Desiring singlehood? Rural migrant women and affective labour in the Shanghai beauty parlour industry
ABSTRACT: This article studies rural migrant women working in the Shanghai beauty parlour industry, focusing on how this industry emphasises affective labour and articulates it along lines of migration, gender and seniority. The analysis looks at three types of female beauty workers: apprentices, senior beauticians, and entrepreneurs. Bringing together Hardt and Negri’s (2004) theorisation of affective labour and Yang Jie’s (2011) notion of aesthetic labour, this article investigates how the affective and aesthetic labour demanded from these migrant women affects their minds and bodies, and their position and value in the marriage market. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in Shanghai, the article begins by exploring the ways in which the demand of Shanghai beauty parlour industry for affective labour impacts the ability of rural migrant women to enter into other forms of affective relationships. It goes on to argue that affective labour in this industry is not wholly negative, but modifies bodies and minds in ways that can be both oppressive and enabling, depending on, among other things, the beauty worker’s level of seniority. Finally, the article proposes that, in the beauty parlour industry, there is a reciprocality with affective labour that includes the workers as well as the clients.
IP Tsz Ting (Penn) is a PhD researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam. Her research interests include migration studies, women’s studies, affect theory, post-colonialism, and queer studies. She would like to acknowledge the work of Prof. Jeroen de Kloet and Dr. Esther Peeren in supporting this research with insightful advice and gracious encouragement. She wishes to thank all research participants and her friends, Alice V, Cherie, Kunshou, Luenluen, Pheebie, Xiangqi, and Xiangyan, in Shanghai who made this article possible. She would also like to thank Xiaoxiao Xu and Rowan Parry for their unconditional help. Last but not the least, she thanks Sophia Cai for her superb fieldwork assistance and support.