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Colloque - The Making of Chinese Subjects

CERI, Paris, 18-19 December 2014

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The Making of Chinese Subjects

CERI, Paris, 18-19 December 2014 56, rue Jacob, 75006, Paris, Salle de conference

Conference organized by Françoise Mengin and Jean-Louis Rocca co-sponsored by the CERI and the University of Macao

Lien :


  • With a high rate of growth, the emergence of a middle class and a widespread access of the population to social networks, the issue of China democratization is omnipresent in the bulk of analysis. For some, this democratization is unavoidable since it goes in line with the sense of history. For others, China is not suited to the so-called Western model, and the Chinese must find, or have already found their own democratic formula. It is only by drawing from its philosophical roots that China will be able to devise an alternative model, but no less democratic. These approaches are in fact very similar : they impose a Manichean and essentialist model – democracy versus non-democracy – and they grasp political changes in normative and/or culturalist terms. “Democratization” is perceived as a well-established process. Certainly, one must take into account local specificities ; yet, through a graphic phrase, the necessities of modernization seem to guide, step by step, the transition to democracy.
  • Far be it from us to consider that the issue of producing democratic subjects is not on the agenda. In China, as elsewhere, it is the democratic imaginary – being or not democratic – that is on the horizon. What we advocate for is the need to appraise the contradictions between this horizon and the characteristics of power relations in contemporary China. Our approach is merely to put forward some working hypothesis.
  • Firstly, we would like to stress on the paradoxical dimension of democratization. In its very broad meaning, democratization is the process of institutionalizing the individual as the basic unit of the political system (free elections, but also freedom of speech and assembly). Yet, according to Michel Foucault, subjectivation of citizens is also subjection (assujetissement). Individuals are subjects of their own life and are subjected to domination . Secondly, refusing historical or cultural determinisms entails to put emphasis on the very historicity of political phenomena. Indeed, the political action is reliant on the legacy of institutions and memories, in particular personal experiences Chinese people of all walks of life have been confronted to, for two or three generations. Thirdly, and conversely, the historicity of societies compels us to take into account all contingencies. China’s development during the last thirty years has shown the part played by chance, unpredictability, as well as the “groping” nature of reforms. There is no Chinese model but a whole combination of decisions, events and phenomena.

Detailed program

Thursday 18 December 2014


Welcoming remarks : Alain Dieckhoff, Director, CERI

Introduction : Françoise Mengin and Jean-Louis Rocca

10h-13h : Institutional Voids as Sites of Inquiry

Chair : Françoise Mengin

Discussant : Gilles Favarel-Garrigues, CNRS-CERI


-* Talking to Each Other, Despite Everything Isabelle Thireau, CNRS-EHESS

-* Overcoming Institutional Voids during Market Transition : Private Sector Financing in China Tak-Wing Ngo, University of Macao

11h-11h30 : Coffee break

11h30-12h30 : Debate

12h30-14h : Lunch

14h-16h :

-* Making Chinese Subjects on the International Stage Chair : Tak-Wing Ngo

Discussant : Richard Banégas, Sciences Po-CERI


-* How my Life Changed in Africa : Narratives of Chinese Expatriate Workers Antoine Kernen, Université de Lausanne

-* On the Road : Turning Taiwanese Citizens into Chinese Subjects ? Françoise Mengin, Sciences Po-CERI

15h-16h : Debate

16h-16h30 : Coffee break


-* Keynote speech by Yves Chevrier, EHESS Subjectivation, Activism, and their Reshaping in Contemporary China : a Tentative Historical Overview

Friday 19 December 2014

9h30-12h30 :

-* Making Peasants Something Else Chair : Isabelle Thireau

Discussant : Kathy Rousselet, Sciences Po-CERI


-* Turning Farmers into Citizens David Bray, University of Sydney

-* The Making and Limitations of Chinese Compassionate Government : A Case Study of Rural Migrants’ Children Camille Salgues, EHESS

-* An Exemplary Movement : What Wukan “Farmers” Protest Tells about Chinese Politics Jean-Louis Rocca, Sciences Po-CERI

11h-11h30 : Coffee break

11h30-12h30 : Debate

12h30-14h : Lunch

14h-16h :

  • Subjects and Public Policies : the Urban Scene Chair : Jean-Louis Rocca Discussant : Laurent Gayer, CNRS-CERI


-* Regional Differences of Community Governance in Urban China Xiao Lin, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

-* Between Civil Servants and Local Representatives : an Ethnographic Perspective on the Subjectivation Processes of Residents’ Committee Agents in Beijing Judith Audin, EHESS

15h-16h : Debate

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