New Working Class: Return of Class Analysis
Pun Ngai (Professor at Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong)
Location: Room 106A, HA Building 2, NCTU
The promise of revolution by Karl Marx has not yet arrived. Meanwhile, the western academia has turned away from class analysis, as the western society has slowly progressed to be more prosperous and stable than it was since the end of WWII. Along with such progress, is China becoming "the world's factory" and "the world's construction site". A community of 200 million of peasant worker has slowly emerged. Whether or not to use class analysis to understand the social condition and the root of predicaments faced by the peasant workers has long to be a dispute within the academia. Not only because this implies whether or not capitalism's relations of production exist in China, but also this relates to different understandings on social nature and social conflicts under relations of production specific to capitalism and whether or not current social disputes are avoidable or solved without radical changes.
Class analysis emphasizes on the structural bases behind the conflicting interests in relations of production specific to capitalism. It highlights the unavoidable nature behind labour disputes between bourgeoisie and working class. It advocates only to rescue class analysis from silence, misuse and distortion, may the structural bases which create conflicts of interest that give rise to social injustice be directly addressed. A class analysis of the current situation would therefore suggest class consciousness and class struggle of peasant workers is crucial to solve the problem of peasant workers. As this is the key to change the relations of production and relations of distribution of capitalism , therefore the social relations.
While western academia is saying farewell to working class, Chinese working class is in the midst of a painful birth. In order to pave way for the rhetoric of individualism, professionalism, equality of opportunity and open market of neo-liberalism, class rhetoric is highly repressed and distorted. 200 million Chinese peasant workers are therefore born at the wrong time as they have been lived in a vacuum of class analysis. However, the direct actions initiated by these workers articulate clearly the presence of exploitation. These struggles unveil class structure and class conflicts, and call for the formation of class identity.
New working class is a product of China's relations of production and structural changes. It reflects all the social conflicts and antagonisms produced by the opening-up policy in these 30 years. What we can understand through "the world's factory" and "the world's construction site" is the birth of bourgeoisie which is represented by industrial capital and real estate capital. On the one hand, the bourgeoisie images itself elevated above working class and has taken up the leading role in contemporary social relations of China. On the other hand, we have witnessed the struggles and efforts the new working class make, together with the birth of class consciousness. Although we live in an age where class analysis is not popular, these class antagonisms and conflicts make themselves so explicit that even no one can turn a blind eye on them.
Pun Ngai has long devoted herself to the research of China's peasant workers and globalization, and is also a strong advocate in using class analysis to understand peasant workers' situation in China. Peasant Worker and New Working Class: A Research on China's Contemporary Class Issue, which is published by International Institute of Cultural Studies of National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, is her latest work. Coedited with Meng Jie, a distinguished professor from Fudan University in Shanghai, this collection is an important reader to understand the problem of peasant workers of China. The reader has gathered fruitful works by active intellectuals who have done researches on peasant workers in the near decade. As most of these authors are deeply inspired by the struggles and experiences of social activists, they are able to bring focus to working class in the age when class analysis is neglected in the academia. We believe that by putting the issue of China's peasant workers under the lens of class analysis, may we be able to understand China's situation in the age of global capitalism, and therefore be able to use a political-economic analysis to review China's entangled relationship with its periphery region and its socialist past.
Biography of Pun Ngai:
Pun Ngai received her PhD from University of London, SOAS in 1998. She is the winner of 2006 C. Wright Mills Award for her book, Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace (Duke University Press, 2005). Made in China is widely used as required reading in major universities in America, Europe and Asia. Together with Dying for Apple: Foxconn and Chinese Workers (co-authored with Jenny Chan and Mark Selden, 2016), these two texts have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Chinese. Two of her Chinese books were also awarded Hong Kong Book Prize 2007 and 2011 as the top ten popular book, widely read in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
She published extensively and cross-disciplinary in journals in the areas of sociology, anthropology, labor studies, China studies and cultural studies. Her articles appeared in Current Sociology, Global Labor Studies, Work, Employment and Society, The China Quarterly, Modern China, and The China Journal, Positions, Public Culture and Cultural Anthropology.
(本次演講以中文為主This lecture is in Chinese)