Reimagining Informality: A Microhistorical Study of Shifting Formal/Informal Boundaries in Post-Socialist China


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Early Career Fellowships


Business Humanities and Law

Named Award



This project explores informality in the context of transition era China, from the 1970s through the 1980s. Drawing on unconventional sources collected from flea markets, "Reimagining Informality" applies the tools and frameworks of microhistory to analyze thousands of decommissioned case files of marginalized actors who were prosecuted by state agencies in the 1970s and 1980s. More specifically, this project aims to: 1) map the structure of informal networks of state and non-state actors; 2) categorize the collusive practices by which they pursued economic opportunities and circumvented institutional constraints; 3) reveal the agentic role of local administrators in reshaping the institutional context. This analysis will show how formal/informal boundaries are fluid, socially constructed, and historically contingent.