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Seminar: Julia Gabriel--Crowded with Potential: Bed Space Rentals in Urban China

Title: Crowded with Potential: Bed Space Rentals in Urban China

Speaker: Julia Gabriele Harten

Host: Guy Abel

Time: 11:00-11:50 am, Friday, July 5th, 2019

Location: Room 516, Sociology Building, East campus


China's planned mega-cities house hidden, informal residential markets. To hide in the formal built environment means crowding. This presentation documents Shanghai's group rentals market, in which commercial and residential units have been illegally converted into extremely crowded dormitories and rent is charged by the bed. To analyze this market in terms of target population, pricing of crowding levels, gender, and amenities, we collected more than 33,000 online classified ads. When we ground-truthed this data with fieldwork, we found systematic misrepresentation and collected a second set of "real" market data for comparative analysis. We find that Shanghai's group rental market targets young, educated migrants who trade-off crowded, informal living conditions for short commutes to employment opportunities in the central city. While many imagine migrants as laborers, contemporary urbanization has widened the bounds of marginalization: many renters are recent college graduates. We also analyze the limits and potential of web-scraped data. Comparing hedonic regression results across data sets, we find that both reveal the importance of location, the rational pricing of crowding, and differences in gender-based crowding. We also find that actual rents are on average 24% higher and locations are generally farther away from the city center than advertised. This paper highlights how little is known about the variety of (Chinese) migrant housing needs in relation to their livelihoods. It also evidences the need for greater critical thinking when working with new data streams and is a call to interrogate what this data actually can and cannot represent, as well as what and who is missing.

Introduction of speaker

Before taking up doctoral studies, Julia Gabriele Harten studied at the University of Münster, Goethe University Frankfurt, and Free University Berlin, earning degrees in business administration, economics, and China studies. She has working experiences inside and outside academia in Germany, China, Mexico, and the United States. Her research employs a trans- disciplinary approach that synergizes ethnography with the opportunities of critical digital data analysis. She is interested in leveraging new methods and data sources to study the hidden urbanism of those for whom cities did not plan and often refuse to plan: migrants.