Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Carolina Bank Munoz

Committee Members

Sujatha Fernandes

Ruth Milkman

Celina Su

Subject Categories

Community-Based Research | Human Geography | Migration Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Work, Economy and Organizations


labor, asian, work, migration, political economy, racial capitalism


This study is an ethnographic exploration of Chinese immigrants who work in Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants across the country. Based on sixteen months of fieldwork using participant observations, interviews, and social media analysis, my research follows workers as they negotiate and contest the changing work arrangement of an industry that is largely invisible to the general public and to the state. Specifically, despite the industry’s astronomical growth in the last few decades, with estimates nearing 50,000 in the country, little is known about the social and economic organization that fuels the expansion. Further, it is also puzzling why the challenges that come with this expansion, including constant relocations, social isolation in new destinations, and disembedded from their preferred social community have not resulted in much collective resistance among the immigrant workers. Thus my research asks, what is the new structure of the Chinese restaurant industry? And why do the workers consent to the new structure of the Chinese restaurant industry when it reorganizes their lives in ways we may perceive as unfavorable, or even exploitative?

My research finds that the structure of the industry is anchored by a self-contained and self-organizing business network that not only utilizes its “own” infrastructural components but also establishes a moral economy that serves as a system of governance, a distance dependent wage structure, and its own channels of upward mobility. My study also finds that within this structure, worker consent is constructed through key aspects of spatiality/temporality, racialization, entrepreneurial subjectivities, and the politics of online storytelling that coalesce to form a system of control. Therefore, while the industry provides vital employment to Chinese immigrant workers who have been historically excluded in the mainstream labor market, it also unintentionally limits potential alternatives in addressing internal labor conflicts. The consequence is the perpetuation of social separateness of Chinese workers that is vital to the functioning of racial capitalism.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Saturday, September 30, 2023

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