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Welfare for Migrant Factory Workers: Moral Struggles and Politics of Care under Market Socialism

Project description

From socialist countries to ‘factories of the world’

Is it possible for socialist social welfare to successfully co-exist with the market economy? The EU-funded WelfareStruggles project turned to China and Vietnam to answer this question. Both countries transformed from centrally planned economies into today’s market economies. They remained under the Communist party’s political monopoly while adopting a system now termed ‘market socialism.’ The transformation has been fuelled by the labour of millions of migrant factory workers from rural areas. In this context, the project will research the welfare of migrant factory workers and their families. By taking an ethnographic approach and carrying out a comparative social policy analysis, it will shed light on the politics of care underlying the provision of welfare in China and Vietnam, which have come to be known as the factories of the world.


The transformation of China and Vietnam from centrally planned economies into today’s market economies has been fuelled by the labour of millions of migrant factory workers from rural areas. These countries started reforming at the turn of the 1980s, embracing marketisation while remaining under the Communist party’s political monopoly, a system now commonly termed market socialism. In what seems to be a reversal of the wider trends of austerity, there has been rapid expansion of social protection, much like what has been happening in other Global South contexts. While the shifts indicate state and societal responses to the social conflict and tension induced by marketization, they in turn have been foregrounded by the politics around how different groups of people should be cared for, politics that are part of wider moral struggles between actors in the new economy. Given their underclass status and their salience as a social force, the question of the migrant factory workers’ welfare is critical for the understanding of the on-going shifts in these countries’ welfare systems. WelfareStruggles is aimed at uncovering the politics of care underlying the provision of welfare for migrant factory workers in China and Vietnam. It does so through a comparative investigation that has two ground-breaking features: 1) the combination of ethnography with comparative social policy analysis, and 2) a translocal approach that takes into account the workers and their families’ negotiation for welfare across the city and the countryside. The comparison is expected to generate path-breaking knowledge about the variable moral dynamics of market socialist welfare. The knowledge will be essential for understanding the momentous yet little-known transformations of Global South welfare and has wider relevance to policy makers and organisations working with analysing and formulating solutions to the welfare needs of the migrant labour force in Vietnam, China and beyond.



Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 325,00
Universitaetsstrasse 25
33615 Bielefeld

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Detmold Bielefeld, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)