Guest Editors’ Introduction: The Urban In-Between

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Chu, N, R Litzinger, M Wang and Q Zhu (2022). Guest Editors’ Introduction: The Urban In-Between. Positions, 30(3). pp. 411–427. 10.1215/10679847-9723646 Retrieved from

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Nellie Chu

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at DKU Kunshan University

I received my Ph.D. degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Prior to my doctorate, I earned a B.A. in International Relations at the University of California, Davis, where I developed my love for the anthropology of China. As a young student, I was compelled by the classic ethnographies written by Margery Wolf. Her cultural analysis of “the uterine family” was particularly inspirational for me. Wolf’s deep engagement with Chinese women and their kin-based relationships led me to pursue anthropology, gender studies, and critical theory as a life-long endeavor.

Primarily trained in the anthropology of post-socialist China and the ethnography of global supply chains, I specialize in the intersecting topics of transnational capitalism, migration (transnational and domestic), counterfeit culture, gendered labor, industrialization, and urbanization.

My current book manuscript examines how Chinese, African, and South Korean migrant entrepreneurs in Guangzhou, China synchronize their life trajectories and changing subjectivities of labor with the boom and bust cycles that link the global commodity chains of fast fashion. Taking the tempos of market volatility as its objects of ethnographic analyses, my project provides an ethnographic case study of the heterogeneous and uneven rhythms that comprise the speculative dynamics of supply chain capitalism.

My work aims to demystify the globally-recognized “Made in China” label and show how the proliferation of small-scale and informal garment workshops and wholesale sites link China with other countries across the Global South. The devaluation of human lives and their labor across the developing world calls for finely tuned historical and ethnographic analyses of the spatial and temporal intersections between China’s post-socialist transformations and the emergence of transnational subcontracting.


Ralph A. Litzinger

Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology

I am an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Cultural Anthropology. My early research focused on ethnicity, nationalism, and post-socialism in China. I published articles on nationality theory in China, memory work, and ethnic politics in the post-Cold War global order, on gender and film, photography, and popular culture. Other Chinas: the Yao and the Politics of National Belonging (Duke University Press, 2000) was the first major ethnographic study to examine the work and writing of minority intellectuals in the imagining of post-socialist futures.

Over the last decade or more my research has focused on activism and advocacy work around the environment, labor, migrant education. I have published essays on the transnational and media dimensions of anti-dam protest in southwest China; on global environmental NGOs and the privatization of nature; on self-immolation among Tibetans; on transnational activism directed at Apple and the companies that source its supply chain; and on the emerging field of global media ecologies.

The Cultural Anthropology special online issue, “Self-Immolation as Protest in Tibet”  was for several years the most downloaded in the history of the journal Cultural Anthropology’s “Hot Spot” series.  “The Labor Question in China: Apple and Beyond”  was the most downloaded article in the South Atlantic Quarterly in 2013.  I am the co-editor of Ghost Protocols: Development and Displacement in Global China (Duke University Press, 2016).  I am currently working on two book projects, Migrant Futures: Education and Labor in Global China, and Black Lung: An Ethnography of Dust, a collaborative project with former students, miners and labor activists in China.  

Service to the discipline and the university has been a major priority for me. From 2001-2007, I directed Duke’s Asia/Pacific Studies Institute. During this period, I raised over five million dollars for East Asian studies programming at Duke, send the first Duke students in Trinity College to China and other East Asian countries with funding for research and internships, developed APSI’s MA program in East Asian Studies, worked to found the rural education non-profit Dream Corp International (, and the student-led newspaper and now web-based magazine, Duke East Asian NEXUS ( I also worked with Duke’s Development Office to write the successful application for the Oscar Tang Named Professorship (now held by Professor Prasenjit Duara in Duke’s History Department). From 2007-2008 I co-directed the Mellon-Sawyer seminar, “Portents and Dilemmas: Health and the Environment in China and India, A Comparative Study.”

I have been deeply involved in raising Duke's profile in China. From 2008-2015, I directed the Duke Engage Migrant Education project, a ten-week immersive project at a middle school for the children of migrant workers on the rural-urban fringes of Beijing From 2011-2013, I co-directed the India-China Global Semester Abroad program, and an Environment, Health, and Development seminar at Beijing University. In 2013, I was awarded the Howard Johnson Excellence in Teaching Award, and, in the same year, the Duke Engage Excellence in Student Mentoring Award. for many years I was on the advisory board of the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), the leading trans-regional labor activist organization in East Asia ( I serve on the editorial board of the China Environment and Wealth Series at the University of Amsterdam Press, the journal Identities, and several other press and online ventures.

I have has served on curriculum, hiring, and assessment committees at the Duke Kunshan campus in China, and was a core member on the committee that authored DKU’s global liberal arts curriculum. I offer courses on "Global Apple, “Migrant China,” “Environmental, Health and Development in China,” “Anthropology and Film,” “Global Environmentalism and the Politics of Nature,” “Theorizing the Anthropocene." My most recent new course, offered in the Spring of 2022, is “Under Surveillance: Everyday Digital Life.”  

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