(Rural) Wonderland: Instances of Domestic Counterurbanisation in the Age of the Planetary City

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This thesis explores the ever-changing relationships between rural and urban identities and speculates on the future of the urban-rural dichotomy by affirmatively reading the ongoing process of commodification of the bucolic ideal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has stimulated a resurgence in counterurbanisation worldwide, which can be seen as an escapist reaction to the alienation /desynchronisation of urban life. Based on Neil Brenner and Christian Schmidt’s analysis of the planetary scale of urbanisation, one can conclude that, since there is no outside to the ‘urban,’ the modern rural-urban dichotomy has lost much of its relevance. Both concentrated and extended settlement forms, such as dense cities and the countryside, have lost clear dividing lines and mixed their mobilised inhabitants. This transformation is epitomised by the expansion of the Chinese Taobao village system: a significant economic development programme developed in partnership between the central government and the prime e-commerce and financial ecosystem that increasingly transforms rural areas into productive suburbia by creating large networks of differential urbanisation (i.e. what Brenner and Schmidt define as an intimate combination of urban implosion and explosion).

The presentation of rural life as a utopian, nostalgic and idealised condition is used to promote the authenticity of commercial activities, such as bucolic property developments and pseudo-natural products. Yet, what happens to this simulated yet desired 'rural' if planetary urbanisation is inevitable? This thesis explores the ambivalent effects of the commodification of the ‘rural’, evaluating the consequences of the end of the urban-rural dichotomy through a critique of the cultural consumption of romantic rural life images. To understand the popular perception of counterurbanisation, I investigate a major phenomenon on social media: Li Ziqi, a personality of popular multiplatform video production (Weibo, YouTube and Douyin). Li Ziqi is a Chinese video blogger who produces videos about idyllic and nostalgic rural life in China, concentrating on food and handicraft production in her hometown of Pingwu, rural Sichuan. Her subscribers on her YouTube channel are around 16.7 million, and the average number of views on every video is roughly 12 million. This case study is interpreted as an ambivalent process, where the reappropriation of identarian elements is countered by a form of cultural consumption of ‘rural life’ through images.

This thesis asks how simulacra can foster a change in the mode of production of the spectacle by appropriating disruptive practices (Video sharing/ e-commerce) that simulate/financialise counterurbanisation.
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Series of collage drawings exploring phenomena related to counterurbanisation
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Li Ziqi's tulou stage
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Cottagecore kit-of-parts
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Windmill TV towers distribution centre