‘Rigid demand’: Economic imagination and practice in China’s urban housing market
China’s socialist market economy is predominated by strong state-owned sectors. In the real estate market, the government further controls land and regulates social services based on property ownership. But how do ordinary market actors perceive this configuration and strategise their economic practice accordingly? Based on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article explores buyers’ and estate agents’ imagination of and practice in the housing market with a focus on the folk concept of rigid demand. Rigid demand (gangxu) refers to the belief that people have to buy a home regardless of price. Presenting how people invoke a range of referents and contexts when talking about rigid demand, I show that common Chinese market actors understand and approach the housing market not as an end in itself but as a mechanism devised and maneuvered by big market players such as the government and developers. Furthermore, actors believe that the market has a social purpose and is susceptible to agentive interventions. Ultimately, I argue that the social representation of the socialist housing market constructs and contests the legitimacy of certain economic practices and influences market performance accordingly.
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