Christof is working on a book manuscript based on his doctoral research that deals with performances of state boundaries in rural development in Sichuan Province. During 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork between 2013 and 2015, he studied the bureaucratic administration of state assistance for the poor as well as NGO initiatives promoting ecological agriculture and rural cooperatives. Bringing the ‘stategraphy’ approach (Thelen et al. 2014) to the People’s Republic of China, the dissertation adds a focus on performance to this relational approach for the ethnographic study of states. Taking projects and policies that call for citizen participation as empirical cases, Christof examines how state officials and other citizens situationally perform the boundary between what they regard as state and non-state. These performances in front of different audiences decide about access to diverse kinds of resources such as grants for rural development projects, purchasing power of urban middle-class consumers, or labour contributions of, and welfare benefits for, rural citizens.
Furthermore, the analytical focus on ‘performative boundary work’ questions (sub-)disciplinary divisions and speaks to debates beyond political anthropology in kinship studies, (post-)socialist anthropology and agro-food studies. Exploring performed state boundaries not only opens new perspectives on the Chinese state that do not depend on presumptions of authoritarian, socialist or cultural otherness but also invites a fresh look on participation in ‘Western democracies’ and elsewhere.