The “Foreigner” in China's Corporate Labor Market: A Critical Race Perspective on Skilled Migration

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
James FARRER , Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan
This paper weds field theory to critical race theory to conceptualize the interethnic competition among actors in the multinational field of corporate employment in China’s most global city Shanghai. In sum, the field of corporate work is constituted as a field of relationships and activities in which ethnic social, cultural and symbolic capital serve as field-relevant resources. In this field “highly skilled” migrants working in Shanghai are hired in part for their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, so that ethnic and national identity are part of the cultural constructions of technical “skills.” There thus can be no separation between purely technical and culturally based accounts of human capital within this field. Rather the field of corporate labor is revealed to be a site of ethnic and racial micropolitics, including forms of ethnic “boundary work” through which actors claim and contest a position in the racially and ethnically stratified field. Grounded in a long-term ethnographic study with over three hundred in-depth interviews, this approach provides an account of the changing position of the foreign skilled migrant in the corporate labor force in Shanghai from the 1980s to the 2010s, a period in during which expatriates transition from a dominant field position as incumbents who defined the “rules of the game” for employment, to challengers who must defend a marginal position within a much expanded field.