Meet the Fellows: 2018 Women’s Studies Fellow Yige Dong

The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies is the only national dissertation award for doctoral work on issues of women and gender. The 2018 Fellows include Yige Dong, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Johns Hopkins University. The award will support Yige’s final year writing her dissertation, titled From Textile Mill Town to iPhone City: Gender, Class, and the Politics of Care in an Industrializing China (1949–present).

Yige found inspiration for her dissertation in the cultural differences in the places she has lived:

Having grown up in China and spent a decade in the US, I find the different unfoldings of gender politics in the two societies quite fascinating. My research, thus, sets out to build a transnational feminist dialogue that could make women’s experiences at different times and spaces illuminate each other. One privilege of being a global sociologist is to have all those unexpected encounters in the field that would later become the foundations for producing new knowledge.

Five years ago, I started my research with an interest in gender dynamics on the factory shop floor in China’s socialist past (1950s–70s) when both working-class men and women were breadwinners of the household—a stark contrast with the breadwinner-homemaker family model in the US at the same time. Yet, as my interviews and archival research went deeper, I became increasingly intrigued by what was hidden behind the shop floor: How did these double-earner families deal with care related issues? What did nursery rooms and childcare centers within the factory look like? Who was working in these public care facilities? Did the double-burden of the working mothers lessen? These new questions led me to refocus my research on the socialist politics of care, which lies at the intersection of gender and political economy, and blurs the boundaries between the public and private, work and “non-work,” as well as production and social reproduction.

The intellectual adventure did not stop there. Three years ago, while I was in the middle of interviewing veteran spinners and weavers in my research site, an old textile mill town in central China, one of the mills started leasing its empty workshops to Foxconn, Apple’s primary supplier, which runs a labor force of 250,000 and produces 500,000 iPhones daily. With half of the workforce being migrant women in their twenties and thirties, many of whom are mothers of young children, Foxconn does not provide any care facilities. When factory work and family life are separated by hours of bus commute, what does “care” mean to these workers? I could not resist such curious questions and decided to extend my analytical scope to contemporary China and explain the historical transitions of care politics among the Chinese working-class in the last seven decades.

With this dialectical process of inquiry, I am able to tell a story in which both women and men at the margins of the production-centered society have taken the less-paid or even invisible jobs to make sure the labor force can sustain daily and from generation to generation.


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