Sociology in Times of Crisis: Chen Da, National Salvation and the Indigenization of Knowledge
Chen Da was one of the foremost sociologists of China from the 1920s to the 1940s. His intellectual habitus took shape from the long crisis that defined Chinese intellectual life from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, a period of continuous imperial assault on Chinese sovereignty. As China integrated into the capitalist world-system, neo-Confucian structures of knowledge came into question. Intellectuals took up sociology to guide China’s transition from an empire to a nation-state. Through his studies on labor, migration, and population, Chen Da contributed to the institutionalization of sociology in China. Chen sought to craft a theory of Chinese development that followed universal trajectories of progress but was also attuned to the complexity of Chinese society on the ground. Through his efforts to indigenize sociology, Chen developed a non-Marxist historical materialism, a deterritorialized and pluralistic conceptualization of China as a nation, and a theory of eugenic transformation centered on the concept of “mode of living.” The questions which Chen Da confronted are emblematic of the predicament faced by Chinese social scientists today, who again struggle with the dynamics of a deterritorialzied “Greater China,” rising social fragmentation, and refigured eugenic discourses and policies that aim to craft the Chinese people into ideal national subjects fit for post-socialist development.
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