Tabea Bork-Hüffer: Migrants’ Health Seeking Actions in Guangzhou, China. Individual Action, Structure and Agency: Linkages and Change. Stuttgart (Megacities and Global Change 4) 2012. 229 S.

A fresh and unusual perspective on the situation of migrants in Guangzhou
This book is concerned with the health status and coping strategies of the large group of migrants in the Pearl River Delta in Southern China, leaving out the usual geographical stereotypes that are potentially contained within such a topic. This very positive example of empirical research is grounded within solid concepts of social theory, incorporating arguments from sociology and psychology (especially referring to the authors Giddens and Archer), which is the likely reason for the comfortable, objective and structured handling of this topic. Although Bork-Hüffer incorporates many related conceptual approaches, such as the psychology and dynamics of groups, the reader always feels safe and will not get lost due to the strong structural guidance within the relevant influential spheres of the individual (e.g. social groups, institutions and policy, to name just a few).

The discussion of the literature on personal health seeking, China’s health system, urbanization in China as well as issues related to migration in contemporary China takes the reader forward to the main purpose of the book, which is to explore, theorize, analyze, explain, interpret and evaluate the health seeking actions under the current surrounding constraints. Since the underlying research was conducted in “villages-in-the-city” within the city of Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta (sometimes referred to as urbanized villages), this topic of special forms of urban structures is also given sufficient space.

The methodology, as a basis for the empirical research agenda, draws on the fashionable mixed method approach that combines both qualitative and quantitative instruments, using the best of both worlds. This leads to impressive qualitative fieldwork, producing rich, in-depth information that is based on some 70 interviews and a large quantitative survey of around 450 returned questionnaires. This great effort pays off, since the book is able to inform the reader in detail on six complexes (health services and strategies for migrants, the general health status/predisposing factors, health seeking action/plans, perspectives on options for migrants, the structural conditions of actions/conditional environment and the agents that influence this environment/institutions). Overall, Bork-Hüffer seems to feel more comfortable with the qualitative evaluation than with the complicated analysis of the obviously information-rich quantitative dataset. This may well also be due to the explorative character of the study.

The final chapter provides a comprehensive discussion and a helpful synthesis, allowing the reader to reconsider the main arguments, and closes with recommendations for all actors involved.

This book is pleasantly well informed and gives a balanced description of the current state of migrants in Guangzhou’s villages-in-the-city in general and of the health-related issues in particular. The information provided will further enhance our knowledge about and sharpen our minds for the multifaceted problems that are present in the daily life of migrant workers in contemporary China. Individual health seeking activity is a topic that is exceptionally well suited for uncovering the complexity behind the socio-economic embedding of migrants – and Tabea Bork-Hüffer presents this complexity of individual action in a dynamic cultural, social, political and economic environment with the help of nice and informative illustrations that accompany the reader throughout the book.

However, the book did not entirely succeed in turning the comprehensive structural analysis and systemic concept into a multi-causal empirical analysis, although the impressively large survey sample would warrant a deeper analysis. I am sure that the data would love to reveal their secrets behind mono-causal contingency. This downside prevents the formulation of more stringent best-practice strategies for all players addressed or at least a prioritizing of the necessary actions.

Nonetheless, the book is an enjoyable read for all those who are interested in the development of China’s megacities and the difficulties arising beyond the overly present topics of economics and general urbanization. Overall, Tabea Bork-Hüffer has managed to deliver a book that will be of great interest for all human geographers, since she has managed to enrich our knowledge on migrants well beyond the stylized facts, with a mixture of qualitative interview statements and comprehensive background information that is appropriate for fully grasping the complexity of the socio-economic role of migrants in southern China and their particular health-related problems.
Stefan Hennemann

Quelle: Erdkunde, 67. Jahrgang, 2013, Heft 1, S. 100-101


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