China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In comparison with attention paid to female workers, the presence of male migrant workers in unskilled and low-paid service work has drawn relatively less academic focus, despite the growing prevalence of men in this industry in both the Global North and South. Using security guards in South China as an example, this paper illustrates how the entrance of male rural-to-urban migrant workers into the service industry is fraught with problematic negotiations of masculinity. Security guarding has traditionally been viewed as a masculine service niche, dominated by men and requiring so-called ‘masculine’ attributes. In reality, male migrant security guards struggle to live up to their ideas of masculine dignity and respect that are situated within the overlapping rural ideals of ‘manly work’ and urban notions of ‘successful manhood’. This is because security guarding is stigmatized as ‘easy work’, ‘lazy work’ or ‘work for the old, weak and feeble.’ The paper argues that to grasp the particular experience of these male migrant service workers and to understand the relationship between masculinity, migration, work, and respect, we need to situate their experience within the context of rural and urban discourses of masculinity; growing class inequalities between rural migrant workers and the urban middle class; and the new discourse of consumer supremacy, which subordinates service workers. Based on this analysis the paper calls for a theorization of the relationship between masculinity, migration, and service work that situates the embodied worker within the realms of commodification, production and consumption in late capitalism.