Gendered and sexualized guanxi: the use of erotic capitcal in the workplace in urban China

  • Ling Tang

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This research discloses a gendered and sexualized dynamic in instrumental guanxi through an ethnographic study of white-collar workers in Shenzhen, an urban city just north of the border with Hong Kong. The notion of instrumental guanxi refers to a means of achieving tangible benefits in the workplace through purposively built enduring interpersonal relationships. This study is focused on female white-collar employees born after the onset of China's economic reform, and in particular women who work as marketing executives. The concept of erotic capital is incorporated into the theoretical framework of gendered and sexualized guanxi deployed in this thesis. The discussion of erotic capital in the following chapters is integrated into a resource theory of social exchange. The thesis answers the question concerning how women's guanxi strategy is different from men's. In doing so the thesis examines the male-centred standardized routine of guanxi in part through a detailed analysis of banquets and post-banquet activities that usually involve women as subordinate "erotic gifts". The discussion goes on to identify an additional four ideal-type characterizations of women as equal guanxi participants, navigating instrumental guanxi by deploying different strategies associated with each type. These types are "pseudo-brothers", "rational legal professionals", "the unreachable desired", and "unspoken rules followers". The thesis goes on to discuss the blurred boundaries that distinguish these five types of women's guanxi participation strategies by scrutinizing the power-interactive nature of erotic capital and how the endorsement of erotic capital in the workplace interacts with structural constraints that stem from gender norms and family expectations.

Date of Award18 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJack BARBALET (Supervisor)

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • Organizational behavior
  • Sex role in the work environment

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