The Global Studies Seminar presents Leksa Lee.

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The Global Studies Seminar presents “Catching Ghosts: The Limits of Cultural Knowledge and the Fungibility of Kickbacks in China’s Anti-Corruption Era” by Denison University’s Assistant Professor of Global Commerce Leksa Lee. 

Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign has been ongoing since 2012. While China has experienced corruption for decades, the Campaign makes corrupt practices riskier and communication about them more indirect. This talk draws on ethnographic fieldwork with a private company that contracts with local governments to build new theme parks and museums for them. The company’s employees had navigated many requests for kickbacks from clients in the past. The extensive experience that they possessed has often been understood in ethnographic theory as a form of knowledge shared by members of a cultural group, a knowledge which the ethnographer hopes to access and explain. Yet in one project to build a theme park, the company’s employees spent weeks trying to discern whether they needed to “catch a ghost,” that is, give a kickback to their client, a local official. Lee argues that they constructed a schema of exchangeability, or fungibility, between a potential kickback they would have to pay, and the quality of the work they would have to perform - they might only have to deliver fully on one of these two things. Using their experience, Lee will reflect on the limits of insider cultural knowledge as well as the participation of the bribe in China’s larger political economy. 

Lee is an anthropologist and an assistant professor of Global Commerce at Denison University. She has lived in China for eight years. She writes and teaches about commerce and society, design, socialism and postsocialism, history and memory, and China.

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