SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Archetypes of Ethnicity: Architecture and Expectations in China’s Ethnic Tourism

Jenny Chio (Emory University)

Date: 14 March 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 14 March 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Colloquium

When tourists complain, or merely comment, that the sights and sites in a destination “all look the same,” what exactly does that mean? How is the tension between architectural uniformity (codified in building codes, regulations, and restrictions) reconciled with, or alongside, imaginations of otherness, difference, and distinction? And, what socio-political expectations are built into material environments, and how do these expectations write themselves onto bodies and landscapes in touristed places? This work-in-progress paper draws on observations and case studies of ethnic minority village destinations and tourism developments across Southwest China to investigate the empirical and conceptual linkages between what is seen, what is shown, and what is experienced as these ideas and imaginaries are rendered visible in the materials, textures, and veneers of “ethnic architecture.” The archetypes of ethnicity materialized through ethnic tourism architecture challenge binary notions of fake/authentic, traditional/modern, and fact/fiction through the physical materialization of socio-political ideals about minority/majority relations in contemporary China.

About the Speaker: Jenny Chio is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Emory University, an ethnographic filmmaker, and Co-Editor of Visual Anthropology Review, the journal of the Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA). In 2016-17, she is a Fellow at Morphomata International Center for Advanced Studies, University of Cologne. She holds a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths College, University of London. From 2009-2015 she has served continuously as an elected SVA board member, and she co-directed the SVA Film and Media Festival in 2013 and 2014 with Harjant Gill. She currently sits on the festival jury.

Chio's research focuses on rural social transformation, ethnic identity, modernity and modernization processes, tourism and migration, and documentary media practices. Her first book, A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China (University of Washington Press, 2014) explores the consequences of tourism development in two rural ethnic minority villages in China. Her award-winning film based on that project, 农家乐 Peasant Family Happiness (2013), will be shown in the SOAS Ethnographic Film Series during her visit.

She has recently begun a new project on amateur media, ethnic identity, modernity, and social transformation in rural China. This new research project examines the lived experience of modernity in China's countryside through an ethnographic exploration of the production and consumption of locally made amateur and semi-professional documentary videos. Documentary recordings of this kind are ubiquitous across much of rural ethnic China, especially, and many rural filmmakers participate in state and international community media training programs in addition to producing videos for local markets. Her research on rural media, thus far, has led her to investigate the intersections between development, media literacy, modernization processes, the politics of participation, and new imaginations of rural modernity and contemporary ethnic subjectivity in China today.