From Community Studies to Hometown Studies: Imagining Chinese Society Via Research Method

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Yijin HE, Beijing University of Technology, China
In the 1930s, Chinese sociologists imported community studies with functionalism for observing Chinese society systematically and theoretically. Native scholars adapted this method from Radcliffe-Brown, Robert Park, Bronislaw Malinowski and some other Western scholars. Some published works earned Chinese sociology an international reputation. As described by Maurice Freedman, before the World War II, beyond North America and Western Europe, ‘China was the seat of the most flourishing sociology in the world’.

Nevertheless, some questions arise in the Chinese context when practicing this method. Even though community studies has been treated as a powerful way to draw a holistic picture of Chinese social system, there was no Chinese translation of ‘community’ at that time. And thus, looking for a Chinese equivalent of community became the first step to complete. Diverse significances and interpretations have been injected into the Chinese understanding of community and community studies, and ‘village’ finally was regarded as the most suitable research object for Chinese community studies. This approach is different from the traditions of urban sociology and social anthropology in community studies. More importantly, most scholars conducted community studies by telling stories of their hometowns; some even were lack of empirical fieldwork, and were in the form of novel.

This study would unfold the trajectory of conducting community studies in the Chinese context by arguing that method is not a transparent research device can be easily duplicated to anywhere. The adaptations of community studies in China not only reveals how native scholars imagining Chinese society via research method, but also implies the politics of research method in the field.