Climbing the Mobility Ladder: Practices of Mobile Citizenship in China


Speaker: Dr. Sophia Woodman, University of Edinburgh

In an era of increasing internal mobility, how do Chinese people cope with the fact that formal citizenship remains primarily a sedentary relationship that fixes their entitlements in the location of their hukou household registration? According to current estimates, more than 250 million people have migrated away from their place of hukou registration, either on a temporary or permanent basis, so many are facing this reality. Drawing on ethnographic observation and interviews in two Chinese cities, Tianjin and Lanzhou, this talk identifies strategies internal migrants adopt to manage translocal citizenship, focusing on how they maintain their local citizenship in their places of origin and relocate their citizenship in their places of settlement, and considers how this varies depending on a range of factors, including migrants’ socio-economic status, occupations, gender and life course stage. It examines both the regulatory contexts migrants face at home and in their place of settlement, and their imaginaries regarding mobility and how it fits into their life trajectories. As well as the much-studied rural-to-urban migrants, I incorporate experiences of less researched groups, particularly inter-urban migrants. By examining migrants’ experience in the social field of each city, I seek to sketch out a more comprehensive conception of mobile citizenship, while also contributing to broader theorizing on the overall dynamics of change in citizenship frameworks and practices in China.

Sophia Woodman is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science. Her research interests include citizenship, human rights and social movements in contemporary China, with a focus on the every day politics of citizens. Beyond China, she studies transnational social movements, migration and the politics of sustainability. She has recently published articles in The China Quarterly and Asian Studies Review. She also studies asymmetry and formal autonomy in state systems, which is the subject of an edited book, Practising self-government: a comparative study of autonomous regions(Cambridge, 2013, with Yash Ghai). She is currently involved in an ESRC-funded collaborative project between universities in the UK, Germany and China on migration of Chinese students for higher education, see