Can subaltern children speak? what China’s children of migrants say about mobility, inequality and agency

Gu, Xiaorong (2023) Can subaltern children speak? what China’s children of migrants say about mobility, inequality and agency. In: The Emerald Handbook of Childhood and Youth in Asian Societies. Emerald Handbooks . Emerald, Bingley, England, pp. 25-42. ISBN 9781803822839

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In this chapter, rephrasing Spivak's question into ‘can subaltern children speak?’, I reorient the research on China's gigantic population of children and youths in rural migrant families towards a critical interpretative approach. Based on life history and longitudinal ethnographic interview gathered with three cases, I unpack the multiple meanings migrants' children attach to mobility in their childhood experiences. First, despite emotional difficulties, children see their parents' out-migration more as a ‘mobility imperative’ than their abandonment of parental responsibilities, which should be contextualized in China's long-term urban-biased social policies and the resultant development gaps in rural and urban societies. Second, the seemingly ‘unstable’ and ‘flexible’ mobility patterns observed in migrant families should be understood in relation to a long-term family social mobility strategy to promote children's educational achievement and future attainment. The combination of absent class politics in an illiberal society with an enduring ideology of education-based meritocracy in Confucianism makes this strategy a culturally legitimate channel of social struggle for recognition and respect for the subaltern. Last, children in migrant families are active contributors to their families' everyday organization amidst mobilities through sharing care and household responsibilities, and developing temporal and mobility strategies to keep alive intergenerational exchanges and family togetherness. The study uncovers coexisting resilience and vulnerabilities of migrants' children in their ‘doing class’ in contemporary China. It also contributes insights into our understanding of the diversity of childhoods in Asian societies at the intersection of familyhood, class dynamics and cultural politics.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: childhood, youth, migration, China, mobility imperative, social class, emotional capital
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Business & Applied Social Science > Department of Applied Social Sciences
Depositing User: David Upson-Dale
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2023 09:18
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2023 09:18

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