Carwyn James  Morris

Carwyn James Morris

PhD candidate in Human Geography & Urban Studies

Department of Geography and Environment

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Key Expertise
Mobility & stillness, Migration, Digital activism, Spatial governmentality

About me

My research is at the intersection of Human Geography, Digital Geography and Media and Communications, and my geographic focus is urban China. My doctoral research is funded by a full, three year Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral Scholarship. I received additional support via a final year writing up grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. I hold an MSc in China in Comparative Perspective from LSE’s Department of Anthropology and a BA in Chinese and International Relations from the University of Leeds.

My doctoral dissertation, ‘Life under chai: Spatial governmentality and practices of resistance in the digital and physical spaces of Beijing, China’, made use of physical and digital research methodologies, I conducted 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing and over two years of digital ethnography, predominantly on Weixin and Weibo. This project focuses on two groups of people; translocal migrants working in Beijing’s informal food industry, and young, well educated people engaged in contentious politics supporting migrant rights.

In my analysis, I develop three concepts; a digital spatial framework, dynamic stillness, and opaque and violent spatial governmentality. Through the digital spatial framework I take theories of human and political geography and apply them to digital relations, this is particularly important in the analysis of China’s ‘cyber sovereignty’ and mobility inside and outside of what I conceptualize as China’s digital territory. Dynamic stillness is used to analyse the scalar effects of displacement, it is an effort to give agency to those practicing stillness in the face of displacement. Specifically, I explore how mobility at one scale enables stillness at another.

Through opaque and violent spatial governmentality I examine how space (both physical and digital) becomes the medium for control in China. Opaque spatial governmentality includes that which may not be known about or recognized as a form of control. In this area, I pay close attention to surveillance and censorship as modes of repressive spatial erasure, and how the construction of digital space enables censorship. Through the concept of violent spatial governmentality, I examine how space is used as a medium for violent population control. In particular, I examine the demolition of physical and digital structures; chai in Chinese. In this strand of research I examine how the memory of the migrant and of political contestation is violently erased from China’s physical and digital territory. Throughout the thesis I examine the practices of resistance to these modes of spatial governmentality, focusing on dynamic stillness and (il)legibility.

I have recently won funding for a workshop on digital fieldwork and ethnography in China, a workshop to kickstart a book project on the same idea. I have extensive experience teaching and lecturing undergraduates and post-graduates, including digital methodologies, and am the recipient of awards for teaching excellence.

Thesis title

Life under chai: Spatial governmentality and practices of resistance in the digital and physical spaces of Beijing, China

Short abstract:
This thesis examines how the Chinese state attempts to govern Beijing’s migrant population, China’s digital territory, and how resistance to this is practiced. My four key findings show that, first, enabled by the pro-active production of governable digital and physical spatialities the Chinese state has mediated control through space, reducing interaction with the human body. Second, these spatialities emerge from and enable the production of governable populations, governed through demolition, construction and policing. Third, the state’s desires can be successfully contested by translocal migrants and those engaged in political contestation. Practices of dynamic stillness, mobility and illegibility are essential. Fourth, the state’s governance produces a spatial reality where space is extremely fragile and users of space are spatially precarious. Bodies are displaced, censorship practiced and memory is repressively erased. This research contributes to debates on the evolving state-society relationship in China, particularly how urban governance is changing. I show that the body, whilst displaced, is not the site of governance. Rather, space is the medium through which bodies are governed. I contribute a digital spatial framework, and offer a rare ethnographic account of (digital) activism in Beijing.

Research interests

Internal and translocal migration
Digital geography
Spatial power
Government control
Citizen resistance
Instant messaging
Formality and informality
Urban transformation
Practice theory


  • Pre-submission; Censorship as repressive spatial erasure, Information, Communication and Society. 2020/21.
  • Pre-submission; Dynamic stillness: Multi-scalar resistance to displacement in the physical and digital geography of Beijing, Transactions of the Institute of British Geography. 2020/21.

Invited speaker

  • Lancaster China Centre, University of Lancaster 02/2020 Invited speaker for the British Postgraduate Network for Chinese Stuides PhD Lecture Series hosted by the Lancaster China Centre. Talk titled, Spatializing hashtag centred political contestation: The case of Beijing Surgery and a spatial approach to digital relations.
  • EASt-GENEsYs Midterm Conference, Université libre de Bruxelles 04/2019 Invited speaker at the conference, Transformation of youth identities in East and Southeast Asia: Public spaces and intimacy. Talk titled, Fragile spaces: Hashtags and Instant Messaging Groups as Spaces of Youth Activism in Beijing.

Conference and workshop papers

  • Digital Asia, Lund University. Fragile Spaces, Fragile Memories: Controlling, resisting and being chaied in China’s digital territory. 12/2019.
  • Understanding the Social, University of East Anglia. Digital Space and Place: Socially constructed place in urban China’s digital space. 01/2019.
  • British Association of Chinese Studies, King’s College London. Visibility, fixedness, informality and physical space: Spatial power and resistance in migrant Beijing. 09/2018.
  • Xiang Biao’s Suspension Workshop, Leiden University. Suspended in Informality: The spatial and economic informality of ‘low-end’ migrants in Beijing. 09/2018.
  • Digital Asia 2018: Rethinking Communities in the Age of the Digital, Leiden University. WeChat Communities of Resistance: A Tale of Two Groups. 05/2018. 
  • 16th Chinese Internet Research Conference, Leiden University. Social Movements, Protest and WeChat: Ethnographic study of the post-Daxing fire movements. 05/2018.
  • Migration at Work: Opportunities, Imaginaries & Structures of Mobility, University of Antwerp. Forced mobility in the Beijing food industry: Governmental spatial power and migrant resistance. 04/2018.
  • American Association of Geographers Annual Conference, Boston. Translocal Migration and Theories of Practice: Understanding migration as practice through “mediated co-presence” and “reproduction of locality”. 04/2017.

Teaching record

Guest Lecturing:

2018 – Now: GY452 Urban Research Methods
2019 – Now: GY144 London Lab
2020 – Now: GY140 Introduction to Geographical Research
2018 – 2019: GY244 London’s Geographies

Seminar Teaching:

2019 – Now: GY144 London Lab
2019: IR203 (LSE Summer School) An Urbanising World: The Future of Global Cities
2018 – 2019: GY244 London’s Geographies
2018: LPS-GY201 (LSE-PKU Summer School) The Political Economy of Urbanisation in China and Asia: Globalisation and Uneven Development
2016 – 2017: GY202 Introduction to Global Development

Academic Supervisors

Claire Mercer

Hyun Bang Shin

Expertise Details

Memory; Digital geography and digital territory