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Desire Economics: Affect and Social Competition in Chinese Megacities

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Pettier

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.