Date of Award

Summer 6-13-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John O’Loughlin

Second Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Third Advisor

Joe Bryan


The discourses of free-market economic reform policies in China have encouraged the decentralization of state power and devolution of fiscal responsibility to local governments. The restructuring of local state control under the mounting pressures of economic globalization provides a broader political-economic context for the changing built and social environments of the Chinese city. When the central government permitted city officials to lease state-owned land to private real estate developers in 1998, the resulting acceleration of housing redevelopment in a rapidly urbanizing China dramatically transformed complex socio-spatial divisions between various groups in the city of Nanjing. I examine urban citizenship, modernity, and private homeownership through participant observation and interviews examining how various social groups in China (i.e. rural migrants, urban poor, urban middle-class) negotiate the construction of new and transforming class boundaries. Through an ethnographic study in five field sites — two gated communities, two public housing compounds, and one old city neighborhood — I explore the everyday experience of residents in the midst of urban housing redevelopment. Using Lefebvre’s concept of the production of space and Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony, I link the economic and cultural domains of class construction to further understand the dynamic interplay between broader political-economic context and individual lived experience. My interrogation of the built and social environments of urban China sheds light on the antagonisms and alliances between social groups, the representations and practices of old city preservation and demolition, and the effects of economic reform on daily life. I illustrate that uneven housing development constitutes changing spatial dimensions of class in Nanjing, China. This study illuminates the theoretical and practical implications of uneven development on social cohesion, economic growth, and political stability.