Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNew York U.
Grant numberGr. 10332
Approve DateApril 13, 2022
Project TitleMomin, Shayan (New York U.) "Lumpen utopias: livestreaming labor in Chinese media worlds"
My proposal focuses on workers in Hengdian World Studios, the world’s largest film studio located in a rural township in China. China became the factory of the world by turning its rural population into a migrant workforce that produces exports for the global market. But as growth slows, many struggle to find stable employment. Hengdian welcomes unemployed migrants to work as background actors in historical dramas. But low wages lead many to star in monetized livestreams as broke hengpiao (Hengdian drifters). Hengpiao solicit monetized livestreaming gifts by encouraging others to move to Hengdian and escape waged-labor, transforming Hengdian into a hall of mirrors for those becoming superfluous to industrial production. My work asks how deindustrialization, platform economies, and media create social ties and cultural worlds, and how these emerging forms of social organization relate to the political-economic cirumstances that created them in the first place. How is the platform economy—the convergence of smartphones, digital currency, and commerce apps—changing how labor is valued, performed, and remunerated? How do the aspirational economies of media allow migrants to contend with deindustrialization, and what might an ethnographic study of hengpiao practices reveal about the ways labor is being remade by media?