Author: Han, Yuchen
Title: When migrant factory women return home : their life experiences in fast growing China's hinterland
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2014
Subject: Women migrant labor -- China.
Women -- China -- Social conditions.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: xi, 263 pages : illustrations ; 30 cm
Language: English
Abstract: Rural-urban migrant women workers are pillars of the "world factory" and chief contributors to GDP growth in post-reform China but for numerous reasons they return to their places of origin after extended periods in coastal urban centers. By interconnecting returnee women with the relocation of industries, capital, and institutional and discursive discourses, this study examines migration's impact on the lived experience of migrant factory women upon their return to the fast-growing hinterland. A feminist case study with the inspiration from the extended case method is adopted as the research methodology so as to combine structural Marxist theoretical discussion with post-structural analysis. Participatory methods involving both top-down and bottom-up approaches were adopted for data collection during the five-month ethnographic fieldwork in the district, township, and village levels of YTcity. By probing into returnee migrant women's lived experience upon return in regards to production, consumption, and familial kinships, I find that neoliberal discourse is the key impact of migration experience. Returnee women articulate neoliberal characters in several ways. First, they are efficiency-centered and self-disciplined so that the local government labels them as a "selling point" in order to import coastal factories to boost the local economy. Second, they subjectively enjoy the sense of superiority resulting from their higher market competitiveness and higher suzhi. Third, they are more motivated and capable in forms of resistance such as strike and petition, but their resistance is more intertwined with hesitation because they consent more to the factory production regime. Fourth, they are more conscious and capable in entrepreneurship and investment, such as in initiating small-scale production workshops and investing in housing. Fifth, they are more entangled with the value of market exchange. They even practice this value in building kinship relationships. Specifically, they increase their value in the marital market by enhancing their femininity via body-related consumption.
This research contends that returnee women's prevailing and discursive neoliberal qualities originate not only from their extended migration experience, but also from the neoliberalizing hinterland. The women are not the avant-garde introducing neoliberal discourses to their homeland, but more the catalyst in neoliberal discourses becoming hegemonic in the Gramscian sense. During this process, their own subjectification under hegemony is reinforced by both incentive consent, due to their "exemplar effects" in various life aspects, and coercive force from the collusion of local government and the imported factories. Further, in terms of women's liberation, I argue that returnee migrant women are neither liberated subjects nor simply victims of the era. While in some sense they gain more autonomy, they have more frustration about the female role in relation to neoliberal values and traditional patriarchal values. However, this also provides opportunities for them to seek personal space by balancing the two values. Under the collusion of neoliberal and traditional values, they are more depressed by the reinforced patriarchal power due to their higher suzhi. However, this intertwined situation also provides opportunities for them to penetrate and challenge the patriarchy and the hegemony of neoliberal discourses.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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