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Labour arbitrage: the lifecycle of a global production node

Milosz Miszczynski (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 11 July 2016




The purpose of this paper is to address the geographic mobility of organisations by focusing on an instance of a rural community hosting a mobile phone plant in Romania. The paper depicts the process of changes in the community and outlines the effects during the lifecycle of the investment: starting from the plant’s re-location from Germany to Romania until its closure and re-location to Southern China.


This study emerged from a 16 month ethnography in the community conducted between 2011 and 2013. The quotes and observations come from recorded interviews and field notes taken during this time.


The outcome of this work is to show how firms generate relationships not only with each other, but also with local communities, their labour markets and economies. As the author argue in this work, those relationships, despite their intensity and transformative power, are unstable and contrary to expectations might prove to be fragile and temporary.


A number of approaches, such as world-system theory, political economy or the global value chain theory, try to describe the ongoing re-location of manufacturing industry by employing a top-down perspective. In this work, the author goes beyond this view and instead focus on the cultural meanings of this process. The author’s bottom-up perspective focuses on the particular geographic location of a production node, an important part of the global value chain of a major producer of consumer electronics. The unique value of this work is also that it shows the local outcomes of the investment and the way that workers understand their participation in global production at different stages of organisational life.



This work was supported by the Tokyo Foundation (Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund). The author would like to thank Emma Greeson and Jacek Nowak for readings of this paper. The author also thank the reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.


Miszczynski, M. (2016), "Labour arbitrage: the lifecycle of a global production node", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 106-122.



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