This article can be found in the Special Issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs regarding Rural Migrants in Transitional Chinese Cities: Marginality, Agency, and Social Justice.
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Migrants on exhibition: The emergence of migrant worker museums in China as a neoliberal experiment on governance, by Junxi Qian & Junwan’guo Guo
This article develops a critical investigation of the recent emergence of migrant worker museums (MWMs) in Chinese cities. Though studies on migrant workers in urban China have examined in detail the state and popular discourses that construct migrants as uncivilized and inferior, limited attention has been dedicated to a more recent line of discursive formulation, which idealizes and romanticizes migrant workers as docile, hard-working subjects making laudable contribution to the development of postreform urban China. The MWMs are built in accord with such new discourses. With a detailed analysis of the MWMs in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, this article argues that MWMs depoliticize both the domains of labor and everyday life and render invisible exploitative labor relations by eulogizing migrant labor; advocating enterprising, self-reliant migrant subjects; and praising the generous care of the state. Hence, though the MWMs contribute to reversing the negative stereotypes of migrant workers, they can nonetheless be theorized as a neoliberal experiment on the governance of people and labor.