Building Halos: how do Chinese elites seek distinction through (mis) recognising studying abroad?

19th October 2021 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Speaker: Dr. Ye Liu, King’s College London, UK; Dr. Wenqin Shen, Peking University, China

Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

Audience: Public

Why do Chinese elite graduates choose to study abroad? How do they construct “distinction”? Using a case study of Peking University and drawing upon empirical data from a first-hand survey study, in-depth interviews and observations, we find a pattern of distinction making through “building triple halos”, which encompasses dual processes of educational emulation and (mis-)recognition. Our statistical analyses suggest that students from leading cadres and managerial families actively pursued study abroad as “extra time” to make distinction, which games out even elite graduates without adequate economic resources.

The qualitative data reveal a complex process of distinction-making which connects individual agency and educational processes with organisational intermediaries. The elites signal superiority by building three “halos” (elite schools, PKU and the Ivy League scholarship-holders)-a process gradually narrowing the circle of “us” and excluding aspirational “others”. This individual level of distinction-making is coordinated with collective consensus, and organisational intermediaries in seeking, justifying, and (mis-)recognising studying abroad as a pathway to distinction.

We further reveal the complexity of the identities of the PKU elites as both possessors and challengers of distinction. Yet, the main beneficiaries are the agents of the study-abroad industry, who not only consolidate their client base in PKU but also pursue a new business route of accommodating the challengers. This particular finding will be discussed in relation to China’s recent crackdown on the study abroad industry.

This webinar is part of the free public seminar programme hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE).