Mobile phone use among migrant factory workers in South China: Technologies of power and resistance

Yinni PENG*, Susanne Y.P. Choi

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)553-571
    Number of pages19
    JournalChina Quarterly
    Issue number215
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Development
    • Political Science and International Relations

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Labour politics
    • Managerial control
    • Migrant workers
    • Mobile phone use
    • South China
    • Worker resistance


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