International Development Planning Review

Community self-organisation in contemporary China: efficiency, equity and affect in the process of institutional transformation

International Development Planning Review (2019), 41, (3), 399–418.


This paper explores the challenges of community self-organisation in contemporary China, where the retrenchment of the party-state and the decline of social cohesion under late socialism have left underresourced communities increasingly responsible for the self-provision of public goods and services. Through a comparison of two case studies – a village shareholding corporation and a community foundation – the paper identifies three dimensions of institutional choice in community self-organisation: the efficient maximisation of resources, the equitable distribution of resources, and the affective recruitment of ideological support. This analysis suggests both a tradeoff between efficiency and equity and a reliance on nostalgia as the basis for the selective mobilisation of affect. These dynamics intersect to produce programmatic biases that privilege the interests of some residents while excluding others. While new forms of affect can help increase inclusion, the initial choices made by organisers result in institutional path dependencies that prove difficult to escape.

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Author details

Smith, Nick R.