Academic journal article China Perspectives

Operating Norms and Practices of Residents' Committees: The Consequences and Limits of Management by Numbers

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Operating Norms and Practices of Residents' Committees: The Consequences and Limits of Management by Numbers

Article excerpt

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Following the reform of the work unit system begun In the late 1990s, groups officially qualified as "vulnerable" (ruoshi qunti ...) started to appear In urban society. Moreover, access to a certain num- ber of public services and the Implementation of official directives were en- trusted to Neighbourhood Communities (shequ %t [x ), increasing and complicating the administrative work they already undertook. If we add to these factors the development of Internal migration, the extension of the area controlled by the Neighbourhood Communities, and the new hetero- geneity of the population, It Is not difficult to guess that ways of managing urban society underwent major transformations.

This article Is based on an Investigation carried out In the field between 2009 and 20111n a neighbourhood of Beijing. It combined observation and participation as a trainee In a Neighbourhood Community and the authorities that comprise ltd1) The three grassroots authorities mentioned In this article are: the Party Committee of the Neighbourhood Community (dangwei SS), the Residents' Committee or jumin weiyuanhui (juweihui ...) and the Neighbourhood Community's Workstation or gongzuozhan (...). Set up In 2007, the Workstations, which are executive bodies made up of employees paid by the Subdistrict Office (jiedao banshichu ...), are theoretically under the supervision of the Party Committee and the Residents'Committee placed at the head of the autonomous mass organisations known as Neigh- bourhood Communities. In reality, the Residents' Committee and the Work- station overlap considerably, and both are run by members of the Party Committee.

As a matter of fact, If we now examine the three grassroots authorities, the Party Committee, the Residents' Committee, and the Workstation, the first plays the role of director, orienting and controlling the activities of the two others. The Residents' Committee, officially an autonomous residents' organ- isation, theoretically has the function of listening to the aspirations of the residents and defending their Interests, and deciding In a democratic manner on the work to be carried out by the Neighbourhood Community and exer- cising democratic control over Its activities. The Workstation carries out the decisions of the Party Committee and the Residents'Committee. In theory, It Is placed under the control of the Residents' Committee, but since Its funding comes from the Subdistrict Office and all the Neighbourhood Community's employees are hired and paid by the Office, the aim of these various author- ities Is Inevitably to serve the higher echelons of Party and state and to respond to demands from above, relegating the management of local affairs to second place.

My fieldwork began In 2005 when I started to work as a volunteer, though on an Irregular basis, participating In the activities of the Neighbourhood Community. I was able to observe a wide variety of work situations, collect documents, and conduct Interviews. In particular, I collected all the local dig- ital archives registered before the month of August 2008 and transcribed around 100,000 Interview characters. From the end of 2008 to April 2009,1 worked as a trainee, taking part In the management of daily affairs, the preparation of evaluations by the upper echelons, and In local elections. In late 2010,1 helped with the sixth national census in Minfengyuan and In the course of this met the members of many households.Thls experience enabled me to gain an Inside understanding of the way the Neighbourhood Commu- nity worked, the practices and perceptions of those who worked there, and the attitude of the residents, as well as enabling me to see which rules gov- erned, according to circumstance, the Individuals and groups concerned.!3)

In a previous publication, I presented one of the conclusions of this Inquiry, showing how the management style exercised today by municipal and na- tional governments through the administrative level of the Subdistrict Of- fices (jiedao banshichu) Is essentially one of "management by numbers. …

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