Labor-related civil society actors in China: a Gramscian analysis

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Focusing on labor non-governmental organizations and labor lawyers, this article examines the class roles of China’s labor-related civil society actors (CSAs) in migrant worker resistance. This article calls into question the intuitive sentiment in scholarship that by engaging in collective labor actions, China’s CSAs are axiomatically advancing worker interests. It builds on criticism of the mainstream approach towards civil society and on Gramsci’s insights on civil society and organic intellectuals to construct a typological spectrum to evaluate labor-related CSAs. Based on in-depth interviews, participant observations, and documentary research, this article contends that China’s labor-related CSAs can be classified as unqualified organic, semi-organic, or organic intellectuals of workers, hinging on their commitment and ability to 1) challenge the kind of common sense associated with capitalist economic relations; 2) challenge the kind of juridico-political common sense the state reproduces; 3) construct a kind of good sense and enhance workers’ class consciousness and political consciousness; and 4) build up workers’ collectivity, spur workers to take concerted actions and engage in system-transforming initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-74
Number of pages26
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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