Constructing a new private order: gated communities and the privatization of urban life in post-reform Shanghai

Choon-Piew Pow

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Pow, C. (1). Constructing a new private order: gated communities and the privatization of urban life in post-reform Shanghai. Social & Cultural Geography, 8(6), 813–833.

gated communities , privacy. , public/private life , Shanghai

This paper examines changing notions of public and private spaces in post-reform urban Shanghai by focusing on the emergence of private gated communities (fengbi xiaoqu) and their impact on the privatization of urban space and social life in the city. While gated communities in Anglo-American literature are typically cast in a negative light (often depicted as the bulldozing of public spaces by private interests), this paper offers a nuanced interpretation by arguing how Shanghai’s gated communities are, potentially, sites where greater household autonomy and personal freedom may be realized away from the hegemonic control of the Communist Party-state. By examining the evolving notions of private life/privacy in Shanghai, this paper contributes to the nascent understanding of the concepts of public and private in a non-Western context.

Main finding
Privatized, gated communities are creating new domestic spaces providing the opportunity for personal autonomy and liberation from state control. In post-reform, post-Maoist China, private property has been revalorized and gained respect, thus the middle and upper classes increasingly seek housing that is different in nature than the dense communal dwellings in older city neighborhoods. The concept of interiority expresses notions of subjective expression and individualism with having private space you can reconfigure. Gated communities provide a greater sense of privacy, but also a sense of entitlement to private spaces which the author links to rising individualism, consumerism, and some autonomy from the state (eg. having TV satellites and evading family planning policies and census takers). Residents expressed a sense of privacy was critical to their well-being and highly valued the secure, exclusivity of the community. Privacy is also practical for its convenience, freedom and improvement of quality of life.

Description of method used in the article
The author does not explicitly state a set of methods, however interviews and interactions with residents of one private community were mentioned. In addition to extensive reviews of literature and use of archival resources, a household survey from the private community was consulted and corroborated with the author’s interviews.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Archival / Historical Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations