Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for East Asian Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Secondary Theme: Inequality
Some scholars of the state focus on how state power emanates from bureaucracies or official state actors. This panel complements these approaches by directing our attention to the intimate life of state power, asking questions like: How does state power manifest itself in people’s everyday lives? And how do people alter state goals through their everyday acts of adaptation, resistance, and resilience? We examine these questions in the context of global demographic transition: Around the world, increasing numbers of societies are aging rapidly as people decide to marry later and have fewer children. In reaction, states are pursuing new policies, and ordinary people are responding in novel ways.
This panel focuses on East Asian contexts. Like many places, East Asian countries are facing labor shortages and a looming “elderquake.” States that actively curbed population growth, such as China and Korea, have curtailed these population controls. But this reversal has had little effect. As the ratio of elderly increases, these mainly Confucian societies are facing a crisis in conventional approaches to providing intergenerational eldercare. Meanwhile, factories scramble to fill production lines. To encourage new flows of labor migrants, states across the region have dismantled or reconfigured many controls on domestic and international migration.
Inside the region’s traditionally patrilineal families, potential husbands face a related “labor crisis”—“missing” women. In many places, selective abortions and female infanticide have skewed gender ratios towards men, making it harder for men to find wives. This trend is reinforced by women’s growing tendency to delay marriage. As women join a global wave of “waithood,” state actors struggle to convince them to be “less picky” and bear more children. Further contributing to falling birthrates, couples who do marry complain that the costs of child-rearing have grown prohibitively expensive now that college education has become a “must” for most.
These demographic trends call into question the ability of state leaders to sustain economic expansion. But failing to deliver on the promise of prosperity could create a crisis of legitimacy. To boost growth, states across the region are cooperating on massive neocolonial bids to develop infrastructure projects throughout the region’s borderlands and across Eurasia, but these projects often inflict new forms of precarity on those caught in their crosshairs.
This panel asks how anthropological perspectives on the intimate pathways of state power can contribute to the analysis of these phenomena. As people encounter new state policies, what everyday acts of resistance do they pursue and what forms of resilience do these acts entail? How do people adapt differently in their everyday lives to new expressions of state power across rural-urban, gender, ethnic, and international divides? How do these intimate dynamics help us to account for the demographic phenomena that we observe? And how do we think comparatively about these developments in a period of rapid demographic transition globally? This panel calls for contributions that provide nuanced ethnographic perspectives on these questions, thus producing fresh insight into the intimate life of the state in a time of demographic transition.