Sound and Space in Small-City China

This project examines the production of social space in Kaili, a small city in southwest China, through its touristic branding as 'the homeland of 100 festivals', inhabitants’ conceptualisations of music, amateur music-making practices and the construction of the built environment.

Drawing on Henri Lefebvre's triad of social space as a basic framework, it explores the complexity of the city through multiple aspects of the relationship between space, music and sound: how the built environment of post-Mao China hinders and hides amateur music, even in a city branded as a place of 'authentic' ethnic music; how disparities between the branding and living of Kaili have produced a discourse whereby citizens relocate authentic musical practices to an imagined rural space outside the city; and how amateur musicians have constructed hierarchies of amateur musical space within the city.

Paul Kendall conducted fieldwork for this project over a five-year period (2010-2015), using an interdisciplinary range of methods that included participant observation, interviews, textual analysis, and sound pressure level (SPL) recordings.

A number of research outputs have emerged from this project, including articles for The China Journal, CITY, China Policy Institute and LSE Blogs. A forthcoming monograph, entitled The Sound of Social Space: Branding, Built Environment and Everyday Life in Small-City China, is currently under review with a university press.

If you are interested in working together on future workshops or publications that focus on urban China, soundscapes, and/or Lefebvrian theories of everyday life and social space, please contact Paul Kendall on [email protected]