Entrepreneurial Aspiration: Money and Social Life among Rural Migrants in Shanghai


Since de-collectivization and economic liberalisation in the early 1980s, people from villages and small towns have been flowing into cities in China. The rural-urban migration has arisen along with the great socio-economic restructuring in contemporary China. Excluded by the state’s household registration system and capitalist market, rural migrants are often seen as the symptom of China’s pathological transformation. However, based on an ethnography of rural migrants in Shanghai, my dissertation suggests that these migrants understand the great socio-economic transformation as an opportunity for entrepreneurship. My dissertation argues that rural migrants’ entrepreneurial aspirations should not be understood as the power effects of neoliberalism on subject-making; rather they are related to their understanding of the emerging society and their position within it with reference to the money economy. My dissertation presents an analysis of rural migrants’ own understandings of the great socio-economic transformations that have taken place in contemporary China. With labour migration and the expanding money economy, an ambivalent “society” emerges from family, community and state. The economy---the operation of the market, the circulation of money, the organization of labour---overlaps with family and state, and destabilizes the moral unity and power hierarchy of them respectively. My ethnographic analysis demonstrates that money mediates my informants’ understandings of the emerging society. Money here is not the specific medium of the economic sphere but enables the emergent society to develop its own contingency. The emergent society promises inclusion through entrepreneurship but also involves dangerous frauds. The relationship between the economy and society should not be understood in terms of moral embeddedness and the control of power but in terms of contingency. The person is included in the emergent society not through moral solidarity and political action but through entrepreneurial aspiration. Entrepreneurial aspirations are not personal dreams, nor the specific cultural practices of particular groups, but a structural feature of the great transformation of society in contemporary China

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Last time updated on 14/02/2019

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