Date of Completion


Embargo Period



China, Social Class, Life Course, Organizations, Culture

Major Advisor

Andrew Deener

Associate Advisor

Claudio Benzecry

Associate Advisor

Ruth Braunstein

Associate Advisor

Jeremy Pais

Associate Advisor

Mary Fischer

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation takes a close look at the making of the emerging Chinese middle class by uncovering the co-evolving relationship between China’s socialism-to-capitalism transition and the personal history of a cohort of Chinese young adults born between the years 1990 and 1993. Previous studies on the Chinese middle class tend to apply the North American and French literature on social reproduction in a “settled” time to analyze the class formation in a changing society. In addition, these studies tend to focus on either the state or individuals without paying sufficient attention to the roles of institutions in mediating their interactions. This study, in contrast, offers an alternative framework that centers on the educational and economic institutions in the emerging capitalist society. Drawing from three lines of work that each shed light on division of expert labor, life course, and technologies of the self, this dissertation provides in-depth narratives of the coming-of-age experience in post-socialist China. The findings, based on data from 103 life-story interviews conducted in three consecutive summers between 2014 and 2016 with 42 Chinese young adults, suggest that ambiguity and uncertainty are the central characteristics of the emerging Chinese middle class. As the labor force carrying China’s capitalist project forward, these young adults are embedded in the competing logics of mobility and worth prescribed by the state, the emerging economic elites, the capitalist market, and traditions. The emerging Chinese middle class, searching for a coherent sense of self, becomes a unique type of capitalist subjectivity.

Available for download on Monday, August 05, 2030