Between company and community: the case of a employment relations in an acquaintance society context in China

Zengke An, Fang Lee Cooke, Fan Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Research on labour disputes in China has primarily adopted a political economy perspective to focus on state-owned enterprises inland and foreign-invested plants in economically developed zones. Research has neglected community-based protests in small private firms in urbanising areas and their implications for human resource management and employment relations. This paper addresses this gap through an in-depth case study of a community-based, village cadres and clan leaders-led protest (including strike actions) against a privately-owned metal work factory located in a local community. Deploying the notion of community politics and ‘acquaintance society’, the study enriches our knowledge of industrial actions in China by extending the analytical scope of the context to understand the motive and choice of actions of individuals in participating in the disputes, and modes of dispute resolution. The study reveals the important role of social institutions and cultural norms, as well as the significance of discrete interventions of bureaucrats in the outcome of the dispute. We find that the settlement of community-based (labour) disputes may not officially involve key formal institutional actors, such as the trade union and legal/government authority. Rather, these institutional actors may be involved in an unofficial capacity, though drawing on power derived from their bureaucratic position in the intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Acquaintance society
  • China
  • community politics
  • community-based protest
  • political power
  • strike

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