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Dying for an iPhone
Apple, Foxconn, and The Lives of China's Workers

Suicides, excessive overtime, and hostility and violence on the factory floor in China. Drawing on vivid testimonies from rural migrant workers, student interns, managers and trade union staff, Dying for an iPhone is a devastating expose of two of the world’s most powerful companies: Foxconn and Apple.

As the leading manufacturer of iPhones, iPads, and Kindles, and employing one million workers in China alone, Taiwanese-invested Foxconn’s drive to dominate global electronics manufacturing has aligned perfectly with China’s goal of becoming the world leader in technology. This book reveals the human cost of that ambition and what our demands for the newest and best technology means for workers.

Foxconn workers have repeatedly demonstrated their power to strike at key nodes of transnational production, challenge management and the Chinese state, and confront global tech behemoths. Dying for an iPhone allows us to assess the impact of global capitalism’s deepening crisis on workers.’ 

  • Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: China —Choice
    Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Work and Labor —Choice

    "With the transnational shift of manufacturing jobs, consumer awareness of the links between

    globalised manufacturing and the localised plight of workers grows every day. Because “no one is free

    when others are oppressed” (p. 201), we should be aware of the hidden connections among

    multinationals, contract factories, local governments and workers, and think of possible methods

    to effectively intervene in the tyranny of the buyer-driven business model." —Jaesok Kim, Global Labour Journal

    "In contrast to treating migrant workers as factorial resources, the three authors with sociological and historical backgrounds provide a bottom‐up perspective, focusing on the economic, social and political exploitation of migrant workers.… All in all, Dying for an iPhone coagulates the efforts of labour activists and scholars under an increasing authoritarian state over the past decade, which is truly inspiring. It is a must‐read for academics and also wider audiences." —Hui XU, New Technology, Work and Employment

    "Dying for an iPhone includes both personal interviews with Chinese workers and, zooming out, detailed statistics regarding the composition of Foxconn’s workforce, including everything from the gender of workers (p. 124) to their migration patterns in order to work at Foxconn (p. 178)…. The book would be useful to a class looking at global capitalism and its human toll on workers." —Josh Young, Labor Studies Journal

    "Factory investigations have a distinguished history stretching from Friedrich Engels’s Conditions of the Working Class in England to Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, to the sweatshop exposés of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers, Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai add to this tradition with an in-depth study of the manufacture of iPhones…" —Manfred Elfstrom, The China Journal

    "Dying’s analysis of political economy and Strategizing’s analysis of, well, strategy point to both the challenges and the opportunities for an internationalist approach to labor." —Chris Tilly, Humanity & Society

    "Sociologists Jenny Chan, Mark  Selden and Pun Ngai . . . offer  both a business school analysis  of the Apple/Foxconn symbiosis  and a heart-rending story of the  lived experience of the young  men and women brutalized by life  at the bottom of this enormous  transpacific supply chain." —Nelson Lichtenstein, New Labor Forum

    Dying for an iPhone is an excellent book and fills an important gap in the literature. It would make a great gift this year, especially for someone who is expecting a new iPhone.” —Nicki Lisa Cole, New Politics

    "Dying for an iPhone is rigorously researched, the culmination of the authors’ near decade-long project…. The authors conducted interviews with workers, managers, officials, labour rights activists and others, and supported and cross-referenced the information they gleaned from these meetings with innumerable other documents.... The book is a brilliant addition to labour studies, and evidence of how good academic writing can be. It should be read by all." —Joe Buckley, British Journal of Industrial Relations

    "Dying for an iPhone is an important book.…why iPhones continue to kill despite the advances made in ‘fair trade’ and other solidarity movements… Workers and disenfranchised populations all over the globe are feeling the brunt of capitalism’s advances in the past decades. But what sort(s) of movement(s) would it take to confront the unequal accumulation of profits and behind-the-scenes political alliances that spur the continued success of companies like Apple and Foxconn?" —Dan V. Hirslund, The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies

    "With the potential relocation of factories, terrible working conditions and workers' struggles against them will only be replicated elsewhere. I echo the authors’ call for “transnational activism in opposition to the oppression of labor wherever it is found.” —Elaine Lu, Labor Notes

