Rural men in urban China: masculinity and identity formation of male peasant workers


This thesis explores male peasant workers’ identity formation in contemporary post-Mao China. It is a qualitative study of 28 male peasant workers. Adopting an interpretivist perspective, this thesis uses a multi-method approach, including life histories, ethnography and discourse analysis. A primary purpose is to address the absence of male peasant workers from the literature on gender and migration as a gendered category and the reductive public representation of them through government and media images. In response, the thesis argues for the need to address the men’s self-representation in the construction of their dislocated masculine identities. There is a specific focus on their gendered experiences within the family and the workplace. The thesis examines the interconnections between gender, class and other social categories. A key argument is that the men’s narratives serve to challenge the assumptions of elite commentators that the rural men’s low status is a result of their continuing to occupy a traditional cultural habitus and thus failing to take up a modern urban identity and lifestyle. Such a position assumes that tradition and modernity exist in an oppositional logic, with the former being displaced by the latter. In contrast, my empirical work clearly illustrates a more complex picture. The male peasant workers deploy traditional cultural practices, such as xiao (dao) (filial piety), as a resource to develop ‘modern’ masculine identities as urban workers

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