Dancing with Bulldozers: Migrant life on Beijing's periphery

Knowles, Caroline. 2014. Dancing with Bulldozers: Migrant life on Beijing's periphery. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(1), pp. 41-57. ISSN 1360-4813 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper details two research encounters with Beijing in order to explore the connections migrants make with cities. The first is with poor internal, sometimes called ‘floating’, migrants in Xiao Jiahe on the NW edge of the city. The second is with UK migrants in the gated community ‘Capital Retreat’ on the NE edge of the city near the airport. Both locations are city gateways of different sorts. These (incommensurate) streams of migration are placed side by side in this paper, which explores migrants’ practice of mobility and the knowledge undergirding it. I argue that these ‘navigational skills’ are more appropriate to the analysis of migration than definitions based on formal educational and occupational skills, or simplified generalizations about motives, generally used by migration scholars. Comparing the two groups of migrants for their navigational skills reveals their similarities and differences: it displays the imagination and flexibility of internal migrants and the fears and difficulties of UK migrants. Navigational skills have the added advantage of revealing migrants’ relationship with the city, which the survey data on internal migrants misses. From these two close encounters I suggest that the concepts intimacy and distance, protection and exposure, provide ways thinking more systematically about the connections these migrants make with Beijing and the navigational skills underpinning them, thus demonstrating the advantages of spatially dynamic, biographical and comparative approaches to researching cities.

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Additional Information:

The research on which this paper is based was funded by the British Academy. All names have been changed to protect informants’ anonymity.


internal migrants; UK migrants; Beijing; city\-making

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR)



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Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2014 11:22

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 11:07

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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