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The management of second-generation migrant workers in China: a case study of centrifugal paternalism

Zhu, Jingqi and Delbridge, Rick ORCID: 2022. The management of second-generation migrant workers in China: a case study of centrifugal paternalism. Human Relations 75 (12) , pp. 2272-2299. 10.1177/00187267211032948

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How have organisations sought to manage tensions between the needs for flexible labour in neoliberal market economies and the benefits of a committed and motivated workforce? Through an in-depth, qualitative study of a Chinese company, we identify and theorise a novel variation of paternalism that was developed by the organisation to manage the tensions under neoliberal capitalism. We label this management regime ‘centrifugal paternalism’ since it organises employment relations along the lines of ‘adult-like’ employers and ‘child-like’ employees but involves the diminution of employee dependency over time with an ultimate impulse away from the employing organisation. We find that the emergence of centrifugal paternalism is closely related both to the socio-demographic identity of the company’s employees as China’s second-generation migrant workers and to the economic context of the organisation. Through a ‘tough love’ approach, this regime allows the firm to secure flexible labour while responding to migrant workers’ needs for personal skills development and a fruitful rural-to-urban transition. Our research responds to recent calls for reconnecting organisation studies with society and situating workplace practices within their contexts. It also underlines the enduring importance of paternalism for understanding the dynamic and evolving nature of capitalist employment relations and management regimes.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0018-7267
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 1 July 2021
Last Modified: 02 May 2023 20:36

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