Unveiling Neoliberal Dynamics: Government Purchase (goumai) of Social Work Services in Shenzhen's Urban Periphery

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How has social work, which has emerged as a distinct profession in the PRC with the full support of the party-state, come to produce neoliberal outcomes similar to those found in other, capitalist countries? In this article, I draw attention to the government purchase (goumai) of social work services, which is commonly considered as confirmation of state capacity and leadership rather than the passing on of state responsibilities to civil sectors with tight budgets. Ethnographic research on the actual social work practices in Shenzhen's Foxconn town reveals how neoliberal-style outsourcing has converged with diverse historical legacies, thus creating precarious labour conditions for frontline social workers. Neoliberal dynamics end up filling most of these social work positions with migrant youth from the countryside, reproducing and perpetuating China's rural-urban divide. Institutional efforts at social care may not only reduce the existing inequalities but may also rely upon and even reinforce them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-288
Number of pages20
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jun 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © SOAS University of London 2017.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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