China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Scholars of citizenship and civil society have argued that a democratic civil society which is organizationally strong and autonomous from both the state and market forces is critical to the development of more socially-inclusive citizenship. However, drawing on over 19 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Beijing and Delhi, I find that internal migrant construction workers in Beijing are more active citizens than their counterparts in Delhi, in terms of their rights consciousness, their preparedness for rights contestation, and their propensity to engage in public acts of claim-making directed towards the state, even though the authoritarian state in China maintains tight control on civil society, and, in comparison to civil society in Delhi, civil society in Beijing may be considered organizationally weak, with far fewer voluntary organizations and limited participation in these organizations.
I posit that the organizational strength of civil society should not be measured solely by the presence of formalized or legally sanctioned voluntary organizations. The strength of civil society can also derive from organic linkages that emerge spontaneously among individual citizens. I find that, in the absence of voluntary organizations in Beijing, construction workers do the “dirty work” of fighting for their citizenship rights themselves, and as such, learn by doing and share experiences with one another. In contrast, the multitude of voluntary organizations present in Delhi re-route mediations between workers and the state through union representatives, NGO workers, and other civil society middlemen, giving rise to a form of brokered citizenship which does not augment workers’ associational capacity.