Academic journal article China Perspectives

Three Generations of Women under the Same Roof: Work, Gender and Social Integration in a Migrant Quarter of Shanghai

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Three Generations of Women under the Same Roof: Work, Gender and Social Integration in a Migrant Quarter of Shanghai

Article excerpt

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Biographical material is a historical material like any other and is often more complete than any other, but in any case, it is organised differently. The question is to know what to do with it. How to produce, from a body of biographies or from the relationship of a biography to its historical context, a longitudinal understanding where something is gained from starting from a biography and not generic or synchronic observations? -Jean-Claude Passeron (1990)

The neighbourhood under study (1) was an old quarter extending around 223,400 sq.m in Putao, a neighbourhood in southeast Shanghai where migrants settled from 1940-1950, and more recently from 1990-2000. Located on the edge of the city, it is considered to be a penghuqu(...) or shantytown by Shanghaians,(2) whereas it is in reality a self-construction neighbourhood where households own their homes on city land they appropriated at the beginning of the 1940s. Certain of the wealthiest, who have moved to a more modern neighbourhood, rent out one or two rooms to newly-arrived migrants. The majority of people in the neighbourhood are more than 40 years old, that is to say 70 percent of the inhabitants, of whom 21 percent are more than 60 years old. Man- ual workers and retired manual workers make up the most representative socioprofessional category (80 percent).(3)The district as a whole has been renovated numerous times since the early 1990s: demolition of neighbour- hoods considered dilapidated with total or partial rehousing of their inhab- itants, and the construction of four to five-storey buildings and big tower blocks. In this mingongqu (...), (4) which is destined to be demolished in the near future, only those without the means to buy their own home or who waited in vain for the Shanghai local government to rehouse them remain. More and more people from neighbouring or far-flung provinces have been arriving, leading the more well-established inhabitants to ex- press feelings of mistrust or even xenophobia(5) that often run counter to their links of solidarity with their immediate neighbours. However long they have lived in the neighbourhood, several generations live close to- gether, sometimes under the same roof.

How has the social integration of the neighbourhood's inhabitants and their descendants come about over the period beginning in 1949? And above all, amongst the inhabitants of this mingongqu, what per- ception do the women in particular have of their place in the family and society? To answer these questions, the intergenerational angle will serve to give an account of the processes of the breakdown and re- construction of employment identity over several decades, a process that could serve as a metaphor for the construction, demolition, and reconstruction of the district's buildings. Moreover, the intersectional perspective (6) - through the intersectionality of relationships between gender, ethnicity, and class - would seem useful for highlighting these phenomena. Our starting point is the hypothesis by which different factors and social relationships - gender, work, membership of a gen- eration, even internal migration judged in the light of the importance attached to a permanent certificate of residency or hukou - combine to favour social integration, which cannot be unequivocal. Such inte- gration can be measured both in the light of objective conditions - sta- bility of employment, presence of a social network, educational level, and income - and in the subjective perception of people experiencing a system of social hierarchisation, the criteria of which have evolved but the reality of which has become more marked over the past 20 years. (7)

In tackling the individual dimension of history as told by the inhabitants of this neighbourhood, the succession of generations would seem to be an angle of analysis all the more interesting since it enables us to deconstruct an idealised - and highly ideologised - vision of Chinese society, whilst at the same time taking account of changes and historic continuity. …

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