Abstract:

How do rural Chinese households deal with the conflicting pressures of migrating into cities to work as well as staying at home to preserve their fields? This is particularly challenging for rice farmers, because paddy fields have to be cultivated continuously to retain their soil quality and value. Conceiving rural households as part of a larger farming community of practice that spans both staying and migrating household members and their material world, this talk describes farming households’ strategic solutions to this predicament. Based on ethnographic research and written sources, it shows how, in light of rural-urban migration and agro-technological change, farmers manage to sustain both migration and farming. Focusing on the land-use and land-arrangement decisions of staying and migrating household members, it argues that paddy fields play a key role in shaping farmers’ everyday strategies; ostensibly technical farming decisions are always also social decisions that are closely interlinked with migration decisions; and we need to pay more attention to the material world of migration and the related knowledge and skills. 

Bio:

Lena Kaufmann is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich, where she is a research associate in both the Department of History and the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies. Trained as an anthropologist and sinologist in Berlin, Rome and Shanghai, she holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Zurich. She spent four years in China and has conducted extensive research on Chinese migration in rural and urban settings. She is the author of Rural-Urban Migration and Agro-Technological Change in Post-Reform China (open access, Amsterdam University Press, 2021) and the spokesperson of the Regional Group China of the German Anthropological Association. Her current research project focuses on Swiss-Chinese entanglements in digital infrastructures.