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The Subsumption of Space and the Spatiality of Subsumption: Primitive Accumulation and the Transition to Capitalism in Shanghai, China

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Abstract:

Abstract: 

Based on extensive interviews, this study is the first systematic attempt to map the spatio-temporal evolution of production networks linking urban, state-owned enterprises and rural, township and village-owned enterprises in reform-era China. It identifies two distinct regimes of urban-to-rural subcontracting patterns and conventions. The first, which developed and prospered from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s, brought rural workers and the countryside into a relatively extensive relationship with urban capital, and thus represented a partial transition to capitalism. Its violent reconfiguration in the wake of a series of sectoral crises in the late 1990s led to the widespread privatisation of rural enterprises, and the emergence and consolidation of a second regime that simultaneously constituted a significant intensification of relations, the capture of the rural by the urban, and a new stage in this region's transition. This paper argues that these regimes are analogous to the formal and real subsumption of labor to capital, respectively, and that subsumption may be a more useful analytic for understanding the process of capture and transition than primitive accumulation: the latter concept alone, without reference to the dynamics of the social/spatial division of labor, risks missing other ways that exploitive connections can be constructed between places. This paper thus seeks to recast the relationship between these two concepts, and to develop a larger vocabulary in which subsumption, like primitive accumulation, is both spatial and ongoing and internal to capitalist accumulation.

Keywords: China; accumulation by dispossession; commodity chains; neoliberalism; networks; primitive accumulation; privatization

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2007.00550.x

Affiliations: School of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;, Email: daniel.buck@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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