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Labor and Precariousness in China's Porcelain Capital



In recent years, scholars have turned to Bourdieu's model of precariousness to understand workers' experiences under neoliberal capitalism. Here I look at Bourdieu's ideas in relation to China's most famous porcelain production site: the city of Jingdezhen. Bourdieu directs us toward the shared structural features of job insecurity, emphasizing the political consequences of workers' alienation. Yet his universalist model cannot adequately explain how or why workers respond to precarious labor regimes as they do. In Jingdezhen, porcelain workers lost their state and collective sector jobs when the government mandated privatization and marketization. How they understood and responded to this experience was shaped by Jingdezhen's particular history, including the ways that decades of government policies had promoted reliance on personal networks, had made labor activism the exclusive purview of the state, and had given many Chinese a negative view of mass mobilization.