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Nongmingong going online: an ethnography of the mediated work and life experience of the Chinese working-class in ‘digital China’

Zhou, Yang (2020) Nongmingong going online: an ethnography of the mediated work and life experience of the Chinese working-class in ‘digital China’. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004183


This dissertation, based primarily on 10-month fieldwork in the Weida factory in Dongguan, China and home visits with workers I met there, explores the subjective experience of nongmingong, rural-to-urban migrant workers, confronting China’s recent ICTs-driven economic restructuring in both work and leisure. This study contributes to sociology of labour research in China by addressing the new complexities brought about by digital technologies, and internationally to debates of digital labour and the future of work from the vintage point of the subjective experience of working class in Global South developing economies. Whether supported by the state or driven by market forces, digital technologies are becoming integrated into nongmingong’s life at an unprecedented pace, adding new complexities to the process of class formation. Incorporating the theory of the mutual shaping of technology and user/society into the larger framework of working class formation, this research takes nongmingong’s ICTs-enabled practices as the starting place for an intersectional analysis that considers class and gender, in order to understand their ICTs-mediated politics of class formation in terms of work and leisure. The findings show that ICTs-enabled jobs provide nongmingong with opportunities to improve the harsh factory working conditions and contribute to their economic security at a time of economic turbulence, allowing them to address their felt responsibilities and concerns in ways that are classed and gendered, especially as regards the family’s subsistence and upward mobility. The findings show further that taking up these opportunities positions nongmingong in various technologically-mediated production regimes, engendering different dynamics of exploitation and resistance. Politics of production aside, in the cultural realm the commercially-produced and politically-censored ICTs-enabled media entertainments allow them to negotiate alienating dagong (working for a boss) life, but they also confine them in a web of dominant meanings. In face of this discursive domination, nongmingong actively select and interpret media meanings, accepting some while rejecting others, according to a bitter and precarious structure of feeling.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Yang Zhou
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Livingstone, Sonia and Meng, Bingchun

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