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Elisa Tamburo is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at SOAS, University of London. Previously, she received an MA in Anthropology of Media in 2011. Her main anthropological interests include urban anthropology, critical theory, anthropology of memory, oral history, materiality, diaspora and post-authoritarianism.
While carrying out her doctoral research fieldwork for 18 months in Taiwan, she has been a Visiting Associate in the department of Sociology at Academia Sinica (Taipei). Since her BA and MA studies in Italy, Elisa has been trained in Mandarin and has undertaken long-term fieldwork in China (with fieldtrips in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Qinghai and Gansu), where she has been affiliated first with Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University and later with Guangzhou’s Zhongshan University. She is interested in carrying out ethnographic research in mainland China and Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora elsewhere.
My PhD thesis interrogates the relations between modernity and practices of everyday life in Asian cities. After the Chinese Civil War, members of the Nationalist army and their families were settled in dedicated villages (juancun) in Taiwan. Against the background of urban renewal, the dwellers of these historical, vernacular villages are now being resettled into modern high-rise apartments. Based on 18 months of fieldwork carried out during the year of the imminent relocation in one of the last military villages in Taipei, my research aims to understand urban renewal as a process of rupture. It asks how three generations of juancun inhabitants cope with relocation and negotiate their personal and collective memories, their sense of belonging and their social and political identities.
Dialectically relating architecture, objects, memory and everyday practices, and by considering modernity itself as an extremely ambiguous and dual force, I show how the inhabitants facing relocation are caught up in contradictory coping strategies: memorializing community life by looking at the past, while at the same time projecting into the future in an impulse of enthusiastic aspiration.
Further, I examine modernity as a force characterized by “extreme separation, scission and duality” (Lefebvre 1995:169), altering and reconfiguring relationships at the micro-level, while on a macro-level, separating lived memory and memory-places in the process of memorialization of vernacular settlements and heritage conservation. Throughout, the thesis questions the meaning of progress in capitalist modernity, while advocating for a sustainable and social way of dwelling.