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This essay addresses the extent to which export-oriented factories in the textile and garment industries have a specific mode of mediating migrant workers’ experiences of inequality (in its broadest sense), their moral valuation of their labor, and their desires. All of these elements have been shaped in the aftermath of what is generally labeled the postsocialist era, which includes China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and its subsequent intensive capitalist take-off. The essay examines the imbrication of three related forces in workers’ lives: origin stories in relation to the recent socialist past, affective engagements with temporality, and transnational encounters. The essay emphasizes the distinctiveness of the way migrant workers engage these three intertwined forces—in contrast with entrepreneurs and government officials. The approach to global capitalism more broadly in the argument emphasizes cultural histories, (nonessentialized) subjectivities, and situated social action.

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