    "Putting aside the title’s glib pun — a reference to the suicides of some factory workers in China who make Apple products — this book is a thorough overview of an important topic. Despite best efforts to “decouple” tech supply chains between US firms and Chinese factories, our iPhones and other gadgets are still largely made in China, and we have a responsibility to know their human and environmental, as well as pecuniary, price. This exposé — dramatically written, but chock full of statistics — chronicles the deaths, unpaid overtime, and other abuses of factories, with a special focus on Apple partner Foxconn. Drawing on interviews with both workers and managers, it will make you look twice at your phone." —Alec Ash, The Wire China

    "Dying for an iPhone powerfully shows that international attention and consumer awareness are not enough momentum for systemic change. The solution lies in empowering workers themselves to participate at the factory level. Indeed, international solidarity is more important than ever to support workers in finding representation to hold responsible parties accountable." —Geoffrey Crothall, China Labour Bulletin

    "While the book tells the story of the strategic exploitation of a million-strong workforce, at its heart are the individual struggles of the workers themselves, conveyed in their lyrics, poetry and statements. 'Each screw turns diligently / but they can’t turn around our future,' writes one. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has said that his mission, and that of the company, is 'to serve humanity'; Dying for an iPhone calls into question that aim and the ethics of our globalized economy as a whole." —Emily Kenway, The Times Literary Supplement 

    "Dying for an iPhone is deeply researched, comprehensively annotated and fuelled by anger." —Mike Cormack, South China Morning Post

    "Dying for an iPhone, by sociologists Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai, tackles head-on the unsavoury practices associated in the Chinese factories that produce Apple’s bestselling product." —Oliver Farry, The Irish Times

    "Dying for an iPhone balances heartbreaking worker interviews with carefully compiled employment and financial data from Apple and Foxconn to present a compelling case against the tech giant and its suppliers." —Jenny, Hamilton, Booklist

    "A damning indictment of Apple’s labor and supply practices....Chan, Selden, and Ngai persuasively argue that the relationship between Apple and shadowy Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn epitomizes the brutality of globalized late-stage capitalism....The authors merge deep dives into data with chilling testimonials from workers, including some who attempted suicide....[The authors] harness disturbing and varied evidence, including anecdotes, corporate communications, and first-person accounts, creating a compelling exposé of what lies behind one of the most recognizable icons of consumerism....A valuable contribution to an overdue discussion about technology and privilege." Kirkus

    "Dying for an iPhone is far and away the most comprehensive account of the lives and working conditions of the people who produce what is perhaps the iconic commodity of the 21st century—the iPhone. But it is much more than that. We also see how Apple and Foxconn, working within a neoliberal trade regime promoted by the US, Taiwanese, and Chinese governments alike, transcended national boundaries to develop a brutally exploitative system of labor discipline. It is an incisive account of the social dislocation, but also the resistance, wrought when capitalists of many nations unite against workers. Global in outlook while still presenting fine-grained and highly engaging accounts of workers’ lived experiences, this book is a shining example of public scholarship." —Eli Friedman, co-editor of China on Strike

    "Critical, accessible, and rigorously researched, this book offers the most comprehensive analysis of Foxconn, the world's largest electronics factory: its bleak landscape, dire consequences, and inspiring efforts to change it for the better." —Jack Linchuan Qiu, author of Goodbye iSlave: A Manifesto for Digital Abolition

    "When reading chapters describing the assembly line experience of workers, and the scientific management system, I could only compare it to the chapter in Marx’s Capital, when we are taken into the hidden abode of production. Dying for an iPhone is truly a great achievement to present such incisive description and analysis in a highly readable and accessible form." —Jeffery Hermanson, International Union Educational League

    "Holding a sleek new iPhone in our hands it is difficult to imagine the brutal work lives of the people who assemble our smartphones. In Dying for an iPhone Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai make this reality visible. Drawing on in-depth field work and a deep knowledge of the global electronics industry, the authors demonstrate not only the steep human cost of our love affair with smartphones, but also the fierce struggles by Chinese workers to improve their working conditions."  —Nicole Aschoff, author of The Smartphone Society: Technology, Power, and Resistance in the New Gilded Age

