Revisiting Socialist Workers’ New Villages: The Everyday Life of Precarious Women during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Shanghai

Authors: Penn Tsz Ting Ip*, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Yu Zhang, University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Xi Liu, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Topics: China, Women, Qualitative Research
Keywords: affect, COVID-19, Lefebvre, neoliberalism, socialism, Shanghai, workers’ new villages, precariat, women
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Shedding light on the political economy of “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics” (Harvey 2005, 120), this paper explores the lived experiences of precarious women in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic in Shanghai with a focus on the Workers’ New Villages, a residential community established during the socialist planned economy (1949-1978). This paper draws on COVID-19 diaries written by 5 women that participated in our “COVID-19 Diary Workshop” organized from June to July 2020. We consider these diaries in relation to the life history conducted with research participants between 2018 and 2019 in order to compare the changes caused by the pandemic. All of the participants face different kinds of life challenges such as cancer and domestic violence, among others. In this paper, we interrogate how the global pandemic interrupts and influences the day-to-day experiences of precarious women. We then explore how they affectively cope with the challenges caused by the pandemic with the support from their neighborhood committees. Tracing the life histories of the women in conjunction with their COVID-19 diaries, we discern that the socialist infrastructure—the neighborhood structure and collective ethos as established since the 1950s—persists in these villages despite China’s neoliberal shift. Ultimately, we argue that the socialist lifestyles and structure of feelings constructed decades ago are now functioning as a supportive network for women who endure unstable life circumstances amid rapid social transformation.

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