Jia Feng is a geography lecturer in the History Department at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, since fall 2017. He earned his bachelor’s degree in urban planning from Nanjing University in China, an M.A. in geography from Miami University, as well as an M.S. in statistics and probability and a Ph.D. in geography from Michigan State University. He studied the issues of migration, marginality, and informality, and examined the development of migrant recycling enclaves in Beijing, China, as his dissertation project. At Washburn University, he is focusing more on the rural “left-behind” communities in rural western Kansas.


A Parallel Society in the Making? A case study of the migrant recycling enclaves in Beijing

Since the late 1970s, China’s rural-to-urban migrants have gradually joined the urban work force, especially in the not-so-desirable jobs in the cities. In particular, about 200,000 migrant workers (about one percent of Beijing’s population) joined and dominated the recycling sector through “informal” activities. Due to various unfriendly, stigmatizing, and discriminatory policies against the migrants and their informal activities, the migrant recyclers started to form and join the many migrant recycling enclaves after the late 1990s. Various migrant-run services, facilities, and institutions also emerged around the flourishing recycling enclaves through self-organization and self-institutionalization. Based on multi-year fieldwork in Beijing, this study examines how migrants reconstruct their identities in the city. We argue that a parallel society is in the making in Beijing with an ever-shrinking boundary through repetitive demolition and relocation facing various urban redevelopment projects while the “outsider” identity has further shaken the meaning of belongings for the migrant recyclers in Beijing.

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