Digital Capitalism, Labor, and Institutional Transformations

My monograph Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy, forthcoming March 2023 from the Columbia University Press is the first book to provide a multifaceted view of the new entrepreneurial labor practices emerging out of China’s thriving IT scene.

It focuses on the innovation-centered economic and social restructuring that took place following the 2008 global economic crisis. In six chapters, I tell the story of China’s entrepreneurial reinvention through urban, rural, and transnational lenses. I weave together the experiences of peasant family e-commerce owners who returned to rural villages from hyper-exploitative and low-paying urban jobs to trade in village-produced handicrafts; of young, transnationally mobile middle-class Chinese women who make their livings by re-selling Western brands on social media; and of young IT start-up entrepreneurs bidding for venture capital in Beijing’s Zhongguancun –– China’s Silicon Valley.

I argue that the proliferation of entrepreneurship in post-2008 China has been produced by a spatiotemporally and culturally specific process that incorporates global elements to promote reinvention of both national and individual selves. Instead of representing a radical break with the past, global trends of platformization, financialization, and labor flexibilization have been fitted to the multi-pronged national, social, and developmental goals of the Chinese state, and the continued prominence of the family as a unit of economic production and social protection. While my research site is China, my findings have broad implications for how social scientists elsewhere conceptualize entrepreneurship and labor. My book contributes to platform, labor, and innovation studies by displacing the dominant Euro-American individualization frame and highlighting the role of family and state in information capitalism.

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Building on my interest in digital platforms, and drawing comparisons to US, EU and other national/regional efforts to regulate Big Tech, I am examining China’s ongoing reconfiguration of platform capitalism from macro political economic, mezzo institutional, and micro subjective perspectives.