Rapid urbanization in 21st-century China has been fraught with contested demolition, overdevelopment and shoddy infrastructure with short lifespans. By viewing this infrastructure as having “high metabolism” and examining the urban scrap trade that is fuelled by its material outputs, this article challenges a common assumption that such a form of urbanization is merely wasteful and problematic. Crucially, such urbanization also puts rural migrants and scrap into motion in a way that helps to reproduce its form. This occurs by generating socio-material nodes of scrap trading wherein migrants make the most of temporarily stable situations with entrepreneurialism. The nodes are spaces of “suspension” shaped by challenges including cheap rental housing that is often targeted for demolition and frequent harassment from the authorities. However, the challenges do not prevent scrap traders from caring for kin, attending to human sentiments and sometimes achieving social mobility.
Liebman, A. (2022). High-metabolism Infrastructure and the Scrap Industry in Urban China. The China Quarterly, 1-15. doi:10.1017/S0305741022001606