Irene Pang

Pang, IrenePang, IreneIrene Pang

Contact Information:
Brown University 
Department of Sociology 
Box 1916 
Providence, RI 02912  
Fax: (401) 863-3213
Email: irene.pang@brown.edu

Year of Entry: 2010

Previous Degrees:
B.A. (Hons.) Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, 2009
A.M. Sociology, Brown University, 2012

Area of Interest:
Development, citizenship, internal migrants, dynamics of capitalism, comparative research, China, India 

My dissertation project is a comparative, ethnographic study on the citizenship experience of construction workers in Beijing and Delhi. By examining how construction workers, who are largely low-income rural-urban migrants, conceptualize, exercise, and contest their citizenship as they struggle to find their footing in the city, and by contextualizing their experience within the backdrop of rapid marketization occurring under contrasting social and political settings, my dissertation seeks to challenge and contribute to theories of capitalist development and citizenship.  

A strong correlation between capitalist development and the expansion of rights, particularly democratic rights, is well-established within academic literature. Furthermore, scholars have also highlighted the importance of civil society in buttressing this correlation, pointing to mechanisms by which civil society strengthens the working class and balances against authoritarian tendencies of the state and individualizing forces of the market in the achievement of democratic citizenship. These theories might predict that, given China’s authoritarian state continues to maintain tight control over the public sphere, and, given in India, with the exception of the Emergency of 1975-1977, formal constitutional democracy has prevailed since Independence, and civil society is vibrant, construction workers in Delhi might be more active citizens than construction workers in Beijing. I find in the field, however, that this is not the case.  

Based on over 18 months of fieldwork in Beijing and Delhi, I find that, despite not being granted the legal right to political participation and having access to only a narrow range of civil society organizations, construction workers in Beijing are more active citizens than construction workers in Delhi, in three ways. First, compared with workers in Delhi, workers in Beijing are much more aware and knowledgeable about labor laws and social protection programs, and are much better able to articulate their rights and demands. Second, workers in Beijing are much more prepared for open conflict, and engage in everyday practices with a view towards protecting themselves in case of disputes, which workers in Delhi do not. Third, when disputes do arise, workers in Beijing are more inclined than their counterparts in Delhi to engage in public acts of claim-making directed towards the state. Explaining these unexpected empirical finding directs us to examine the deeper theoretical question which motivates this dissertation project, namely, what are the social mechanisms underpinning the correlation between capitalist development and citizenship development?  

In this dissertation, I develop three lines of arguments. First, I argue that higher literacy in China, as well as a culture of political contentiousness and public engagement with the state which dates from the dynastic era and was enhanced during the Communist era through village political structures, contributes to the higher associational capacity of construction workers in Beijing. Second, I argue that, while both construction workers in Beijing and construction workers in Delhi face significant challenges associated with informality in the construction sector which relegates them to outside the realm of state protection, in India, even when workers successfully negotiate entry into the realm of state protection, they are doubly burdened by informality endogenous to the state which arises out of jurisdictional fragmentation. These issues of informality and stateness significantly hinder workers in Delhi in effectively engaging with the state. Third, I argue that the lack of civil society organizations in China forces workers in Beijing to do the “dirty work” of fighting for their citizenship rights themselves, and thus provides opportunities of learning to be citizens by doing. In contrast, the professionalization of civil society in India re-channels mediations between workers in Delhi and the state through union representatives, NGO workers, and other civil society middlemen, giving rise to a form of subcontracted citizenship. In combination, these three factors, which address the differences in the basic human capabilities of citizens (associational capacity), in citizen-state relations (informality and stateness), and in citizen-civil society relations (professionalization of civil society), explain the variation in the citizenship experience of workers in Beijing and Delhi, and provide a mapping of the relational triadic assemblage among the state, the market, and civil society, which, in turn, allows us to identify the mechanisms and conditions through which full citizenship can be achieved.