Gifting as Governance: NGO Service Projects and Disciplinary Power in Rural Migrant Settlements in China

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


In contemporary China, migrant workers have gathered in urban villages and formed communities of their own. The regulative power of the state has not fully penetrated these enclaves, thus creating opportunities for NGOs to shoulder many of the ongoing welfare responsibilities. The primary goal of this study was to explore how NGO service projects can generate a new type of disciplinary power through give-and-take practices. I argue that service projects allow the givers to transform their economic power and social resources into political power, through which social inequality is obscured, legitimised, and translated into the delivery of ‘love’, ‘caring’ and ‘compassion’. Such political power also delivers middle-class values and lifestyles to rural migrants, who feel obligated to transform their subjectivities in order to reciprocate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-171
Number of pages19
JournalAnthropological Forum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • China
  • gift exchange
  • governance
  • NGOs
  • Urban villages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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