Debating the State in Private Housing Neighborhoods: The Governance of Homeowners’ Associations in Urban Shanghai


This article examines the transformation of state power in urban China by investigating how the state governs a newly emerging type of neighborhood organization connected with housing privatization, the homeowners’ association (HA). Based on a series of extensive field research visits in Shanghai from 2006 to 2012, it analyzes the contradictory rationales behind HA policies in Shanghai, and elaborates the debates between state actors and non‐state actors on the boundary of state intervention. It finds that the state in Shanghai has engaged multiple goals in its governance of the HAs: regularizing the real estate market, promoting self‐organization at the neighborhood level, and channeling homeowners’ participation in urban politics. The neoliberal rationality of governing through subjects’ autonomy and a tradition of the socialist discourse on party leadership co‐exist in the state’s toolkit for governance. But the state’s capacity to coordinate these different governing techniques varies across fields. I highlight the dilemma a non‐liberal state confronts in cultivating self‐organizing and self‐responsible individuals. This contrasts with some of the studies on ‘China’s neoliberal state’, which argue that the bureaucratic system has been resilient in coping with the contradictions and imbalances inherent in neoliberalism.