China’s export-led manufacturing model has been built on extensive exploitation of its migrant workforce under a despotic labor regime, but the methods of control have shifted considerably during the past decade and a half. This article examines new modes of domination over Chinese factory workers, based on fieldwork conducted while the author was living with workers at a foreign-invested garment factory in southern China. The article shows how mechanisms to control the workers are embedded today not only in directly coercive practices but also in a new shop floor culture with affective personal ties and implicit bargaining in wage systems. Against the scholarly literature of management controls that emphasizes rupture and discontinuity between labor regimes, this article argues that China’s emerging labor regime, here referred to as “conciliatory despotism,” inherits despotic features of the labor regime exercised in the 1990s but adds new normative measures of soft control that seek to conciliate worker resentments. This hybrid form of management control represents a stage in China’s evolving labor-management relations in which workers possess more implicit power and can push management into greater concessions than previously.
- Conciliatory despotism
- Factory workers
- Labor regimes
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Political Science and International Relations