Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, International Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
Made in China: Global Production System and Local Industrial Upgrading

The project seeks to explain the variation in industrial upgrading across China’s localities. This puzzle stems from the fact that local producers have responded differently to a common economic crisis in recent years. Some are increasingly trapped into a “race to the bottom” competition based on cheap labor and razor-thin margins of profit. Others have started to climb up the value chain with activities such as branding, design, and marketing. Why have producers in some localities displayed stronger industrial upgrading capacity than others? Based on pre-dissertation field research (summer 2008), I hypothesize that the variation in industrial upgrading result from three types of relations: government- FIE (foreign invested enterprise) relations, government-local business relations, and inter-business relations. Industrial upgrading is more likely when local governments gain the upper hand in the government-FIE bargaining process, when symmetrical rather than asymmetrical relations arise between local officials and firms, and when there are horizontal and open rather than captive and insular networks among lead firms, contract manufacturers, and local producers. To test my hypotheses, I have chosen to study China’s largest manufacturing and export industry—the electronics industry—across five cities. This allows me to control for the characteristics of the industry while exploring local variation. I plan to collect data through in-depth interviews, questionnaires, and consultation of local documents, and will utilize both qualitative and quantitative methods. In studying how the three types of relations affect upgrading capacity, I seek to go beyond the single focus on the state, foreign direct investment, or local business relations in previous studies, and draw attention to their combined influence at the macro and micro levels. The project also challenges the conventional understanding of industrial upgrading by examining how global production forces and local institutions mutually transform each other in affecting the indigenous upgrading capacity.