Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 383–402 | Cite as

Re-imagining Civil Society in Contemporary Urban China: Actor-Network-Theory and Chinese Independent Film Consumption

  • Seio Nakajima


Extending recent seminal studies that focus on networks of multiple actors in Chinese civil society instead of state-society dichotomy, this article explores independent film consumption in contemporary urban China. It shows how a collectiveentity composed of independent films, people, and discourses is assembled to become civil society, despite the continuing existence of government restrictions on independently produced films. Relying on data collected through ethnography set in the capital city of Beijing, I use the “three moves” suggested by Bruno Latour’s recent description of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to follow the actors themselves. I first “localize the global” concept of civil society and its attendant notion of state-society relations by discussing an independently organized film festival in which I participated and observed. Second, by discussing an empirical case of DVD stores, through which independent films circulate, I “redistribute the local” by detailing the processes in which particular local sites of the retail spaces of DVDs are connected to “actants” dispatched throughout the globe. Finally, I “connect sites” by putting to work the conceptual tools provided by Latour including “connectors,” “mediators,” and “plasma.” I conclude by arguing that ANT contributes to a seemingly modest, but essential political task of preventing the hasty closure of what is to be included in the collective, as well as how the collective is to be composed. In the case I examine, ANT clears the path for the future reassembling of civil society in contemporary urban China.


Actor-Network Theory Ethnography Civil society China Film Consumption 



I would like to thank the guest editors Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Diana Graizbord, Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz, and the editor David Smilde for their insightful feedback and guidance. I also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Last but not least, I thank Rebecca Hanson for her superb editorial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA

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