Shanghai platform statement

Coordinator June 03, 2010

Over the past several years, efforts to integrate invention, innovation and creativity into the core of economic production have been gaining momentum in China. These measures have been pushed by a combination of state and commercial capitalism, as well as growing social and cultural acceptance of entrepreneurial ventures. Shanghai in particular has taken up an ambitious program, with the intention to take a leading role in developing the creative and knowledge sectors within China as a means by which to ‘upgrade’ its economic structure. The evolution of creative, cultural and knowledge sectors accompanies, and has been accompanied by, accelerated urban development, new trends in higher education, increased rural to metropolitan migration, an influx of foreign ‘experts’ and new circuits of international trade. An emphasis on immaterial production has emerged within this configuration of China’s labour landscape. This is not to say that manufacturing has been superseded. Rather, new combinations of manufacturing and immaterial labour are forming and becoming part of cross-border constellations involving economic infrastructures built on the logistical organisation and management of human mobility, waste and service sectors, transport and urban regeneration.

The first of the Transit-Labour platforms has been established in Shanghai to think through the different modulations of the shifts that are currently taking place across the city, the Chinese continental-state and the Asian region at large. In the frame of the project, we explore creative labour and its tributaries by widening the usual conception of creative work beyond the creative and cultural sectors. The platform examines industries often not associated with such categories, including services, logistics, waste management, technological development and engineering. The vertiginous speed at which Shanghai has emerged as a key player in China’s creative, innovation and knowledge markets makes it a prolific location for experimental methods of investigation that look at the interactions between economic, structural, social and biopolitical labour apparatuses. As part of the broader project, we will explore these phenomena as they occur in Shanghai to find interconnections with conditions in Kolkata and Sydney.


At the same time, what interests us are the flows and impasses of mobility – the differential border zones and regimes – that such apparatuses engender: the relations that are formed between workers, the tensions that invest professionalism and collegiality, the pathways that commuters carve out in the city, the sites of waste collection and exchange, the economies of aspiration and guanxi. Contemporary capitalism extends, retracts and multiplies the perimeters of borders across different geographical scales, effecting, and being effected by, practices of governance and production. By looking at changing patterns in zoning technologies, border policies and policing, market developments and social mobilities we can discern not only the shifts occurring in the Asian region but in the conceptions of the nation-state and regionalism more generally.


The Shanghai platform brings together local, national and international creative and cultural workers and researchers to investigate the different geographies of Shanghai’s new labour fields. We hope to move in diverse trajectories, looking at these labour forms and processes in their many permutations, not to reduce them to a singular category of creative or knowledge work but to draw out the imaginative and cognitive aspects that they appropriate and valorise. Simultaneously, we want to trace and discuss some of the antagonisms, the points of conflict and stress, the psychic and somatic pathologies that workers in these sectors experience, the everyday struggles they face and the strategies they invent that both succeed and fail to generate the worlds they desire.


By organising three intensive events in Shanghai in June-July 2010 we are seeking to open spaces online and offline for dialogue and debate rather than to pursue an encompassing enquiry. The Shanghai platform is the first experiment in the larger project method, and with it we hope to begin a process of conceptualisation and exchange that traverses the regional and the transnational, to build networks of research and practice that can find ways to negotiate and analyse the current and future trends in creative, inventive and knowledge production across Asia, Europe and Australia.