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postgraduate thesis: Enterprising self and labour subordination in a transitional economy : a case of R&D engineers in a Chinese high-tech firm

TitleEnterprising self and labour subordination in a transitional economy : a case of R&D engineers in a Chinese high-tech firm
Authors
Advisors
Advisor(s):Chan, CSCLui, TL
Issue Date2019
PublisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)
Citation
Yan, X. [嚴霞]. (2019). Enterprising self and labour subordination in a transitional economy : a case of R&D engineers in a Chinese high-tech firm. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR.
AbstractThis study arises out of a puzzling phenomenon in China’s high-tech workplaces, which is how knowledge workers’ discontentment with their work conditions coexist with their autonomy from knowledge-intensive production. The puzzle is that workers wilfully engage in self-exploitative production despite their discontentment. To unravel this puzzle, the thesis examines labour control and the subjectivities of knowledge workers through the case study of a multinational Chinese high-tech company. The case study is based on two rounds of data collection over 27 months (March 2015 to December 2017). In-depth interviews, observations and text analyses of official publications and online forums were the main data collection methods. Drawing on Burawoy’s concept of the “production regime” and Foucault’s concept of “self as enterprise”, this study takes a multilevel analytical perspective to investigate the control regime in the high-tech industry. Key findings indicate that the case of this Chinese high-tech company represents a new form of production regime: neoliberal despotism. The regime is neoliberal in the sense that both the state’s governance and company’s management of labour use market rationality as their logic for governance and control subjects by shaping them into self-enterprising subjects who follow the rules of market rationality. Autonomy is authorised to workers under this neoliberal form of control. However, workers’ autonomy is largely restricted by their heavy dependence on employment and their salary for social reproduction. The high cost of living in cities further increases worker dependence on employment and aspirations for higher salaries. Given the heavy reliance on employment and salary to sustain their livelihoods, workers make the best use of their capabilities to develop their careers and obtain economic rewards. They are constrained to cooperate with the company and work to maximise individual and collective performance. Coercive strategies by the company that prolong work hours, constrict behaviours and violate labour rights become acceptable. The main driver of worker behaviour is pragmatic compliance rather than consent. In this sense, the control regime is despotic. Autonomy is given as a technique of control and does not result in worker empowerment. The neoliberal form of governance shapes workers into self-enterprising subjects who are responsible for their own personal careers and lives. The dependence on employment, constructed by the state’s individualisation and commercialisation of social reproduction, compels these self-enterprising workers to make economic rewards a priority, resulting in the phenomenon where workers go the extra mile at work against their will despite their given autonomy.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
SubjectKnowledge workers - China
Dept/ProgramSociology
Persistent Identifierhttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/274680

 

DC FieldValueLanguage
dc.contributor.advisorChan, CSC-
dc.contributor.advisorLui, TL-
dc.contributor.authorYan, Xia-
dc.contributor.author嚴霞-
dc.date.accessioned2019-09-09T07:21:32Z-
dc.date.available2019-09-09T07:21:32Z-
dc.date.issued2019-
dc.identifier.citationYan, X. [嚴霞]. (2019). Enterprising self and labour subordination in a transitional economy : a case of R&D engineers in a Chinese high-tech firm. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR.-
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/274680-
dc.description.abstractThis study arises out of a puzzling phenomenon in China’s high-tech workplaces, which is how knowledge workers’ discontentment with their work conditions coexist with their autonomy from knowledge-intensive production. The puzzle is that workers wilfully engage in self-exploitative production despite their discontentment. To unravel this puzzle, the thesis examines labour control and the subjectivities of knowledge workers through the case study of a multinational Chinese high-tech company. The case study is based on two rounds of data collection over 27 months (March 2015 to December 2017). In-depth interviews, observations and text analyses of official publications and online forums were the main data collection methods. Drawing on Burawoy’s concept of the “production regime” and Foucault’s concept of “self as enterprise”, this study takes a multilevel analytical perspective to investigate the control regime in the high-tech industry. Key findings indicate that the case of this Chinese high-tech company represents a new form of production regime: neoliberal despotism. The regime is neoliberal in the sense that both the state’s governance and company’s management of labour use market rationality as their logic for governance and control subjects by shaping them into self-enterprising subjects who follow the rules of market rationality. Autonomy is authorised to workers under this neoliberal form of control. However, workers’ autonomy is largely restricted by their heavy dependence on employment and their salary for social reproduction. The high cost of living in cities further increases worker dependence on employment and aspirations for higher salaries. Given the heavy reliance on employment and salary to sustain their livelihoods, workers make the best use of their capabilities to develop their careers and obtain economic rewards. They are constrained to cooperate with the company and work to maximise individual and collective performance. Coercive strategies by the company that prolong work hours, constrict behaviours and violate labour rights become acceptable. The main driver of worker behaviour is pragmatic compliance rather than consent. In this sense, the control regime is despotic. Autonomy is given as a technique of control and does not result in worker empowerment. The neoliberal form of governance shapes workers into self-enterprising subjects who are responsible for their own personal careers and lives. The dependence on employment, constructed by the state’s individualisation and commercialisation of social reproduction, compels these self-enterprising workers to make economic rewards a priority, resulting in the phenomenon where workers go the extra mile at work against their will despite their given autonomy.-
dc.languageeng-
dc.publisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)-
dc.relation.ispartofHKU Theses Online (HKUTO)-
dc.rightsThe author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights) and the right to use in future works.-
dc.rightsThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.-
dc.subject.lcshKnowledge workers - China-
dc.titleEnterprising self and labour subordination in a transitional economy : a case of R&D engineers in a Chinese high-tech firm-
dc.typePG_Thesis-
dc.description.thesisnameDoctor of Philosophy-
dc.description.thesislevelDoctoral-
dc.description.thesisdisciplineSociology-
dc.description.naturepublished_or_final_version-
dc.date.hkucongregation2019-
dc.identifier.mmsid991044138426903414-

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