Papers on Labour

Thursday
9:00 am – 10:45 pm
Room 6

  • Linzhi Zhang, “Creating Art Dealership in China: Strategic Action in a New Market”
  • Ryanne Flock, “Beyond the hukou System: Marginalisation Processes in Urban China Shown through the Perspective of Public Space”
  • Qiujie Chen, “Escaping Metropolis: Lifestyle Migration as a Cultural Practice in Contemporary China”
  • Konstantinos Tsimonis, Igor Rogelja, “Labour Practices Across China’s Balkan Corridor: Embeddedness and Adaptation”

Linzhi Zhang, “Creating Art Dealership in China: Strategic Action in a New Market”

The meteoric development of art markets in China has attracted much media attention but relevant academic research remains scarce. The very few existing studies focus primarily on how institutions of Western origin such as galleries and auction houses diffused in China. In particular, a new-institutional perspective regards the creation of Chinese art markets as a process of imitation and limits Chinese dealers’ actions to mimesis and unintended failures in attempts to reach Western standards. Little justice has been done to the agency of local dealers. As a remedy, turning towards a framework that views markets as strategic action fields (Fligstein and McAdam 2011), this paper explains how Chinese dealers created a primary market of contemporary art by solving problems unique in the Chinese context. No ready solutions to these problems can be found by imitating Western galleries, which enjoy the benefits of widely-accepted regulations on competition in established markets. I argue that Chinse dealers rely on the networks they built, and the practical competence they developed from the exact practice of running their galleries. My explanations draw upon interviews with 15 dealers who opened the first galleries (between 1997 and 2006) in China and 20 artists who collaborated with these dealers. Unpacking the process through which Chinese dealers created an intermediary position between artists and buyers, this paper provides a much-needed qualitative understanding of art market formation in China.

Ryanne Flock, “Beyond the hukou System: Marginalisation Processes in Urban China Shown through the Perspective of Public Space”

In many developing and emerging economies, rural migrants are part of the urban poor, and many scholars argue: Those who earn their living on the street—collect trash, panhandle for money, offer services, or sell goods—have no alternative. Is this true for Chinese cities too? Are street vendors including fortune-tellers and beggars—who all depend on access to public space—the most marginalised among the unfortunate rural migrants?
This paper approaches this question by taking Guangzhou as a case study. The data is derived from fieldwork conducted between 2011 and 2014, including half-structured interviews with 52 street vendors plus fortune tellers, and with 42 beggars on their motivation, socio-economic background and urban integration. The academic interest in these social groups is still in its infancy. Thus, this paper offers new data and gives a more complex picture of the actors in Guangzhou’s informal street economy. It argues against common assumptions such as their lack of alternatives, low access barriers, or the formation of “gangs.” Moreover, instead of absolute concepts such as poverty lines or the idea of a definite exclusion through the rural hukou, this article focuses on marginalisation as a process which is based on institutional, social, economic and spatial factors. From street vendors in general to mobile fortune tellers in particular, to beggars, it elucidates their vulnerability and the threatening downward spiral. Eventually, to limit the access to urban public space comes to the fore as an important driver of marginalisation.

Qiujie Chen, “Escaping Metropolis: Lifestyle Migration as a Cultural Practice in Contemporary China”

Since around 2006, the emerging presence of lifestyle migrants with their hostel businesses in Lhasa city, the provincial seat of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), has shown disproportionately wide cultural influence across the country, has become the new jewel in the crown of Tibetan tourism, with many questions still to be answered: Who are these lifestyle migrants, for what purpose are they moving to Lhasa, and what do their daily lives look like once they have arrived? To decipher this phenomenon, three fieldworks have been conducted throughout 2018–2020 in Lhasa city. The collected data reveals key features of this group regarding their age, gender, education background, relocation strategies, and daily life, etc. It further provides a lens to examine the history of their presence in the city, unveiling both similarities and surprising differences between this group and its counterparts elsewhere in the world, as documented by scholars. By further placing this lifestyle migration in contemporary Chinese society in a broader socio-historical context, this study reveals the interlocking elements between the migration practice and the traditional Chinese culture of the elite—elements that reshape the image of contemporary Lhasa for Chinese tourists by partially incorporating its imagery into the elite culture, by which it largely contributes to the development of the regional tourism economy. Additionally, the study of lifestyle migration in Lhasa provides us with a possible new perspective for a more comprehensive understanding of tourism in China in general.

Konstantinos Tsimonis, Igor Rogelja, “Labour Practices Across China’s Balkan Corridor: Embeddedness and Adaptation”

This paper discusses the findings of a research project funded by the British Academy investigating the impact of Chinese investment on labour alongside the western end of the Belt and Road Initiative. Spanning both the European Union and non-EU labour regimes, the so-called “Balkan Corridor” is a key case study in examining whether Chinese investment creates downward pressures on labour standards. The paper traces the development of Chinese investments in the region, and the ways local actors interact with, adapt or contest the labour, and managerial practices that Chinese companies introduce.
Through in-depth interviews with unions, subcontractors, and regulators, we examine three key investments by Chinese SOEs: the acquisitions of Piraeus Port by COSCO, Serbia’s Smederevo steel plant by HeSteel, and Slovenia’s Gorenje appliance maker by HiSense. Our research reveals a more complex reality than the commonly-held perception of the Chinese as inherently exploitative investors and of host states as “weak” and dependent. On the contrary, we find ample evidence to support Ching Kwan Lee’s thesis (2017) regarding the “profit optimization” strategy of Chinese (state) capital that empowers the agency of local actors to protect their interests. Moreover, we find that labour practices are shaped in locally embedded relationships between business actors, host states and regional organisations, as well as Chinese investors. The cases examined thus demonstrate that labour-capital relations depend on the form of embeddedness of Chinese investors in local contexts which involve contingent modes of adaptation.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 6
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