Discipline and Anti-discipline: Spatial Politics of Urban Street Vending in Guangzhou since the 1990s

  • Center for Urban & Regional Studies, School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China

Received date: 2011-03-10

  Revised date: 2011-05-31

  Online published: 2011-08-20

Supported by

National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.40771066; Ph.D. Programs Foundation of Ministry of Education of China, No. 20090171110039


In the recent Western urban geography, the revanchist or post-justice politics of space targeting urban subaltern groups has become a critical concept for understanding urban changes since the 1980s. Current literature has demonstrated the diversity of the revanchist city or urban revanchism which emerges in specific place with“actually existing”form. However, the excluded disadvantaged groups have been always placed in a passive position where they seem to have no agency to respond to the revanchist politics. This article aims to demonstrate the contrariety and instability of such an exclusionary, revanchist politics of space, through the study of spatial politics of urban street vending in Guangzhou since the 1990s. Based upon Lefebvre's space theory, the analysis is conducted within a structure-agency framework. We integrate the methods of analysis of related policy and institution and observation, semi-structure and in-depth interview of street vendors, city managers, residents and indoor shop owners. It is argued that an exclusionary politics of public space essentially includes mutual-contradictory factors consisting of the structural discipline force and anti-discipline force as agency. On the one hand, the revanchist politics of street vendors has been embedded in the process of urban environment improvement strategy for solving the potential crisis of development in the 1980s. A discipline mechanism with an analogous form of panopticism is appropriated by municipal government to regulate and exclude street vendors for the sake of strategic space. On the other hand, the counter spaces are formed through the everyday and episodic form of resistance by street vendors. The former is characterized by tactics of waiting game and docile inobservance, while the latter is marked by individual violence and collective protest. As a result, strategic space is redefined as a tool space by street vendors for sustaining individual survival, alleviating poverty and pursuing freedom. The contrariety of the revanchist politics of space is in its origin a social product, while the conflict situation it engendered will to a large extent lie on the extent to which the discipline and anti-discipline forces coordinate or confront in the practice.

Cite this article

HUANG Gengzhi, XUE Desheng . Discipline and Anti-discipline: Spatial Politics of Urban Street Vending in Guangzhou since the 1990s[J]. Acta Geographica Sinica, 2011 , 66(8) : 1063 -1075 . DOI: 10.11821/xb201108006


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