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“I am not getting your money”: boundary making and identities in immigrant economies in Hong Kong

K. Kwok (School of Social Sciences, Caritas Institute of Higher Education, Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Social Transformations in Chinese Societies

ISSN: 1871-2673

Article publication date: 6 August 2019

Issue publication date: 29 November 2019




This paper aims to explore how immigrant small business owners construct entrepreneurial identities by deploying strategies of boundary making in Hong Kong.


Conceptually, it departs from the theoretical discussions of immigrant economy and ethnic boundary making. The analyzes are based on qualitative data collected from in-depth interviews and participant observation primarily in the South Asian immigrant economies in Hong Kong in the period 2014-2017.


Four strategies of boundary work including blurring boundaries, inversion of boundaries, personal repositioning and reconfirming of boundaries are identified. They bring to light that small immigrant entrepreneurs in Hong Kong still encounter considerable obstacles in the process of social integration. Boundary work serves as strategies to release sentiments that would symbolically bring them closer to the mainstream society. Following the “city as context” framework (Brettell, 1999; Foner, 2007), this paper argues that the various boundary making strategies have been shaped by the legacies of racism, neoliberal governance of integration and urban work ethos highlighting problems and individual responsibilities in Hong Kong.


This paper contributes to the literature of the immigrant economy and social integration. First, it sheds light on the role of symbolic meanings and non-economic gains of immigrant entrepreneurship in social integration. Second, it illuminates our understanding that immigrant economy can provide a channel for advancing and weakening social status, thus reminding us not to assume the path of social integration as a straightforward and positive one.



This article benefits from the fieldwork of two research projects: Empowerment Through Business: South Asian Entrepreneurship in Hong Kong, funded by Equal Opportunities Commission Research Grant (RFP2013/14-205) of Hong Kong, and A Study of Ethnic Economy of Disadvantaged Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong: Exploring Experiences in the Process of Social Integration, funded by University Grants Committee (UGC/FDS11/H02/15).


Kwok, K. (2019), "“I am not getting your money”: boundary making and identities in immigrant economies in Hong Kong", Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 114-128.



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