Carrying the Old in the New: Economic Reforms and Social Reproduction in the Chinese Steel Industry

Schwendener, Catrina. 2023. Carrying the Old in the New: Economic Reforms and Social Reproduction in the Chinese Steel Industry. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis examines the implications of China's changing industrial policy for Chinese steelworkers and their families from the perspective of class and social reproduction. Since China's economic reforms in the 1980s, the work and lives of steelworkers have undergone significant changes. By focusing on steelworkers at Ma Steel, a state-owned enterprise in Ma'anshan, Anhui Province, the thesis investigates how these workers have not only experienced a shift in employment security, moving from 'cradle-to-grave' employment to the Labour Contract Law, but have also faced growing trends of informalisation of labour contracts. This change has led to a devaluation of manual labour in general and has also resulted in a stratification of the workforce employed at Ma Steel.

Meanwhile, since the start of China's economic reforms, the commodification of social insurance and changes in urban lifestyles have transformed the kind of lives people aspire to. This has affected in particular younger generations, who, to keep up with a certain urban lifestyle, take on large debts in the form of mortgages. This is significant because homeownership has become one of the central elements for marriage and full urban citizenship. Informalisation and stratification of the working class, however, determine the feasibility of obtaining a mortgage, further highlighting varying levels of precarisation within the working class. Overall, the thesis demonstrates that workers' aspirations for social reproduction as well as the importance of family support and obligations are central to their decisions, experiences, and perceptions of class, work and livelihoods.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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social reproduction, class, livelihoods, Chinese workers, state-owned enterprise, steel industry

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30 September 2023

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Date Deposited:

23 Oct 2023 14:50

Last Modified:

23 Oct 2023 14:56


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