Upgrading China Through Automation: Manufacturers, Workers and the Techno-Developmental State

Forthcoming in Work, Employment and Society

27 Pages Posted:

See all articles by Ya-Wen Lei

Ya-Wen Lei

Harvard University, Department of Sociology

Date Written: February 2, 2021

Abstract

This article analyses how local states, electronics manufacturers and low-skilled workers perceive and make decisions about automation under China’s techno-developmentalism. Since the early 2010s, local states have made automation—specifically, the substitution of robots for human workers—the linchpin of their techno-developmentalist strategy and set statistical targets to facilitate policy implementation. Although manufacturers realized the limitations of such substitution, most continue to overstate the power of robots in order to receive material and symbolic benefits from local states, which rely on manufacturers to achieve their statistical targets. Meanwhile, most low-skilled workers embrace the state’s vision and see automation as beneficial for national progress, although these workers are the most excluded by state policy. Essentially, China’s techno-developmentalism has led to symbiotic state-capital relations that marginalise low-skilled workers, while reproducing a national sociotechnical imaginary that prioritises abstract notions of technological progress over the actual efficacy of automation, labour protection and social equality.

Keywords: China, automation, robot, sociotechnical imaginary, techno-developmentalism

Suggested Citation

Lei, Ya-Wen, Upgrading China Through Automation: Manufacturers, Workers and the Techno-Developmental State (February 2, 2021). Forthcoming in Work, Employment and Society, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Ya-Wen Lei (Contact Author)

Harvard University, Department of Sociology ( email )

William James Hall, Sixth Floor
33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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