The Market as Social Convention

Rural Migrants and the Making of China's Home Renovation Market

Author: Lei Guang


This article analyzes the actually-emerging market in contemporary China as an institution that is shaped by the exercise of government power and by the social interaction of migrants, officials, and urban consumers. The author argues against understanding the market as an autonomous and de-contextualized institution brought about by the actions of rationally calculative individuals. Drawing on the insights of economic sociology about the socially embedded nature of market, the author pictures the emergence of the market in China in general, and that of the home renovation market in particular, as a messy social process full of distorted information, social bargaining over price, deception and manipulation, state repression, creative learning, and adaptation on the part of various agents in the marketplace. Using the life story of one migrant worker in Beijing's home renovation industry the author critiques the prevailing discourse about the market as an autonomous institution and illustrates the processes of social construction of the market in China.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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September 2005
© Simon Robins