Finding a place
This article examines the ways in which modernization and globalization are experienced, negotiated, and understood by women in rural-to-urban migration in contemporary China. In the last two decades, labor mobility in China has increased dramatically, with millions of people leaving the countryside for the promise of money and a modern life in the coastal special economic zones such as Shenzhen and in the global cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. This article discusses the narratives of rural migrant women working in the city of Beijing. A striking feature of these narratives is the variety of conflicting evaluations of place presented, not just by different women, but also by the same individuals. For example, the stated wish to stay in the city as long as possible often conflicts with complaints about the hardships faced there. Conversely, it is very common for women to describe their home in the village with fondness and nostalgia, but to say that they never want to go back. The author of this article aims to understand the conflicting evaluations and desires about both geographic and social place that these women express, and the dilemmas they face in trying to “find their place.” Key to the paper is an analysis of how local discourses on modernity, gender, and rural/urban difference shape — in both symbolic and material ways — modernization and globalization and their consequences for individuals' search for a place in the world.
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