Migrant Workers in the Pearl River Delta

Discourse and Narratives about Work as Sites of Struggle

Author: Eric Florence


With the introduction of capitalist labor relations into China certain attitudes, competencies, and values associated with global capitalism seem to be increasingly valorized. This article analyzes the values and principles ascribed to migrant workers as part of practices linked to modes of government. The author confronts the dominant form of cultural construction of migrant workers through the Shenzhen official press with migrant workers' own narratives about their experience of work (dagong) in the city as the narratives are mediated through two different sites, namely, participant observation, interviews with rural migrants, and a body of unpublished letters to the editor acquired from several magazines dedicated to migrant workers. The article sheds light on the ways in which migrant workers' narratives confirm or, on the contrary, contest the pivotal elements of the hegemonic construction. Three different narratives that migrant workers produce about their own lives and about Shenzhen are examined. These narratives range from affirmations of dominant discourses about migrant workers and expressions of disillusionment about such discourses, to strategic uses of dominant discourses to justify the claims made by migrant workers.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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© Arthur Jones, PhD