political context, and my theoretical work on the importance of affect in the ethnographic understanding of society (Pettier 2016). It is based on a long-term ethnographic research carried out in the cities of Beijing and Chengdu between 2006 and 2010, and will examine the affective dynamics of the Chinese society and the notion that it may be undergoing “moral crisis.” The project’s ambition is to provide a sensitive ethnography of the affective economy behind the social competition for economic success operating amongst today’s Chinese new generations. In particular, it will focus on questions of intimacy, sexuality, social pressures to attain success, self-sacrifice, and individual engagement in professional careers. Allying a long-term ethnography of China with the most recent theories of affective economy and politics, this research will focus on the affective drive, which I will refer to here as a “desire economics,” behind the extreme level of socio-economic competition experienced by Chinese new generations.
Dr. Jean-Baptiste Pettier
Freie Universität Berlin
Dahlem Research School
SFB 1171 "Affective Societies"
Raum JK 33/232
Brief personal description
Doctor in social anthropology with a large interdisciplinary background in social sciences and a specialization in Chinese society, my main research thematics concern sentiments, affect, and morality, and their relationships with political and economic conditions.
PhD in Social Anthropology and Ethnology of the EHESS Paris (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France), with a specific ‘European PhD’ label and highest honors.
PhD dissertation: « Les guerres sentimentales. Anthropologie morale du marché matrimonial de la Chine urbaine des années 2000 » [The Sentimental Wars. A Moral Anthropology of China’s Urban Marriage Market in the Years 2000s.]
Master of Arts Degrees
MA in Political Sciences, Compared Politics of Asia, at Sciences Po Paris, with high honors.
MA dissertation: « Pouvoir politique local et encadrement des vies privées en République Populaire de Chine. L'exemple de la politique de l'enfant unique dans la province du Sichuan. » [Local Political Power and the Supervision of Private Lives in Contemporary China. The Case of the One-Child Policy in Sichuan Province.]
MA in Anthropology, at the EHESS Paris, with highest honors.
MA dissertation: « Construire sa vie. Parcours personnels, relations amoureuses et questions sexuelles au sein de groupes d'étudiants et de jeunes travailleurs à Pékin. » [Constructing One's Life. Personal Careers, Love Relationships, and Sexual Issues Amongst Groups of Students and Workers in Beijing.]
Bachelor of Arts Degrees
BA in Chinese Language and Civilization, from Langues'O [French National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO), Paris.]
BA in Political Sciences, from Université Lyon 2.
BA in Sociology and Anthropology, from Université Lyon 2.
Academic Work Experience
Dahlem Research School Postdoctoral Fellow at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Employed within the Affective Societies Collaborative Research Center.
Postdoc Research Fellow at the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology of the University of Cologne, Germany.
Research Fellow and Junior Scientific Coordinator at the Political Sciences Department of Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany, within the Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies [Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Ostasienstudien], for the interdisciplinary research program "Protecting the Weak", financed by the Volkswagen Foundation.
Temporary Assistant Professor (ATER) in Political Sciences at the Université Paris Est Créteil (UPEC), France, in the department of International Exchange and Administration.
Adjunct professor in charge of a course on Anthropology of East Asia (China, Korea, Japan) for undergraduate students at Université Paris 8, France.
PhD contract from the French National Ministry for Higher Education and Research.
Current Research Project:
Previous Research Project (PhD defended at the EHESS in October 2015):
The Sentimental Wars. A Moral Anthropology of China’s Urban Marriage Market in the Years 2000s.
This ethnographic study, based on fieldwork research carried out in Beijing and Chengdu between 2006 and 2010, explored the transformation of the urban marriage market in China. It did so through the prism of one social institution : the xiāngqīn, a traditional form of marriage intermediation, which is presently undergoing a reinvention. Through a series of places (marriage agencies, parental and bachelors’ gatherings), my study examined a number of twentieth century key issues (the opposition to arranged marriages, the political place of love, the importance of social ties (guānxì), the role of traditional thoughts like "confucianism", etc.) The study examined this phenomenon in its actuality and its transversality, giving accounts of its social, economic, and historical dimensions, and awarding a particular importance to what I name the "affective scope" of the research. The study revealed the "sentimental politics" behind it, as they were helpful to think the social and cultural discriminations it holds. It payed careful attention to the intellectual debates concerning the place awarded to love in the Chinese society, which have been particularly relevant through the modernization process. Furthermore, it elaborated a critical analysis of their present uses. Through them, and through the omnipresent moral debates on today's China’s public stage, the transformation of the Chinese subject is observed. The study of this phenomenon therefore allows an exploration of the social and personal consequences of the political, economic, and demographic changes experienced by Chinese society from thirty years onward and the pressure it induced on the younger generations.
“La morale et le désir. Sexualité, genre et inégalité en Chine contemporaine” [Morality and Desire. Sexuality, Gender and Inequality in Contemporary China], to be published in both French and English versions in Autrepart85.
“Re-Enchanting the World: Seahorses’ Magic and the Global Trade of Affect for Wildlife,” in Michael Bollig and Stefanie Gänger (eds.), “Forum: Commodifying the “Wild”: Anxiety, Ecology and Authenticity in the Late Modern Era,”Environmental History 24(4): 711-717. https://doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emz033
“La réinvention des marieuses. Ethnographie d’une agence matrimoniale en Chine urbaine,” L’Homme 229: 77-98.
“The reinvention of matchmakers. Ethnography of a Marriage Agency in Urban China,” L’Homme 229: I-XXII. https://www.cairn-int.info/abstract-E_LHOM_229_0077--the-reinvention-of-matchmakers.htm
“La fatalité des meiren : Usages de l’histoire des marieuses traditionnelles comme justification à l’intermédiation matrimoniale en Chine contemporaine” [The Fate of Meiren: Uses of the History of Traditional Matchmakers as a Justification for Marriage Brokering in Contemporary China], Études Chinoises, 2017-1 (XXXVI-I): 79-103.
“The Affective Scope: Entering China’s Urban Moral and Economic World through Its Emotional Disturbances,” Anthropology of Consciousness, 2016, Vol. 27(1): 75-96. https://doi.org/10.1111/anoc.12054