Social estrangement of cadmium-poisoned women workers at and away from home

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-66
Journal / PublicationChina: An International Journal
Issue number2
Online published25 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


In 2004, an outbreak of occupational disease in several battery factories in south China led to the cadmium poisoning of hundreds of women workers. Drawing connections between the works of Alfred Schutz and Giorgio Agamben, this article suggests that the lives of cadmium-poisoned victims offer an illustration of the concept of “stranger”, which can be understood as a specific form of “bare life” in contemporary China. Evidence from in-depth interviews and group meetings with dozens of victims revealed not only their physical pain, but also their experience of social estrangement due to a lack of understanding from their significant others and the uphill struggle for compensation. Fieldwork was conducted during the 2010–12 period both in the home villages/towns to which victims had returned and in Guangdong where they stayed behind and fought for their rights. The victims’ experience of sustained estrangement sheds light on contemporary state power that exercises prerogative in silencing the victims rather than enforcing the rule of law.