Iron Bubbles: exploring optimism in China’s modern Ghost Cities

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Financial bubbles are generally understood retrospectively as ruptures or bursts, indexing some form of radical change. Conversely, this article proposes that when engaged ethnographically, bubbles are premised upon a collectively imagined continuity. Empirically, I unpack investment rationales in the wake of a local resource boom in a high-growth region in Inner Mongolia. Among interlocutors, anticipated price increases in property investments were not considered as speculation; investments were not hopes of a radically different future. Rather, they were imaginative ways of pulling a future of continuous growth into the present. What I relate as a present continuous. I argue that optimism understood through this temporal sensibility does not serve to freeze time but instead dictates continuity as the only possible kind of change. Finally, I suggest that collective efforts to adhere to the temporality of the bubble were also actively contributing to its collapse.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)579-595
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • ethnography
  • China
  • ghost cities
  • hope
  • optimism
  • financial bubbles


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