TROPICAL GEOGRAPHY ›› 2018, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (5): 629-640.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003074

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Urban Spatial Writing in Labor Literature:An Analysis Based on Soja’s Thirdspace

CHEN Jiaxi,WENG Shixiu,PENG Hua   

  1. (School of Geography and Planning,Sun Yat-sen University,Guangzhou 510275,China)
  • Online:2018-09-05 Published:2018-09-05


Since reform and opening up, with foreign capital pouring in south-east China and the hukou (registered permanent residence) system enforced by government, a working group floating among countryside and city has come to public. Labor literature, written by the working group, is a supplementary way to explore their lives. It not only reflects the way where they contemplate the city, but also uncover the hidden discipline to laborers from various aspects. In this article, we analyze three sets of novels and poems that are written by migrant workers to find out their living situation in cities. Guided by Soja’s Thirdspace theory, we explore the spatial experience of laborers from three scales: body, factory and dormitory, city. Results show that the living space of laborers is constructed under the discourse of capital and power, triggering the ambiguous experience of self-others, oppressive-resistant and central-marginal, which is a practical explanation of Soja’s Thirdspace. Firstly, through the transformation to their bodies, such as make-up and dressing up, migrant workers make a negotiation between their self-image and the citizens’ expectation in order to pander to the urban taste. Secondly, the dormitories and factories, where migrant workers spent most in their everyday life, serve as a conflicting space where oppression and resistance happens mostly. For one thing, it is in factories that managers and leaders use various methods like the assembly line and working regulations to control and monitor their employees. For another, dormitories are the cradles of resistance because they bring workers together, and it is the places where workers can form a strong group fighting against the unreasonable rules and payment. Thirdly, in most labor literature, cities are demonstrated as a central-marginal spaces where migrant workers feel both inside and outside. They are the constructors and builders of the cities, but they feel isolated and discriminated in megacities. Overall, such experience fosters the formation of laborers’ subjectivity, which is constructed actively in the everyday routine of migrant workers. This feeling of subjectivity not only helps to construct a sense of common identity, but also keeps migrant workers standing at the margin, which is necessary if they want to make a change. This article provides empirical support for study on labor literature and floating population. Meanwhile, it uncovers hidden life of migrant worker, which can be useful second-hand materials for policy makers.

Key words: Thirdspace, labor literature, migrant worker, Soja, literature geography