    "It was interesting to see the Chinese workers provide an answer to management that was the same used by Wobblies in the U.S. in the early 1900s!" —Kim Scipes, CounterPunch

    "Dying for an iPhone takes readers deep inside the dark Satanic mills of Foxconn’s industrial empire. Drawing on the words of the workers themselves, the book offers an invaluable portrait of the Chinese working class as it pumps blood (sometimes literally) into the productive heart of world capitalism." —Ben Tarnoff, co-founder of Logic Magazine

    "A deep dive into exploitation and labour struggle in the world of high-tech electronics manufacturing in China during the past decade. Dying for an iPhone is an expose of the human suffering behind the brands. Everyone should read this." —Hsiao-Hung Pai, Taiwanese journalist

    "Dying for an iPhone is an absolutely necessary read for anyone seeking to understand the realities of modern-day capitalism. Contrary to the mythology of Silicon Valley, this carefully researched book explains why companies like Apple owe their success more to exploitation than to innovation." —Wendy Liu, author of Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism

    "A sobering investigation into the human, social and environmental costs of producing the devices we have come to rely on, a process in which both corporations and we, the consumers, are complicit." —Nick Holdstock, author of Chasing the Chinese Dream

    "One of the two important hallmarks of the book is how the authors have throughout persevered relentlessly in bringing to relief the intertwined business models and relationships of Apple and Foxconn…. The other equally important hallmark of the book is the symbiotic relationship between Foxconn and the Chinese party-state, especially provincial and sub-provincial governments." — Anand Parappadi Krishnan, Economic & Political Weekly

    "…Dying for an iPhone is one of the best examples we have—not only in China studies, but in fieelds beyond—of engaged scholarly activism based on collaborative teamwork. This book should be read for everything it tells us about the Apple-Foxconn relationship, state-capital relations in the electronics industry, the struggles of factory workers, and the brilliance and also the limits, as well as the tightened control, especially after 2015, of worker protests throughout the long 2000s. It should be studied as a model for how to do long-term collaborative research, which arguably has not been practiced enough in the study of contemporary China." —Ralph Litzinger, The Journal of Asian Studies

    "… Overall, with its historical and theoretical in-depth, global and comprehensive in scope, Dying for an iPhone represents a landmark contribution to debates about Chinese 
    labour politics. It also adds new threads to critical communication scholarship as it enriches our understanding of the relationship between communication and labour, by charting the labour politics underlying the expansion of global digital capitalism and embedded in the material base of digital communications infrastructure. It is recommended reading for anyone who wishes to reflect on the underlying human sufferings when digital technologies become mundane." —Dr Zhou Yang, Department of Sociology, the Univeristy of Hong Kong

    "The effects of capitalism are made strikingly real as the language used in the book avoids treating mental well-being and suicide as taboo; for example, a chapter sub-heading of ‘a suicide survivor’ (p. 1) and a poem presented ‘for my departed brothers and sisters.' Such is the powerfulness of the open accounts." —Charlie Smith, Work, Employment and Society

    "Dying for an iPhone thus is an outstanding work of critical public sociology that attempts, in the authors’ own words, “to inform and heighten social consciousness concerning labour issues to inspire transnational activism in opposition to the oppression of labour wherever it is found” (p. 201). It is not only a must-read for scholars and students in the fields of contemporary China and labour studies, but also strongly recommended to anyone interested in the transformation of global production networks and the future of transnational working-class politics." —Daniel Fuchs, The China Quarterly

    "They compellingly narrate their findings into a transnational, sociological study of labor, globalization and the state in Dying for an iPhone…. As feminist scholars of domestic and care work have long pointed out, privacy and an expectation of inner- or psychic- life, has always been the domain of the privileged. Just as women workers are recruited across borders to work in private households, so too are young workers compelled into employment migration that results in a job at Foxconn. In both situations, workers are kept captive through means of employer-control of all aspects of life, including their so-called private lives…. Dying for an iPhone reminds readers of the fullness of the lives of all Foxconn workers, whose economic conditions place them in peril. The book ultimately shows that its subjects nonetheless persist and insist that their lives be more than the part of them captured by the global electronics production and consumption machine." —Julietta Hua, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies

    Published online: 14 Feb 2024, pp. 1-4

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