This paper attempts to apply a risk concept to the study of one of the most socially disadvantaged groups in China, namely rural-urban migrants in Chinese cities through analysing the narratives of members of a migrant family of the Hui Muslim national minority from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of China, who run a family business in the northern coastal city of Tianjin.
Drawing on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork in 2008-2009, the research employs an actor-oriented theoretical perspective and a qualitative longitudinal methodological approach to delineate a translocal livelihood trajectory of this family across three generations, and to explore the relationships between entrepreneurship and risk, the importance of familial ties and social networks as a buffer against risk and its materialisation – contingencies – in the absence of, or difficulties in accessing formal institutional resources and social protection mechanisms, and the strategies employed by migrant individuals and families as social actors to deal with risks and socio-economic insecurity in their daily livelihood struggles.
Dr Heather Xiaoquan Zhang is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies and Director of Postgraduate Studies at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds. Her research is in the field of social development, political economy, contemporary change and transformations in China and South East Asia (Vietnam), as well as qualitative research methodology. Her current research focuses on urbanisation, migration and livelihoods, social risk and social policy, health and wellbeing, globalisation, gender, agricultural and rural development, and poverty dynamics and institutional change in urban China. Recent publications include Guest Editor of a special issue Transforming Rural China: Beyond Urban Bias? vol. 38, no. 4, 2009, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs; 'A Better Life? Migration, Reproduction and Wellbeing in Transition' (with Locke), Society, Biology and Human Affairs (forthcoming); Marginalisation in China: Perspectives on Transition and Globalisation, 2007 (eds. with Wu and Sanders), Ashgate; and articles published in leading academic journals, e.g. Development and Change, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Geoforum, Women's Studies International Forum, Journal of International Development, Public Administration and Development, and so forth. She is currently co-editing a book Rural Livelihoods in China: Political Economy in Transition, Palgrave McMillan – a collection of papers presented at the Ninth European Conference of Agriculture and Rural Development in China (ECARDC9) which she and her colleagues at Leeds organised in April 2009.
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