Academic Writing.
Ph.D. thesis

"Producing Heterotopia: Traces of the Cinema in the Thick Space of Governmentality, Localism and Citizenship in 1934 Hong Kong"



The Project began as the quest for an absent history of the pre-war Hong Kong cinema, finally re-defined as the study of one year, an attempt to gain the first sights and sounds of 1934’s material existence, a year without monumental significance and before cinema turned full sound.


The choice of 1934 problematizes at once normative definitions of “significant events” and “film culture.” Upholding “spatial realism” (as opposed to conceptual realism), I refresh the category of “space-time” to supercede the “time versus space” dichotomy in history=writing, thus re-assessing standard historiographic categories like causal relations, continuity, progress, and structure-conjuncture to call  for revised narrative models. Spatial realism leads to the critical engagement with mapping, urban morphology, and a sought dialog between “production of space” and “heterotopia.”


I also critique the notion of film culture, arguing that pro-filmic events need not always be placed in the paradigmatic center to yield productive cinema history, whereas individual films and related activities can be unique nodal points through which factual and fictional histories travel.


A multiple-approach chapter scheme establishes the following: that cinema necessarily forums a continuum with other everyday life domains that quotidian micro-processes involving multiple players best illumine (the effect of) governmentality, and in Hong Kong’s case, one looks at the colonial administration’s pacification tactics in population management, the promotion of leisure via spatial reproduction, relaxing land purchase and rental legislation, and a bottom-up “Cantonization” process forging a local identity around a distinct shared dialect, Cantonese. Two key chapters trace my virtual walk through the urban space along key transportation routes, steered by thick description and free story-telling. I reveal traces of the government’s constant relocation of Chinese residential clusters as disciplinary measures, and how movie theaters spatially intervened into a minor district as it evolved into modernized urbanity. Seventeen silent and Cantonese-language films are investigated, following the order of their exhibition dates across 1934, emphasizing the textual transportation between cinema and other locations of cultural writings and moral exegesis, yielding a unique picture of production of citizenship via self-techniques. Adopting process-oriented narrative strategies, I have embodied both the reflexive historian and situated ethnographer, illustrating performativity in positive knowledge production.