Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Ching Kwan Lee ─ Precarization or Empowerment? Reflections on Recent Labor Unrest in China

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

12 p.m.

Birkelund Board Room

Lunch will be available at 11:45

Labor scholars have highlighted the predicament of “precarization” besetting the working class everywhere in the 21st Century. Beneath the “proletariat” now stands the “precariat”, for whom exploitation seems like a privilege compared to constant exclusion from the labor market. Amidst world-wide employment informalization and decimation of workers’ collective capacity, media reports and academic writings on Chinese workers in the past several years have singularly sustained a curious discourse of worker empowerment. Strikes in some foreign invested factories have inspired claims of rising working class power. Examining the Chinese peculiarity of the global phenomenon of precarization and the dynamics of recent strikes, this paper argues against the empowerment thesis while also suggests some parameters of change for analyzing Chinese labor politics.

Ching Kwan Lee is a professor of sociology at UCLA

China Initiative

The format of the China Initiative research seminar is an hour and a half long discussion of a pre-circulated working paper. There is no presentation but an informal discussion of the paper. Attendees will include graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty who share an interest in the China Initiatives broad areas of interdisciplinary scholarship (http://watson.brown.edu/events/series/china-initiative)