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Class matters: An ethnography of class, work and identity construction among non-tenured workers in a Hangzhou suburb

Sargeson, Sally (1996) Class matters: An ethnography of class, work and identity construction among non-tenured workers in a Hangzhou suburb. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines whether contract and temporary workers understand and represent their position as employees in China's new profit-oriented enterprises in terms drawn from Marx's theories on class. A related focus of the thesis is an analysis of workers' interpretations of capitalist relations of production and collective social identities within work places and urban society.

The study utilises ethnographic data collected over a twelve month period in Hangzhou to develop a detailed description and analysis of contract and temporary workers' experiences and understandings of their participation in capitalist production, and the way in which capitalist production is contributing to the formation of new social groups. It examines this data with reference to recent cultural and political-economic theories of the social construction of collective identities.

The thesis contends that while workers eschew the state-authorised vocabulary of class, and do not classify social groups solely according to either ownership and control of the means of production or wage labour, they nevertheless perceive the employment of wage labour and exploitation of labour power to be central in contemporary processes of capital accumulation and social polarisation. The thesis demonstrates that workers believe capital accumulation and exploitation to be founded upon and, simultaneously, transforming, pre-existing patterns of identity and organisation. These patterns are, in enterprises, people's administratively defined status, their place, or territorial and institutional affiliations, and their social connections. In addition to these, outside the work place power and wealth and consumption are crucial foci for the creation of collective identities and modes of organisation. Workers' understandings of the complex manner in which capitalism is emerging in China illuminate the multitudinous forms that class relations can assume, demanding that we reconceptualise "class".

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Wright, Tim
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