Contested Space, Conflicting Desires: "Becoming" "Girls" in Urbanizing Rural China

Open Access
Cai, Yihuai
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 15, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dr Marnina Gonick, Committee Chair
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Chair
  • Jacqueline Edmondson, Committee Member
  • Jacqueline J A Reid Walsh, Committee Member
  • Dr Mrinalini Sinha, Committee Member
  • girlhood studies
  • feminist ethnography
  • poststructuralism
  • subjectivity
  • rural urbanization
  • privatized vocational schooling
Drawing from the poststructuralist perspective of subjectivity and discourse, this ethnographic project traces the construction of “girlhood” within various contested discourses in a changing Chinese rural locality. In tracing the clashing lines where normative discourses of femininities bump against a historically constructed “rural” discourse and globalized neoliberal discourse, I position rural Chinese girls as embodied subjects moving through social, political, economic and cultural relations of a locality that carries with it elements of the pre-modern, modern and postmodern. I focus particularly on how rural urbanization, the emergence of privatized rural vocational schooling, and changing notions of romance, marriage and sexuality offered complicated new ways of “becoming” “girls.” Against the backdrop of this larger social landscape, I further examine how girls are subjected to and coping with the complex demands of an urbanizing rural China that is ever-more closely connected to the global order of neo-liberalism yet deeply entrenched in an authoritative socialist order. I contend that this contradictory project of “becoming” “girls” as narrated through the girls and other members of the community, reveals that both “rural” and “gender” are not static identities, but rather social relations that function as truth effect of certain regulative discourses. Besides the conceptual endeavor of tracing the construction of “girlhood” in the shifting order of rural modernity, this dissertation also explores some critical epistemological issues of feminist ethnography in writing the “Third World” “other.”