Involution, No Revolution: Technocapitalism and Intern Labour

  • Anthony Fung The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Wei He Beijing Normal University
  • Feier Chen
Keywords: involution, revolution, technocapitalism, digital capitalism, tech firms, internship, labour, precarity


The global economic downturn due to the pandemic has resulted in shrinking the digital market in big economies such as the USA and China. After the pandemic, many of the major tech and internet-based companies had to take action to reverse their declining balance sheets and look for ways to financially rebound. Illustrated in this paper is how these tech firms in China could further advance their economy by minimising their paid manpower by working with/under the education system and inventing new temporary intern positions as semi-(im)material labour to expand their workforce. Based on our ethnographic work and interviews with interns, we elucidate the case of a Chinese tech intern, which exemplifies what we refer to as involution. Involution is a process by which the new generation is induced to accept a much more precarious economy as a result of nominal pay, yet can nevertheless survive, meet their daily needs and dwell in big cities, rather than engaging a radical change or revolution.

Author Biographies

Anthony Fung, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Anthony Fung is a Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a Professor in the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University at Beijing. His research interests and teaching focus on digital media and entertainment, popular culture, cultural industries and policy and studies of youth audiences. Currently, he is editor-in-chief of Global Media and China and associate editor of the  International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Wei He, Beijing Normal University

Wei He is a Professor in the School of Arts and Communication at Beijing Normal University, China, where he is also the Deputy Director of the Digital Content and Creative Media Center. His research interests include social media studies, game studies, creative industries and popular culture.

Feier Chen

Feier Chen is a game character artist and independent researcher. She received her master’s degree from Beijing Normal University. 

Critical Perspectives on Digital Capitalism 2: Digital Labour and Class