Organically Urban: Cultivating alternative landscapes of living in Guangzhou, China

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Helen Siu
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This paper investigates increasing involvement by members of Guangzhou’s urban middle classes in alternative agriculture activities, specifically in the context of recent decades of economic and social change and rising food safety concerns. Using ethnographic field research methods and a conceptual framework drawn from social theory and relevant anthropological literature, I specifically explore urban middle class engagement with the TianDiRenHe organic rice social enterprise, the urban farm Paradise Eco-Farm, and the nongjiale agro-tourism farm Green Island Farm. I conclude that these sites of alternative agriculture activities have become new urban “landscapes of living”, places where urban middle class people have actively exercised their agency over social structures in order to form distinctive consumption spaces and have then engaged as intentional participants in those spaces in order to cultivate self-identity, social connection, and peace of mind. These acts of cultivation reflect the dynamic tension for the Chinese middle classes between contestation against and complicity with the social and political status quo.