Institutt for sosialantropologi

'I want to improve myself': Underemployed rural graduates in urban areas of China


By: Solveig Stornes

Supervisor: Professor Leif Manger

The thesis presents an ethnographic study of a phenomenon that was unknown of and even unthinkable fifteen years ago in China, underemployed and unemployed rural graduates living on the fringes of both the city and society itself.

Through the facet of one urban village on the outskirt of Beijing I uncover how the rural graduates’ situation, often called ‘the ant tribe`, is a picture on what ambiguities lies within the Chinese society. Their position becomes problematic when they establishing themselves in informal settlements at the periphery of the city. Here the rural graduates live together with other migrants and in a sense bringing civilization to the uncivilized and illegible part of the city.

Not only is their situation a crack in China’s narratives of education and modernity, but it’s also directing attention to the growing pressure on urban housing, need for change in household system and social inclusion for people that also want to take part in the economic development in China.

It is through analyzing the rural graduates situation that we come to comprehend how the Chinese state manifest itself in the structures where the rural graduates live, but also how it is conceived and reflected upon in people`s everyday practice in creating a meaningful life. “Improve myself” have become the phrase among the youths in achieving this goal.

During the course of this thesis I want to argue for a new rationality of governing and subject formation in China, where the subjects have become self-governing. Which has also lead to a change among young rural graduates towards a more individualistic lifestyle and perception of life in contrast to earlier collective communities. This can be observed in renewed focus on the self, the consumer patterns, but also how the individual is establishing networks founded in themselves in a new relation to the collective.