By Pál Nyiri
After my inaugural lecture – in which I suggested that anthropology should study the re-emergence of shared forms of sovereignty like China’s concessions in Africa – I gave a similar talk at the British Inter-University China Centre’s conference in Manchester and then headed to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), which this year took place in Philadelphia. Our department was well represented, with five or so VU anthropologists in attendance. The AAA tends to be overwhelming, but every five years or so it’s worth making the pilgrimage, just to see what’s “in”. A number of this year’s “in” topics, like anthropology of institutions, were to my liking, and I came away energized by discussions mostly with PhD students.
My own talk, in a panel on the “Ends of Politics in China” organized by Andrew Kipnis, was on the evolution of consumer boycotts in China as a reflection of shifting views on taste, nationalism and class. It was a “spinoff” of some research I did with two PhD students at Macquarie University on the demonstrations by Chinese students overseas protesting Western media coverage of the rioting in Tibet and “protecting” the Olympic torch before the Peking Olympics. The article, “Hip Nationalism,” is coming out in the January issue of The China Journal. It suggests that youth nationalism in China often goes hand in hand with forms of consumption that, paradoxically, identify the person as modern and cosmopolitan. The attached photo of a Chinese demonstrator in Paris, for example, was widely discussed on the Chinese Internet as an example. In the AAA talk, I pursued this theme and discussed whether consumer boycotts, which have in recent years become a new arena of political expression in China, may go beyond expressions of nationalism and, as in the West, evolve into vehicles of taste and, hence, class distinction. More on this can be found on my China Can’t Stop Saying No blog.
Prof. dr. P. Nyiri is Professor of Global History from an Anthropological Perspective at the VU University. His research interests are Chinese nationalism; Chinese migration and overseas Chinese in Europe and Southeast Asia; tourism in China and Russia; migrants, migration policy and xenophobia in Europe and history of science in the Soviet Union.