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Growing up and becoming independent: an ethnographic study of new generation migrant workers in China

Fang, I-Chieh (2011) Growing up and becoming independent: an ethnographic study of new generation migrant workers in China. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Based on anthropological fieldwork in factories in China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs), this dissertation examines the process of ‘growing up’ and ‘becoming independent’ for young migrant workers from the countryside, especially in relation to their decisions about employment and marriage. In ‘post-socialist’ China, as many writers have observed, the old systems and ideas have not entirely faded away but new market logics have been imposed on them. Partly as a result of this, the process of achieving adulthood – i.e. the process through which young people should, in theory, learn how to position themselves as full members of society – is now filled with uncertainties. Old expectations about interactions with others have become invalid. This is especially so for young migrant workers from the countryside who, as I argue, possess a double social being, i.e. they are caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood, and who face the challenges of multilocality, i.e. they shift back and forth between rural and urban environments. For them, migration is a mandatory rite of passage, but one that often leaves them suspended in a position of liminality and uncertainty. The research found that young workers learn, in the course of migration, that manipulating personal networks is the most efficient way for them to get the resources they need – so that they can deal with the problems of uncertainty they face. They rely on the rather traditional mode of ‘interconnected personhood’, instead of developing what might be called ‘individualistic personhood’. Having said this, they are meanwhile enjoying the freedom, opportunities and symbolic values that individualistic personhood can bring them. They stand in between the two systems and typically avoid fully committing to one or the other. This is how they deal with risks and responsibilities within the constraints imposed by their background, gender, and class position.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 I-Chieh Fang
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Astuti, Rita

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