Behind the curtain walls : lifeworlds of migrant construction workers in Beijing

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Behind the curtain walls : lifeworlds of migrant construction workers in Beijing

 

Author: Leung, Hoi-shuen
Title: Behind the curtain walls : lifeworlds of migrant construction workers in Beijing
Degree: M.Phil.
Year: 2010
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Construction workers -- China -- Beijing
Migrant labor -- China -- Beijing
Department: Dept. of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: ix, 138 p. : ill. ; 30 cm.
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b2393046
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/5952
Abstract: The skyline of Beijing has been under constant and rapid metamorphosis since economic reforms were introduced three decades ago but its property market did not become a hotspot for domestic and international investment until the time when it was awarded the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Behind these bulging figures is the growing demand for large numbers of construction workers which the city is in short supply. As expected, Beijing became a magnet for endless migrant workers seeking better jobs and economic opportunities. However, previous research has indicated that abuse of migrant workers in construction industry is common but only harder to detect as the work environment is usually open, outdoor and shifting constantly, and the many of these workers are working seasonally. In spite of the exploitative work conditions, often including long working hours, inadequate insurance coverage, safety hazards and frequent wage defaults, many migrant workers seem to be willing to engage in construction work. Inspired by Burawoy's theory of despotism and hegemony and based on findings using semi-structured in-depth interviews, this study explores the lifeworlds of the construction workers in Beijing and their reasons for staying in the industry, highlighting in particular the appeals as well as predicaments of their work conditions and the social situations that propel them into taking collective actions to defend themselves against hegemonic practices imposed on them by their employers and sub-contractors. The research concludes that contrary to common stereotypes, these migrant workers are no longer passive victims but active agents resisting unfair treatments and exploitation. In this context, the appropriateness of the notion of despotic hegemony, when applied in the Chinese setting, needs to be reconsidered.

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