Rurality Check: Tracing the Nascent Global Countryside in Asia

Title: 1089 | Rurality Check: Tracing the Nascent Global Countryside in Asia
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Wolfram Manzenreiter, University of Vienna, Austria (organizer, chair)
Sonja Ganseforth, German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo, Germany (presenter)
Heesun Hwang, Seoul National University, South Korea (presenter)
Michael Leung, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Isaac Gagné, German Institute of Japanese Studies, Japan (presenter)


The built infrastructure of mega cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong or Shanghai epitomize Asia’s rise to the world’s largest and fastest growing economy. With most scholarly attention focussing on urban growth and agglomerations as hotbed of societal transformation and cultural innovation, the countryside so far has come to be regarded as riddled with grave structural problems, including backwardness, economic decline and demographic aging. This panel questions the heuristic value of the rigid boundaries of urban/rural, progressive/backwardly, modern/traditional, here/there and even human/non-human at a time when rural areas are standing at the crossroads of globalization. Case studies from coastal fishery, mountainous villages, remote islands, metropolitan farming communities, and seed cultivation demonstrate that the countryside in Asia is exhibiting new characteristics that are driven by structural changes and a complex net of translocal relations on a global scale. The nascent idea of a “global countryside” as a hybrid space considers the impact of global capitalism and molecular sciences as well as the rich diversity of agrarian technologies and local customs to be of utmost significance to understand the spatial and scalar quality of forces giving shape to rural areas and their inhabitants in relation to their entanglement with politics, business and culture crafted in urban areas. The discussion fleshes out the ways in which old and new actors on the ground engage with global networks and processes to produce hybrid outcomes, blurring the binary distinctions of local/global and giving proof to Asia’s new ruralities.

Panel Abstracts:
New Marinalities of Japanese Fishing Villages
Based on in-depth case studies of small family businesses, cooperatives and revitalization programs in different fishing villages in Kyushu, this contribution explores how rural coastal spaces traditionally characterized by the presence of small-scale fisheries are being reconfigured through global flows and national policy decisions as well as local agency. The emergence of buyer-driven global commodity chains in seafood, the proliferation of large supermarket chains and a re-orientation of consumer preferences have profoundly restructured the seafood sector in Japan. High input costs and stagnating fish prices contribute to the declining profitability of local coastal fisheries, and fishers are becoming scarce and aged. In deep-sea fisheries, “technical interns” from Southeast Asia are largely replacing Japanese crews as cheap labor. Transregional and global flows and influences, however, are not limited to human agency. Environmental change – albeit in most cases caused by human action – may be even more severe for fishing livelihoods. Rising water temperatures, pollution, coastal degradation, acidification and other environmental problems pose a serious threat to marine ecosystems and lives, and thus also to fishery resources. Policy reform and development plans are directed at both the material as well as the social restructuring of rural coastal spaces. At the same time, local agency – and responsibility – must not be overlooked in these transformations. This multiplicity of influences needs to be analyzed holistically in order to understand the dynamics shaping new marine ruralities.

From ‘Landraces’ to ‘Native Crops’: Transformation of Social Values of Farmers’ Varieties in South Korea
South Korea is highly dependent on the global food market. Its self-sufficiency ratio of grains is 23%, while counting in other fresh products the ratio is still no more than 47%. As if symbolically compensating for the weak food sovereignty, the public has grown interests in conserving its heritage crops over the recent decades. This presentation traces and asks the reasons for the historical formation of the social values laid upon the farmers’ varieties cultivated in South Korea, by utilizing literature and ethnographic research data. Initially referred to as ‘landraces (토종, 土種)’ by a group of agriscience researchers for their value as ‘genetic resources’ held by the nation-state, the varieties are now also attributed to a number of cultural and ecological significances by such diverse social groups as farmers, urbanites, activists, and policymakers. One remarkable aspect of this change is that ‘nationalistic’ undertones in the previous era have been largely weakened in its symbolic representations. There appear to be several factors relevant for the change—the introduction of foreign ‘heirloom’ varieties and their popularity, globalization of cuisines, urban farmers markets, urban gardening practices, online forum discussions and seed exchanges, and social characteristics of the growers. By tracking the historical change, I will show how the bedrock narrative changed through the time from one that is more associated with local economic growth to that with plenatary environmental problems, and how this has to do with the experience of ‘glocal’ reproductive crisis.

Wang Chau Village: (Non-)Indigenous Wisdom, Amidst Eviction
The paper introduces a ‘patchwork ethnography’ into non-indigenous wisdom, located in Wang Chau Village—a green belt in the northwest part of Hong Kong. Despite a four-year resistance led by “non-indigenous” villagers, the government is adamant in displacing over 500 villagers, instead of building social housing units on nearby brownfield sites. Socio-spatial issues and an archaic land policy leftover by the former British colonial government, are problematic for the villagers, the concern group and the public. However amidst adversity, villager wisdom and situated knowledges continue to illuminate—confronting displacement, eviction and ecological destruction. The paper presents a villager ethnography that relates to over 51 Chinese medicinal herbs, jackfruit festivals, DIY fruit enzyme and traditional bone setting. The presentation shares participatory action research and research-creation methodologies that aim to catalyse a multi-species creative practice and sustain an indigenous wisdom amidst and after the upcoming village eviction.

Moral Worlds of Welfare: Social Isolation and Community-based Care in Aging Japan
Amidst changing family forms and the rapidly aging society, Japan like many postindustrial societies is confronting growing social welfare costs and increasing numbers of elderly with no family to take care of them. Alongside this, in recent years there is increasing attention to the outsourcing of social welfare from previously government and corporate-based welfare to private service providers and community-based services. In many cases, local NPOs and community groups have taken up the challenge of caring for aging residents, with some critics seeing this as a sign of the neoliberalization of the Japanese welfare system. Through fieldwork with volunteer groups in a rural community in Nagano Prefecture and a semi-urban community in Miyagi Prefecture, I examine how changing family conditions converge with shifting concepts of social welfare and community responsibility. Against the backdrop of concerns about increasing social isolation, I analyze how residents and volunteers conceptualize and actualize local moral worlds of care through community-based services

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 04 - Room 9

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