Aliyah Michaela Bixby-Driesen

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Pennsylvania, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10285

Approve Date

April 13, 2022

Project Title

Bixby-Driesen, Aliyah (Pennsylvania, U. of) "“Read good books, be a good person”: governance through literature in postsocialist China"

How are reading practices shaped to produce and sustain political life? Throughout the twentieth century in China, reading and writing have been tightly linked to political struggle, modernization, and nation building. Today, the National Reading program (Quanmin Yuedu) fosters reading habits through infrastructure (e.g., libraries), events, and social spaces. Studying reading as an “ecology of practices” (Stengers 2005), my project interrogates how state agents and readers evaluate literature in aesthetic, moral, and political terms. Engaging ethnographically with the multiplicity of reading practices as they mediate relationships between citizens and the state, my research asks: How do officials and readers construct reading as both a site of governance and a potential source of collective action? I propose to examine these dynamics through fieldwork in postsocialist Chengdu. I will study the interpretive and evaluative practices of readers in reading groups and bookstores; examine infrastructure projects and state discourse; and look at moments of encounter between readers and the state at state-sponsored book fairs and reading events. Ultimately, an ethnographic account of modes of reading as subject to structuration and contestation will allow me to recast classic debates on governance and publics, representation and interpretation, and politics and aesthetics in mass society.