Cyber-Proletariat and the New Subaltern Space

Zhu, Bangjia Joni. 2021. Cyber-Proletariat and the New Subaltern Space. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This research examines the condition of what has been called “cyber-proletariat” and the emergence of new subaltern spaces in globalised contemporary capitalism. It does so by engaging with the life of Tian Yu, who was 17-years-old when she worked as an iPad assembly worker at Foxconn in Shenzhen, China. In 2010, only 37 days into her initial employment, Tian Yu attempted suicide. While the Taiwanese electronic manufacturer Foxconn runs factories worldwide, the Shenzhen Longhua plant is the first and largest one, established in 1988. Shenzhen and the surrounding Pearl RiverDelta region are located in China’s Guangdong Province north of Hong Kong and areknown as the “workshop of the world”. This is due to the industrialisation that took place in the 1980s, as well as the technological industries whose recent rise has been linked with processes of migration and rural depopulation. By investigating China’s socio-techno-economic development and its relation to cybernetic capital, this research recognises the constitution of a new subaltern space. This space is further examined by engaging with the singularity of Tian Yu’s life, and through a reading of her suicide attempt as an act of resistance (against the backdrop of what has been labelled the Foxconn “Suicide Express”). Two lines of enquiry are of central importance in this context: first, an enquiry into the formation and conditions of the “cyber-proletariat”, a term coined by Nick Dyer-Witheford in his analysis of the relation between cybernetic capital and class; and second, a discussion of the contemporary production of new subaltern spaces, which draws mainly on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s take on the concept of subaltern. This research takes ‘to be removed from the lines of social mobility’ as the point of departure for the recognition of Tian Yu’s subalternity. Given that departure, this thesis analyses the processes of suablternisation and proletarianisation through singularity with a view of machinic conditioning of the cyber-proletariat.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Migration, subaltern, technology, singularity, cybernetics, Apple, labour, suicide, machine

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 July 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Aug 2021 15:22

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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