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Alternative Pathways for Urbanization in China: Inclusion, Empowerment and Sustainability



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The twentieth century has been characterized by rapid urbanization accompanied by enormous urban growth and massive rural-to-urban migration around the world. The state-led urban expansion model of economic development that shapes China’s contemporary economy, systematically excludes farmers in general, and left-behind female farmers in particular, from its urbanization processes. Without integrating its large rural population into urban development, China is limiting its capacity for sustainable economic growth. Hence, if China aspires to become a high-income country by rebalancing its development strategies in more inclusive, equitable and sustainable directions, moving toward a more farmer-oriented urbanization pathway is vital. Given that male out-migration and females being left behind are the outcomes of gender inequalities within and beyond rural households, left-behind women, who are even more left out of policy discourses than men, need to be integrated into more inclusive approaches to urbanization planning. However, China’s land-driven, top-down model of urban development may systematically prevent the emergence of bottom-up approaches that would allow farmers to participate more fully in and to benefit from urbanization. To tackle these problems, this dissertation incorporates Friedmann’s alternative development framework, which is centered on inclusion, empowerment, gender equity and sustainability, to guide a holistic and systematic analysis. Through a case study of Chongqing, this dissertation first examines how one local state utilizes land resources to facilitate more people-oriented urbanization, rather than merely extracting land revenue. Subsequently, it also examines opportunities for left-behind women to develop self-empowerment through a comparison between left-behind and non-left-behind women’s empowerment status, using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index. Finally, integrated urbanization practices, centered on inclusion, sustainable development, and gender equity, are examined for their relevance to possible alternative urbanization pathways in China. The results of the two studies confirm that such pathways could evolve from China’s current practices in ways that are compatible with its present model of state capitalism, while fulfilling its aspirations for securing a socialist market economy. With an exclusive focus on the agency of farmers overall and then female farmers, specifically, this dissertation fills an existing research gap by providing a ground-up analysis of integrated alternative urbanization pathways in China, which depart from current economy-maximizing approaches.



Alternative Development, Urbanization, Inclusion, Sustainability, Empowerment



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy


Public Policy


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