Life experiences of young migrant workers in Shenzhen : implications for social work practice

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Life experiences of young migrant workers in Shenzhen : implications for social work practice


Author: Liang, Jianqiang
Title: Life experiences of young migrant workers in Shenzhen : implications for social work practice
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2014
Subject: Migrant labor -- China -- Shenzhen (Guangdong Sheng : East) -- Social conditions.
Migration, Internal -- Social aspects -- China
Rural-urban migration -- China.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: x, 287 p. ; 30 cm.
Language: English
InnoPac Record:
Abstract: This study aims to understand the life experiences of young migrant workers in Shenzhen, China and to draw implications for social work practice. Despite extensive literature on the impact of domestic migration and the labour market in the Chinese Mainland, limited attention appears to have been given to interpreting the life transformations, strengths and hopes of young migrant workers. In addition, the narratives of young migrant workers in the previous studies suggest that their interaction and collaboration with researchers are underestimated. More importantly, young migrant workers' socio-psychological needs both as individuals and as a group demand more attention from the helping professions, particularly social work. Following a participatory research paradigm, the author conducted a qualitative inquiry into the life experiences of young migrant workers. A narrative approach was applied to data collection and analysis. Observation, interviews with key individuals with whom the young migrant workers interacted and community stakeholders were triangulated to enhance the trustworthiness and credibility of the research. During his one-year residential stay in CD town (anonymized) in Shenzhen, the author collaborated with nine young migrant workers (six male and three female) in the narrative interviews. All participants constructed a rich narration of their past and present meanings of life.
The young migrant workers had not simply gone through a multitude of transitions from adolescents to adults, school to work, rural to urban. Analysis of their individual narratives, but which shared some common characteristics, revealed four dominant themes in a concentric circle: a) the inner circle is "identity bonded with family"; b) the middle circle is "livelihood with health concerns"; c) the outer circle is "connection to urban and others mainly through work"; and d) "facing the future" as a fourth theme that links up all circles. However, it was noticeable that their narratives included limited reference to their future lives. This revealed that they needed support in developing appropriate life planning to deal with the uncertainties of personal, family and social change. The study further discussed the dimensions of life experiences of young migrant workers in the context of rural-urban divisions in China that discriminate against them. From mere survival to trying to secure a decent life, young migrant workers had experienced transformations in their physical, social, cultural and emotional world. Their common expectation was to promote the economic and social well-being of their families and themselves. Their changing identities, experiences, consumption attitudes and life values dominated their decision-making. To inform the practice, the new and young social workers in Shenzhen should firstly establish confidence as peers and facilitators; also, they should develop cultural and political competences while working with young migrant workers. Considering the resilience of young migrant workers as their core strength, it is important for the social workers to further transcend the "helping" role to that of "supporting" and "empowering". They can create rapport, provide emotional support and assist young migrant workers in life planning. Furthermore, they can co-facilitate with young migrant workers in community building. Within an ecological consideration, they can also mobilize community stakeholders and other professional helpers to help young migrant workers to overcome the challenges of their life transformations in urban China.

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