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This dissertation explores the reciprocity between technology rendered as industrial production and ethical civic culture in the contemporary urban condition, where the meaning of cities becomes predominantly oriented towards utility and efficiency. The research takes as its main case study Shipai township in Dongguan, the latter being one of the most famous stories of rural industrialization in China. The process of rural industrialization radically transformed coastal China in a mere thirty years and created an endemic topography with mixed horizons of reference and commitment, ranging from traditional to techno-capitalist registers. This fractured and fragmented condition represents a rich reference to explore one of the fundamental problems of contemporary city – how to reconcile a split between technology – its capacity for civic commitment – and ethics of urban culture. The two main questions the dissertation sets to address are as follows. What are the limits and capacity of technology rendered as industry to support an alternative more ethical civic order? What is a capacity of an industrial civic order to accommodate sustainable change and transformation of a territory for different participants?

The dissertation compares the most current incarnation of industrial city in China with historical precedents such as Detroit, Silicon Valley and Third Italy that reveal a cyclical rise and decline. Comparison is crucial in order to speculate on possible futures of industrial city as such, and to consider the unique capacities of industrial city in the Pearl River Delta – its local self-governance based on traditional rites and norms and split between grassroots and central governance. This dissertation's contribution to knowledge is tri-partite. Firstly, it offers a new understanding of the composite topographical order in Shipai, where references orbit around techno-capitalist and traditional topics at the same time. Secondly, it uses speculations on Shipai's future, based on the comparative case studies, to clarify the historical nature of a civic industrial order. The results of this, thirdly, allow us to offer a hypothesis regarding a set of conditions which support a civic industrial order capable of gradual transformation and sustainable change.