African Migrant Entrepreneurs in Guangzhou: How Active Agents Survive in a Hostile Environment


Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Among the diversity of international migration into mainland China, the presence of African migrant entrepreneurs in Guangzhou city has become a predominant phenomenon and has attracted a large amount of attention from both academia and public media. This study focuses on a more systematic perspective on everyday life, in particular on how migrants interact with local residents as well as how they pursue (survival) strategies in various interrelated daily life domains. This study combines the wealth of information from ethnography with the conceptual richness of theoretical perspectives in understanding the everyday life of African migrant entrepreneurs as a social practice embedded in the specific institutional and geographical context of Guangzhou, based on two six-month periods of ethnographic fieldwork in 2012 and in 2016. The objective of this dissertation is twofold: first, it aims to more fully understand the everyday life of African migrant entrepreneurs through their various life domains such as the spatial, social, residential and business domain. Second, taking the specific Chinese context into account, it also aims to understand how the Chinese institutional, geographical and social context influences Africans’ daily life, inferred from the social practices in everyday life. In order to achieve the two goals, a multi-method, multi-sited, and multi-theoretical approach was adopted to arrive at the ‘thick descriptions’ that were needed. Due to their precarious position, building trust with respondents took much time and effort and it is highly fortunate that African entrepreneurs allowed access to nearly every aspect of their daily lives and were willing to share their intimate thoughts. Due to a long period of observations and go-alongs, a detailed account of the geographical configuration of everyday life could be assessed. Long-term observations and go-alongs also provide details on how migrant conduct business activities and how they interact with local Chinese and their African peers. Sit-down interviews were used to collect further details on the personal histories, housing experiences, and business trajectories since they first arrived in China. In this way, the four themes of spatial configuration, inter- ethnic contact, residential strategies and business strategies were tackled. Furthermore, this dissertation provides a wider understanding of the interaction between a highly dynamic Chinese context and the active agency of African migrant entrepreneurs, through four different theoretical perspectives: enclave, bordering, housing pathways and mixed embeddedness.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Hooimeijer, Pieter, Supervisor
  • Bolt, Gideon, Co-supervisor
  • Spierings, Bas, Co-supervisor
Award date7 Jun 2024
Print ISBNs978-94-6496-129-4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2024


  • Africans in Guangzhou
  • enclave
  • bordering
  • mixed embeddedness
  • housing pathways
  • ethnography


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