Current Institutional Affiliation
Anthropology, University of Michigan

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Michigan
Numbering Land: The Mathematics of Subjectivity and Geography in Rural China Reforms

This research on numbering land seeks to understand how people use numbers to make sense of social relations and their material environments. The overarching question I will explore is: what are the mathematics that people create to count and calculate themselves and the world? The project is situated in the ongoing land reform in rural China, which will push forward the previous de-collectivization reform by validating the up-to-date land information and legitimizing land usage right. Now there is a nation-wide land census, which triggers intensive negotiations of numbers between the government and villagers. This census also brings up historical complicities of wrongdoings and manipulations of numbers as possible objects of reckoning. My project will be an ethnography of the production of numbers throughout rural reforms. I will study how numbers become a disturbing actor in governance, kin relations, and inhabitation. To explore the overarching question, I aim to answer two sets of queries. The first set is about numerical governance. How do people design the formulas and technologies to calculate land? How does the clashing of measurements become a focal point of negotiating governance? The second set of questions is about the understanding of personhood and belonging in terms of numbers. I ask, how do people manipulate the numerical standards that generate social labelings? How do they calculate land contextually according to shifting roles—cadres, kin members, neighbors, etc.? By making these linkages, my project will bring together materiality, sociality, and intellectual operations of numbers in both everyday practices and governmental quantification projects.