Knowledge Workers, Identities, and Communication Practices: Understanding Code Farmers in China

  • Sophie Sun Ping The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Michelangelo Magasic Curtin University
Keywords: Knowledge workers, Identity, IT programmers, CuDA, Manong, Diaosi


Extending the concept of “knowledge workers”, this paper studies the identity dynamics of IT programmers from small companies in China. Through the discursive analysis of programmers’ personal memoirs (collected via personal interviews and online ethnography), four themes of identity dynamics emerge: IT programmers demonstrate identification with professionalism and technology; they naturalize the high mobility and internal precarity of their work via discourses of the self and social improvement; the term manong (“code monkey” or “code farmer” in English) is used to support a sense of selfhood amidst high pressure schedules and “panoptic control”; the disparaging term diaosi (“loser” in English) is appropriated in order to activate a sense of self-expression and collective resistance regarding the programmers’ working and living conditions. These four themes are integrated into: 1) hegemonic discourses of economic development and technical innovation; and 2) the processes of individualization among IT programmers on a global scale. Our findings suggest that being a knowledge worker means not only to provide professional expertise, communication, creativity and knowledge, it also interrogates questions of survival, struggle, and solidarity.