Quaderns-e/Institut Catala d’Antropologia, 18 (2), February 2014.
Chinatowns, often considered exotic touristic centers, sites of otherness or global incursions, actually highlight both global social movements and complex urban meanings. The mass migration of millions of Chinese across the world since the mid-19th century has fostered distinctive global heterotopias and transnational populations simultaneously localized in myriad host cities and nations. Hence the meanings of individual Chinatowns, including their roles in urban conflict, must be read ethnographically and comparatively through the wider set of Chinese enclaves worldwide. This essay, building on Saussure, Foucault, Lefebvre, and Turner as well as collaborative fieldwork, argues that Chinatowns constitute key symbols of urban problematic of culture, class and morality legible through paradigmatic and syntagmatic readings in a global dialectic.