1st Edition

Doing Labor Activism in South China The Complicity of Uncertainty

By Darcy Pan Copyright 2020
    212 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    How did labor NGOs come into existence in contemporary China? How do labor activists act – or not act – when the limits of state tolerance are unclear? With a focus on labor NGOs in South China and Western funding agencies, this book sets out to address these questions by investigating the dynamics of state control in post-socialist China since the 1970s, in which rapid economic and social transformations have cultivated an environment of uncertainty.

    Taking uncertainty as an analytical space, productive of emergent practices and discourses, this book draws on original fieldwork and interviews to study the lived experiences of different actors throughout the labor NGO community, the foreign donors trying to bring about change, and the networks of social relationships being strategically reconfigured.

    Doing Labor Activism in South China offers an ethnography of the Chinese state that reveals an intimate and complicit modality of self-governing, demonstrating how neoliberal ideas are at once represented by international development and deflected in grassroots development. It will be useful to students and scholars of Social Anthropology and Urban Ethnography, as well as Political Science and Chinese Studies more generally.


    1. Locating uncertainty

    2. Pragmatic state, precarious labor

    3. Uncertainty at Work

    4. The Politics of Mingan

    5. Intimating Secrecy

    6. Collective Action

    Conclusion: Laboring Through Uncertainty


    Darcy Pan is a social anthropologist whose research focuses on the state, labor, infrastructure, area studies specific to China, technology and urban development. She is a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University, Sweden. Her most recent work has been published in the Handbook of Dissident and Protest in China (2019).