Infrastructural capitalism in China : Alibaba, its corporate culture and three infrastructural mechanisms

Tommy TSE*, Ngai PUN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Contrasting existing scholarship in ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, this article builds on the theorisation of infrastructural capitalism as an emerging global-capitalist project entangled with both China’s state-socialist ideology and the latest nationalistic revitalisation agenda, serving both political and commercial goals, yet also rendering discontent and resistance in daily business and employment practices. Through participant observation across 13 Alibaba departments or subsidiaries, semi-structured interviews with workers in Alibaba and other Chinese platform companies, and the analysis of corporate documentation and media reports, our ethnographic study highlights the ‘physical and digital (phygital)’ nature of infrastructure, and theorises how discursive, symbolic, and sensorial techniques are adopted to direct and sustain infrastructural capitalism in daily organisational setting through three unique mechanisms: public-private partnerships, corporate prosumption networks (CPN) and imagineered global competition. This article’s key contributions are threefold: to dissect the intertwined discursive, symbolic and affective mechanisms through which the ‘invisible’ infrastructures of capitalism are made ‘visible’ and ‘sensible’; unpack the variegated impacts and inherent dilemmas of infrastructural capitalism; and reimagine the possibility of individual resistance and systemic transgression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-30
Number of pages20
JournalGlobal Media and China
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

The author would like to thank the GMAC editors and anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions throughout the review process. He is also thankful to Darren Carter, Jenny Chan, Yiu-Fai Chow, Jeroen de Kloet, Anthony Fung, Kun He, Misha Kavka, Xiaotian Li, Jori Snels, Bo Wang and June Wang for their critical comments on an earlier version of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Alibaba
  • China
  • E-commerce
  • corporate culture
  • digital economy
  • infrastructural capitalism
  • phygital infrastructure
  • platform economy
  • public-private partnerships
  • sensorial infrastructure


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