Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Geography

Major Professor

Pratyusha Basu, Ph.D.

Keywords

Women workers, Rural-to-urban migration, Migrant remittances, Socialist economy, Globalization

Abstract

This thesis focuses on gender and scale as key aspects of the rural-to-urban migration process in China. Its specific aim is to connect economic and social reasons for rural women's migration towards urban factory work. Contemporary large-scale migration studies show inconsistencies and contradictions concerning reasons for migration, especially as it relates to gender. Thus, migration research often emphasizes the positive social changes experienced by women workers, in effect signaling that the most important needs of women migrants can be satisfied without economic gains. In contrast, the proposed study seeks to show that social and economic reasons intertwine within women's experiences of and explanations for their migration. The theoretical framework for the proposed study is based on postmodern understandings of gender, economy, and society. Data for the study was acquired through qualitative techniques, specifically through interviews with workers.

The findings of this study supported the thesis that both economic and social factors informed women's decision to become migrants. In addition, this study revealed specific experiences of women workers related to migration. Thus, women decided to become migrants largely because their education allowed them to gain employment in urban areas and ability to gain independent income. Although social networks played a large role in the recruitment of rural women workers, they were not necessary to find employment. Experiences of v vi factory work reveal that the relationship between women and their employers are less restrictive than expected. In addition, rural women's experiences of being migrants in the city, although constrained by timings of factory work, encompass both material and social forms of consumption. Overall, migration outcomes reflected changing social status of women in the rural areas. Thus, this research approaches migration as a dynamic process.

Embedded in this process are fluid identities of migrant women workers. Through questioning the meanings of 'social' and 'economic' migration, this research adds to existing studies on gender and migration in China and contextualizes the value of women workers to China's economy. Alongside, the study moves away from shop floor politics to the wider space outside the factory, thus linking urban and rural contexts. In a broader sense, this research aims to inform theories related to the economics and politics of migration through adding a spatial component to social understandings of the gendered migration process.

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