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Cornell Contemporary China Initiative - Eli Friedman

Monday, February 18, 2019 at 4:30pm to 6:30pm

Goldwin Smith Hall, G76
232 East Ave, Central Campus

Eli Friedman, Associate Professor of International and Comparative Labor at Cornell's International Labor Relations School speaks on:

The urbanization of people: politics of development, labor markets, and schooling in the Chinese city


Over the past forty years, the urbanization of capital and the state have proceeded apace in China. Labor has also become increasingly urbanized, as hundreds of millions of rural residents have relocated to cities and found employment in the country’s vast manufacturing, construction, and service sectors. But the urbanization of labor has proceeded much further and faster than the urbanization of people—rural migrants have been included in cities as workers, but often subject to expulsionary pressures as full social beings.

This talk is centrally concerned with identifying the mechanisms that China’s megacities have used to manage the flow of people, investigating the ways in which bureaucratic rules are implemented and resisted in practice, and the social consequences of this regime of governance.

Based on more than two hundred and fifty interviews with parents, teachers, and administrators in “migrant schools” in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, I gain insight into a key site of informalized social reproduction for ruralites in urban China. I refer to the urban state’s approach to managing population flows as “just-in-time urbanization,” in which the aim is to admit just the right qualities and quantities of labor at just the right time.

While this utopian vision of a frictionless union of the appropriate qualities and quantities of labor and capital in space and time can never be realized, the social implications of this strategy are profound and grim: a new socio-spatial hierarchy is taking shape in which elite cities are reserved for elites, and nominally public services such as education are reserved for those who need them least.

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Event Type



Asian Studies, International and Comparative Labor, East Asia Program


isscal, chinacal, capscal




Cornell Contemporary China Initiative
Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Amala Lane

Contact Phone



Eli Friedman

Speaker Affiliation

International Labor Relations School, Cornell University

Dept. Web Site

Disability Access Information

wheelchair accessible; hearing assistance provided upon advanced notice

Open To

the public

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