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Mobile Phone Use among Migrant Factory Workers in South China: Technologies of Power and Resistance*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 July 2013

Yinni Peng*
Hong Kong Baptist University.
Susanne Y. P. Choi
The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Email: (corresponding author).


Comparing ethnographic and interview data in three contrasting production arrangements in a labour-intensive factory in South China, this article argues that while the mobile phone constitutes a new contested terrain on the shop floor and facilitates control and resistance between capital and labour simultaneously, the dynamics of control and resistance is contingent upon the exact arrangements of production. While the management strictly prohibit line operators in the assembly line department from using their mobile phones, they turn a blind eye towards mobile phone use among workers in the hardware department, and mandate mobile workers who are not fixed at work stations in both departments to use mobile phones. Diverse managerial control tactics have generated different patterns of worker resistance. Workers in the assembly line department employ strategies to evade managerial surveillance and continue to use mobile phones at work covertly. They also contest the double standards of mobile phone use displayed by the management. Workers in the hardware department challenge the boundaries of legitimate mobile phone use, and mobile workers use tactics to escape being tracked down by the management via their mobile phones. Mobile phones also facilitate the strategy of resistance through exit among all workers.

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2013 

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This research was supported by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. We thank our respondents at the Da factory who spent time answering our endless questions and enquiries. We also thank Michael Biggs, Aihwa Ong, Pun Ngan, Lui Tai-lok and Stephen Chiu for their comments. The first author collected the data, and both authors contributed equally to the writing of this paper.


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