Engendering Migration from the Margins: Rural Ethnic Women in Migrant-sending Communities in China

My current book project is an ethnography of how non-migrant and ethnic-minority Qiang women leverage economic, social, and political strategies to garner resources for their families against the backdrop of China’s rural-to-urban migration. From the private to public domains, I show how older rural Qiang women proactively perform farm labor and care work to maintain the daily sustenance and production of migrant labor. Confronting the uncertainties embedded in China’s rural development and welfare reform, these women also engage with the state to demand improved social provisions and protect their land from government expropriation. I conducted 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork of everyday labor practices of older women who remain in a migrant-sending village dominated by the Qiang ethnic minority in China’s Tibetan corridor. I worked alongside over 30 households to grow, harvest and sell cash crops and to perform care work. I participated and closely observed community meetings, events, and when women interacted with the market and government agents. Finally, I leveraged multiple languages to conduct life-history interviews with women and their family members and interviews with past and present state officials, teachers, and health workers.

This project answers the following research questions: 1) How do the economic changes influence resource transfers between rural family members and urban workers? 2) What are the labor demands on family members who remain in the village, especially on women? 3) How are gender relations in the households affected? By analyzing these rural Qiang women’s labor practices and survival strategies, I demonstrate the ways uneven socioeconomic development and steadily growing labor market precarity contribute to rampant rural-urban, gender, and ethnic inequalities.

China in the Global South

I have maintained ongoing research interests in China’s increasing investments and projects in the Global South. My article, “Racial Stereotypes and Intergroup Relations in a Transnational Workplace: How Workers Respond to Workplace Inequalities,” won paper awards from the ASA’s section on Organization, Occupation, and Work (honorable mention) and SSSP’s Labor Studies division. I examine the organizational structure and social dynamics in a flagship Chinese state-sponsored hydroelectric project in Ecuador. I highlight how the clash between distinct labor regulation regimes and national development objectives has created unequal labor rights and precarious work conditions. I further demonstrate how workers of different nationalities and racial backgrounds leverage racial stereotypes to make sense of workplace inequalities. I argue that these racialized interactions obscure the underlying logics of capital flows and national discourses, which can ultimately shore up labor segmentation and inequalities that accrue in transnational workplaces.

Gender and STEM Labor Market

I collaborated in an NSF-funded project that examines the gendered structures of labor market entry and retention among STEM graduates in the U.S. I conducted in-depth interviews and created statistical models to analyze labor market inequalities. I am a lead author of an article (with Jennifer Glass), “Creating Our Gendered Selves" which explores the intersectional experiences of racial minority men and women STEM graduates by focusing on their “gendered selves”—the precursors of labor market entry that contribute to different work expectations and comfort levels with STEM workplaces. We find that the process of aspirational fulfillment is easier for white men whose gender and racial identities fit the STEM workplace culture but harder for women and non-white graduates who have more diverse and flexible gender ideologies and anticipated household responsibilities. Our intersectional analyses contribute to the understanding of structural barriers women and racial minorities confront in a masculinized and predominantly white STEM workplace.