Rui Jie Peng

I am an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Lafayette College. I am a sociologist and ethnographer studying labor, gender, ethnicity, migration and development from global and transnational perspectives. I received my Ph.D. degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

My current book project is a deep ethnography of marginalized ethnic-minority Qiang women in Sichuan Province, right next to Tibet. These are mothers in their 40s-60s who live and work in Himalayan highland Qiang villages, while their other adult family members have migrated to cities to find work in precarious labor markets. I spent fifteen months doing intensive and embodied ethnographic research, working along the Qiang women, participating in family and community events, and conducting interviews. While much of the literature on labor migrations focuses on workers, and the wages they send “back home,” I develop a theoretical argument that centers on the demanding labor tasks the “life-behind” women taken on in socially reproducing migrant labor force, family, and ethnic community.


My analyses focus on labor practices, gender and generational relations, and state-society interactions reveal the consequences of China’s headlong pursuit of globalized capitalism in marginalized ethnic-minority communities. By focusing on women’s invisiblized labor, I also demonstrate the everyday politics and social participation in China’s development. These lived experiences, in turn, provide an index to the steadily growing labor market precarity and rampant rural-urban, gender, and ethnic inequalities.


This research has received support from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, and International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Foundation.

I have maintained ongoing research interests in China’s increasing investments in development projects in the Global South. For my master’s thesis, I use ethnography to examine the socio-political structures and the ensuing interactional dynamics of a transnational workplace created in China’s development projects in other Global South nations. Fluent in Spanish, I conducted intensive fieldwork and in-depth interviews with both the Chinese and Ecuadorian construction workers in a Chinese state-sponsored hydroelectric project in Ecuador.


My broader intellectual agenda is to better understand how socio-political change in the Global South shapes landscapes of inequality, social exclusion, and how people engage with and contest development priorities imposed by the state and capital.


For publications, see Publications. For more on me, see my CV.