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Building China

Roughly 260 million workers in China have participated in a mass migration of peasants moving into the cities, and construction workers account for almost half of them. In Building China, Sarah Swider draws on her research in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai between 2004 and 2012, including living in an enclave, working on construction jobsites, and interviews with eighty-three migrants, managers, and labor contractors. This ethnography focuses on the lives, work, family, and social relations of construction workers. It adds to our understanding of China's new working class, the deepening rural-urban divide, and the growing number of undocumented migrants working outside the protection of labor laws and regulation. Swider shows how these migrants-members of the global "precariat," an emergent social force based on vulnerability, insecurity, and uncertainty-are changing China's class structure and what this means for the prospects for an independent labor movement. The workers who build and serve Chinese cities, along with those who produce goods for the world to consume, are mostly migrant workers. They, or their parents, grew up in the countryside; they are farmers who left the fields and migrated to the cities to find work. Informal workers-who represent a large segment of the emerging workforce-do not fit the traditional model of industrial wage workers. Although they have not been incorporated into the new legal framework that helps define and legitimize China's decentralized legal authoritarian regime, they have emerged as a central component of China's economic success and an important source of labor resistance.
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Table of Contents

1. Building China and the Making of a New Working Class 2. The Hukou System, Migration, and the Construction Industry 3. Mediated Employment: A City of Walls 4. Embedded Employment: A City of Villages 5. Individual Employment: A City of Violence 6. Protest and Organizing among Informal Workers under Restrictive Regimes 7. Informal Precarious Workers, Protests, and Precarious Authoritarianism Appendix A. Methods, Sampling, and Access Appendix B. List of Construction Sites Appendix C. List of Interviews Notes References Index


About the Author

Sarah Swider is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wayne State University.


"In Building China, Sarah Swider provides a fascinating, in-depth, and deeply empathetic view into the diverse range of labor structures emerging in modern China. This book makes male migrant construction workers visible, drawing the reader into the complex texture of their daily lives through clear, almost novelistic, prose and extremely rich and persuasive empirical research."-Rina Agarwala, The Johns Hopkins University, author of Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India "Sarah Swider uses rich ethnographic materials in Building China to investigate a kind of worker rarely studied. Insightfully applying the concept of employment configuration, she investigates some of the mechanisms that push workers into informal employment."-Feng Xu, University of Victoria, author of Looking for Work in Post-Socialist China: Governance, Active Job Seekers and the New Chinese Labor Market "This fascinating book highlights a chilling fact, that the Chinese precariat is the largest in the world. As elsewhere, its characteristics are chronic insecurity, lack of occupational identity, volatile earnings and a loss of rights associated with citizenship. Migrants make up a large part of the precariat, as they do everywhere. The primary question is, Will the Chinese precariat join the precariat in other countries in demanding a new progressive politics driven by its unique combination of circumstances? Building China should be required reading for those interested in how the global class structure is taking shape."-Guy Standing, University of London "With this excellent ethnography, Sarah Swider breaks new ground in China labor research. She shares incredible insights gained while living and working with migrant construction workers and concludes that we need a new way of framing informal work-a concept applicable not just to Chinese construction workers, but to informal work worldwide.Well done!"-Katie Quan, University of California, Berkeley

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