Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Manufacturing Identity: Peasant Workers' Spatial Production in China

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Joseph Boyd-Barrett, O. (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Frank Goza (Committee Member)


While the social production of identity is widely accepted, what constitutes “social” is often vague. In many discussions of identity production, media representations and discursive production are taken as all there is for a “social” production process of identity. This dissertation follows the constructive perspective that class identity is produced. It examines the identity formation of Chinese peasant workers through the industrial manufacturing processes using an electronics parts production factory in Shenzhen, China as a case study. It argues that materiality constitutes a crucial element of the social construction process of class identity. Specifically, I explore how social and physical spaces, as material forms of social production, participated into China’s internal trans-local labor force formations and served to universalize the ruling class’ desires through economic production activities and the connected everyday social reproduction activities.

This study uses a synthetic theoretical framework that integrates Marxism materialist perspective and Marxian political economy with the importance of material and social spaces developed in geography. Such a synthetic theoretical framework forms an opportune vantage point for examining labor forces’ everyday working and living activities within their social and material spatial contexts. In accordance with the theoretical framework, I use a spatialized Institutional Ethnography as the method to achieve the emphasis on the roles of materiality in the formation of class identity. The combination of the theoretical framework and method makes it possible to examine Chinese peasant workers’ class identity formation through their daily spatially-mediated activities.

With the theoretical framework and method above, my dissertation examined the wage formation process and the dormitory living of Chinese peasant workers to show how class identity is produced and how spaces, both material and social, are produced to participate in a class production process. Wage and dorms provide two connected lines of activities through which peasant workers’ everyday activities are organized into a class identity.

The dissertation concluded with the importance of space in the formation of what is considered a social process of class identity production, opening chances for further explorations into the tricks that space plays. On its most general level, this discussion helps critical cultural study and communication study scholars concentrating on identity formation understand that a social construction process may have its great potential truncated without integrating the roles materiality plays in the formation of any social processes.