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The Politics of Subnational Spaces in Japan and China

Social scientists are frequently concerned with the “local”. However, the social and spatial boundaries of the “local” are often elusive, and subject to change. This is particularly true in Japan, where local administrative boundaries were abruptly redrawn in a wave of municipal mergers in the mid-2000s, initiating an ongoing process of local socio-spatial readjustments. In China, the “local” is the local in center-local relations between the Party central and the provinces, prefectures, counties, and towns. Since the onset of economic reform, the party-state has been incrementally changing the territories of these levels of government into cities. Subnational territories are not constitutionally guaranteed, and the state maintains powers to establish new cities, enlarge and merge existing ones and eliminate others. The two speakers addressed political and economic consequences implied by differing delineations of subnational spaces. For China, Carolyn Cartier showed how territorial strategies, administering urban expansion, rationalizing government administration, and organizing capital through economic growth are negotiated within the political system and decided through non-transparent processes. The party-state defines what a city is, and what places are designated as cities, changing also their process of formation and development. Franz Waldenberger contrasted this with the case of Japan by looking at how definitions of subnational spaces differ depending on whether one applies administrative, political, economic or historic perspectives, and how resulting borders are continuously being contested by reforms, new infrastructures and changing local narratives. The two presentation were followed by a lively discussion with the interested and diverse audience, which continued to revolve around the similarities and differences between local social organization in Japan and China.



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