Ching Kwan Lee.
Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 210 pp. $US 45.00 Cloth, $US 16.95 Paper

Saskia Everts Gender and Technology: Empowering Women, Engendering Development. London: Zed Books, 1998 171 pp. US$17.50 Paper.

Ching Kwan Lee makes a major theoretical and methodological contribution in her ethnographic study of two shop floors in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. This study highlights both the differences and the similarities between the worlds of labor and challenges theories of labor process, state, feminism and gender and work.

The author shows two worlds of factory women. Localism and familialism are invoked by both workers and mangers to interpret events and social relations in the factory. “Localistic despotism” and “familial hegemony”, respectively, characterize the conditions of dependence of migrant daughters in Shenzhen and veteran working mothers in Hong Kong. In these two factories, localism and familialism generate consent, but also provide opportunities for tactics and resistance. This study shows how management and women workers cooperate and contest, how gender and class relations intermesh in social and cultural processes on the shop floors, and how a politics of identity is constitutive of and constituted by production politics.

Lee argues very convincingly that management's interests, like those of workers, cannot be assumed, but are constituted in specific conditions. Gender is not just inscribed in the organizational hierarchy, but is an integral part of the power process and is also found in accepted notions about who women workers are and what they need. Gender is a cultural construction and is a recurrent reference by which labor-management relations are conceived, legitimized and criticized. They have material roots in shop-floor organization and are shaped by a set of social institutions outside the shop-floors in the labor market, the family, kin networks and even the state.

Lee undermines the “familial economic strategy” of migrant workers and paints a more intricate picture. The stories by women workers in Shenzhen show that the transition from peasant daughters to factory women is complex and cannot be reduced to mere escape from poverty or obedience to patriarchal authority. The motivations behind women's decisions to become migrant workers, in this case, involved an intertwined set of economic and moral, individual, and familial considerations. Moreover, Chinese women in this research do reveal their own version of women's interests.

“Rather than a language of individual rights, independence, and control, which predominates Western feminist discourses, Chinese women workers in this book define their womanhood and femininity with reference to familial, kinship, and localistic relations, obligations, and values. Their gender identities and gender interests are rooted more in social networks, mutually dependent statuses, and obligations connected to others, rather than in atomistic, pre-social, autonomous, sexual selves. They therefore remind us of alternative definitions of women's well being, of situational feminisms embedded in alternative organizations of markets, states and societies”(p.35).

Along the same line, this study questions the universal notion of “patriarchal Chinese family” which is merely assumed to exert a tight control over Chinese women in all Chinese communities. Rather than assuming women as an already constituted subordinated group to be placed within a familial structure constructed by men, women should be seen, as these two case studies show, as subjects constituted through, not outside, the structure of social relations that are both constraining and enabling.

This excellent case study shows that gender and class are inextricably intermeshed and that the phenomenon to be explained should be a “gendered factory regime” instead of “factory regime.” This comparative case study sheds light on both multiple constructions of women's gender and the institutional sources of such differences. The author shows that women workers are social actors with diverse interests and identities. Lee explains why within the same cultural tradition, meanings of femininity are diverse, rather than monolithic. As well, this ethnographic study tells a layered story about interwoven social structural domination and the process of collective apprehension, compliance, and resistance to it. In south China, where capitalism and socialism meet, different modes of control over women workers are used. In this study, the author questions the state as the central factor in exercising control over women workers. For different reasons, the state in two cases allows management great autonomy, and allows the patterns of production politics to be specified by factors other than the state's intervention. Local rather than national forces play determining roles in defining the dynamics of production politics.

In closing, the arguments put forward by the author in this book enhances our knowledge in a number of areas: feminist theory; theory of state and capitalism, study of labor process, and methodology. This book is must reading.

Saskia Everts is a sociologist with a number of years of teaching experience. She is presently a consultant on gender at TOOLConsult. Everts, together with a number of different authors, provides a practical guide to “mainstream gender,” and increase skills of gender integration and gender sensitization in various projects.

The focus in Gender and Technology is on making technology more accessible to women and on enhancing their economic power. Technology is defined as human artefacts plus the organizational, informational and human contexts that are required for their functioning. The nine chapters in this book attempt to enable practitioners to make technology available to more than a few women by providing adequate information, financing, training and organization.

The social science literature shows that technology usually has two “faces:” as a potential ally, and as a potential threat. In general, there is evidence to support the claim that, in many cases where machinery was introduced in activities traditionally done by women, men either completely replaced women, or the activity became subdivided and men took over the tasks that used technology and required greater skill, while women were relegated to the less skilled jobs. Since 1970s there have been attempts to transfer technology to women, but transfer of heavy technology has been non-existent. When women are envisioned to be beneficiaries, technology tends to be low-tech rather than high-tech. Many examples in this book show that men are the decision-makers in the production and implementation of technology. In this process, for example, despite women's activities in farming, the significance of women's work has been misunderstood. As well, the cultural construction of gender has greatly affected the adoption of technology by women. Saskia Everts is aware of the potential threat of technology to women, but suggests micro-level strategies to deal with negative impacts. She does not question the “ideological” nature of technology within capitalism, nor does she make any attempt to look at divisions within women based on class, ethnicity or any other key factors. This book suggests action programs such as training to encourage the entry of women into non-traditional jobs, and explores the possibilities that technology can bring for women.

Chapter three provides detailed instructions on training for development workers: who to include; how to identify issues; how to select participants, and how to develop networks. An experienced trainer will be in charge of training, the outcome will be a manual which gives sufficient information and advice to enable new trainers to give the training independently and also to adapt to new circumstances. Unfortunately, without justification the author assumes that all women will benefit from capitalist market. Market forces are seen as allies and the aim is to integrate women into the market and enhance their economic power. The author recognizes that most donors and project designers do not care much about the involvement of women, but do want to increase productivity. Here again, she does not ask “productivity for whom and at what cost?” She suggests that we can show them that increases in productivity can better be achieved if women's needs are taken into account. Having this in mind, chapter seven focuses on gender and participation in agricultural engineering projects. Here, the reader is presented with the details of what approaches to use when discussing gender with engineers. The authors look at issues related to transport and urban waste management. They rely on a large number of case studies from around the world to show that men and women are likely to have different interests regarding environmental improvement, based on different uses that they make of the immediate environment.

This book is written for development workers, practitioners, donors and NGOs. It provides a list of issues to consider when introducing technology to women's enterprises, and assumes that all women can benefit from market-driven forces. Within this perspective, the ideological nature of technology within capitalism is an issue. As the author says, this book is a guide to empower women, i.e. integrate them into the market.
Parvin Ghorayshi
University of Winnipeg

May 1999
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