Running Horse


In her 2007 book, Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt, sociologist CHING KWAN LEE paints an intricate portrait of the two segments of the Chinese working class that have most acutely experienced the country’s changing political economy: laid-off and retired workers in China’s industrial rustbelt, and young migrant factory workers in the export-oriented sunbelt.

From the preface:

“Although unemployment and exploitation can be found in many places and at different times, peculiarities of China’s postsocialist conditions have engendered features of labor politics that defy conventional categorization. First, the law, fledgling legal institutions, and the rhetoric of legal rights are central to labor protests throughout China, even though very few workers actually believe in the effectiveness of the regime’s ideology of law-based government. Second, leading to the formation of neither a national labor movement nor representative organizations, the several thousand worker protests that erupted every year throughout the 1990s took the prevailing form of localized, workplace-based cellular activism. With workers blocking traffic in the streets, lying on railroads, or staging sit ins in front of government buildings, these demonstrations presented a palpable threat to social stability, at least in the eyes of the national leadership. What must be emphasized, however, is that workers’ cellular activism has thus far rarely escalated into large-scale, coordinated, cross-regional unrest.

What, then, is the nature of working-class agitation in this period of marketization and globalization? Above all, I have found that the communist regime’s strategy of accumulation, in the form of what I term ‘decentralized legal authoritarianism,’ both generates the impetus for and places limits on working-class protests in this period of market reform. This larger political economic context of reform shapes not only collective mobilization by workers but also popular rebellion in general, and therefore is a key to understanding the institutional foundations of China’s economic dynamism and sociopolitical tensions.”

Link to the publisher’s page.

  • “Labour strikes in China are always launched by unorganized workers rather than by trade unions.” Feng Chen on China’s quadripartite wage setting system. Link.
  • “This chapter investigates the role of social networks during China’s most dynamic period of urban protest (1919–1927) in Shanghai.” A 2007 book chapter by Elizabeth Perry. Link. See also: Perry’s groundbreaking 1993 book on Chinese labor politics in the early 20th century, and her 1980 analysis of peasant rebellions in Huaipei from 1845–1945. Link and link. ht Julian G.
  • Meg Rithmire reviews regional approaches to Chinese political economy, asking: “How have local governments differently interpreted and implemented national reform policies? What explains different decision-making regarding investments and growth strategies? And how have different local growth strategies beget different socioeconomic consequences?” Link.


The Great Migration and Northern Backlash

Re-upping a remarkable working paper (shared here last year) by soon-to-be Assistant Professor in Economics at UC Berkeley ELLORA DERENONCOURT, that examines the effects of the Great Migration on the distributional politics of northern cities.

From the paper:

“Northern cities’ responses to the Great Migration ultimately reduced the gains from growing up in destination locations. Those growing up in former Great Migration destinations today have lower adult income than those from similarly resourced families but in locations less affected by the Migration. In response to black migrant arrivals in the mid-century, white families withdrew from shared urban neighborhoods and public schools. sing data I assembled on destinations from 1920–2015, I show the Migration led to persistent segregation and higher police spending, crime, and incarceration from the 1960s onwards. Today, roughly 27% of the gap in upward mobility between black and white families in the urban North can be attributed to changes induced by the Great Migration.”

Link to the most recent version of the paper, link to Derenoncourt’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

+ + +

  • In the latest entry in our Phenomenal Works series, Mehrsa Baradaran, author of The Color of Money and How the Other Half Banks, recommends four books that “analyze the complex interconnections between politics, statecraft, and the economy.” Link to the post.
  • In a new paper, JFI Senior Fellow Johannes Haushofer and co-authors Darin Christensen, Oeindrila Dube, Bilal Siddiqi, and Maareten Voors, measure the impact of interventions in health care delivery in Sierra Leone—in “normal” conditions, and during the Ebola outbreak. Link.
  • A remarkable paper by Lisa Cook, Maggie Jones, David Rosé, and Trevon Logan digitizes the Green Books—travel guides meant to provide navigation information about segregation to African Americans traveling in the pre–Civil Rights Act US. Link.
  • “Voting along class lines is more likely to occur where states can tax the income and assets of the wealthy.” New research on policy and voting by Kimuli Kasara and Pavithra Suryanarayan. Link.
  • “During World War II, the U.S. government launched an unprecedented effort to mobilize science for war. These investments had large effects on the direction and location of U.S. invention and high-tech industrial employment, setting in motion agglomeration forces which shaped the technology clusters of the postwar era.” Link.
  • New from Dani Rodrik: “What are the mechanisms through which globalization fuels populism?” Link.
  • Lance Taylor on how “Profits from Job Losses Will Finance Government Borrowing for COVID-19 Bailouts.” Link.
  • From the BIS, an excellent report on the international role of the US dollar. Link. See also: Dominik Leusder and Yakov Feygin’s recent essay on the Phenomenal World.
  • Roger Gould uses network analysis to look at National Guard enlistment, informal networks, and mobilization patterns in the Paris Commune of 1871. Link.
  • A new paper by Gernot Wagner and Cristian Proistosescu on uncertainties and the social cost of carbon emissions. Link.
  • W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction. Link.
  • “How do economic structures shape political behavior in contexts marred by intergroup animus? In this paper, we explore this question in the context of the U.S. South using the arrival of the boll weevil cotton pest as an exogenous shock to a coercive economy. Using a panel difference-in-difference, we find that the boll weevil reduces both tangible and symbolic coercion in terms of anti-black lynchings and Confederate monument construction. Our cross-sectional analysis indicated long-run effects on other outcomes as well: counties more exposed to the boll weevil have higher rates of black voter registration and suggestively lower rates of membership in the Ku Klux Klan.” James Feigenbaum, Soumyajit Mazumder, and Cory Smith on the boll weevil infestation and the political economy of the US South. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

Subscribe to Phenomenal World Sources, a weekly digest of recommended readings across the social sciences. See the full Sources archive.