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Precarity Diverged: Social Capital, Occupational Attainment and Spatial Mobility of the Chinese Rural Migrants

April 16, 201912:00 pm1:30 pm

Arguably the “precariat” of post-reform China, rural-to-urban migrants have long been seen as a unitary population highly unstable in both occupational and spatial terms. For decades, the precarity has been explained from the perspective of state and market: on the one hand, by the institutional exclusion under the Hukou Regime; on the other, by the low job security in the secondary labor market. Probing into their highly diverged career paths and migration outcomes, however, this research finds both the state and the market explanation inefficient and proposes a social explanation that emphasizes rural migrants’ active utilization of resources embedded in different forms of social capitals. Three types of rural migrants and three types of social relations are hence identified: “floaters” rely on peer support to survive career transitions, but latter on the reciprocal responsibility to support other peers often lead to a further career crisis. As a result, they frequently change jobs and dwellings without upward occupational mobility. “Sojourners” rely on family support to pursue entrepreneurship, but without community access to a monopolized market niche and facing a competitive market, their upward mobility is realized through ceaselessly changing occupations and business locations. “Settlers” collectively create a monopolized and lucrative business through the support of their hometown community, and thus fulfill their career development by further involving in the economic/ social activities of their urban enclave. In this case, therefore, occupational mobility is tied to spatial immobility.


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About the Speaker:

Thomas Peng is a Ph.D. Candidate in Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley and his dissertation is on Working Outside of the World “Factory”: Service Work, Inclusive Social Programs and Community Politics of the Chinese Internal Migrant Workers. Throughout his graduate study, he has been interested in how the daily life experience (or politics of everyday life) and work experience (or politics of production) interact with each other. His dissertation project, in particular, explores how the career experience of Chinese internal migrants shapes the social relations within urban poor neighborhoods/ migrant enclaves, and how this community-level social formation is interrelated with grassroots governance.  Before coming to Berkeley, Thomas received his M.A. in sociology and China studies from National Tsinghua University in Taiwan. His academic interests include labor process, work and occupation, (uneven) development and the Chinese working people, both within and outside of industrial sector.