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Global Youth


An interdisciplinary research centre that examines what it means to grow up in a global world


Youth mobility webinar series week 2: China

By UCL Global Youth, on 12 April 2021

To view a recording of this webinar, visit our Youtube channel.

On Tuesday 11 May, 2021, 12 noon UK time. Register for this event on Eventbrite.

The second webinar of this series will focus on education mobilities in East Asia. To start the session, Prof Johanna Waters will share her findings on how families discuss their daily trans-border commutes for schooling, drawing on primary research with families in Hong Kong. Focusing on the prevalence of tiredness and exhaustion, Johanna argues that corporality and emotions in education mobilities are under-explored in the literature.

Jiexiu Chen will then present findings from her research in China on rural students’ experiences of settling down in the city. Building on Bourdieu to examine migration across social boundaries, Jiexiu proposes four orientations of habitus to demonstrate individuals’ tendencies to maintain continuity or embrace changes: urbanised habitus, liminal habitus, permeated habitus, and twisted habitus.

After the presentations, Dr Cora Xu (Durham University) will identify cross-cutting themes and will invite questions from webinar participants.

Presentation 1: Cross-boundary mobilities for education in East Asia: tiredness and exhaustion

Professor Johanna Waters, UCL Geography

My talk foregrounds and unpacks the significance of education for the mobilities of children in contemporary East Asia, drawing principally on primary research with families, undertaken in Hong Kong and across the political border with Mainland China (Shenzhen). Focusing on the example of cross-boundary schooling, the presentation explores households’ experiences of a daily trans-border commute, stressing the prevalence of tiredness and exhaustion in families’ narratives of their quotidian practices. The corporality and differentiated experiences of everyday mobilities for education are rarely explored in the extant literature and yet this has been one of the striking aspects of our findings. In this talk, I will briefly explore how families discussed cross-boundary schooling – the emotions and feelings evoked within our qualitative accounts.

About the author:  Johanna L. Waters is Professor of Human Geography and co-Director of the Migration Research Unit at UCL. She has worked for a number of years on aspects of transnational families, education and migration, with a particular interest in East Asia. She is presently editing a book with Brenda Yeoh (NUS) on Migration and the Family (forthcoming with Edward Elgar) and is looking forward, in the next few months, to the publication of Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities (Waters, J. and R. Brooks, 2021, Palgrave). Johanna is proud to be elected as a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

Presentation 2: Urbanised, liminal, permeated, and twisted: four orientations of habitus in rural students’ transitions to urban life

Jiexiu Chen, PhD candidate, UCL Institute of Education

 In the Chinese context of a stratified education system and significant urban–rural inequality, rural students generally face limited possibilities for social mobility through higher education. Despite these structural constraints, some exceptional rural students manage to get themselves enrolled in urban universities. Drawing on 50 rural students’ life history interviews conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, and Ji’nan in 2018, I adopt Bourdieu’s conceptual tools to explore these students’ subjective experiences of migrating across social boundaries.

In this webinar, I will focus on rural students’ experiences of settling down in the city as well as their identity struggle between their rural origins and their current status as urban residents. I propose four orientations of habitus to demonstrate individuals’ tendencies to maintain continuity (rural) or embrace changes (urban) at the time they were interviewed: urbanised habitus, liminal habitus, permeated habitus, and twisted habitus. I find participants’ narratives generally demonstrate a degree of fluidity or conflict in their habitus transformation process, and the elements of these different possibilities are likely to concurrently exist. Their unique habitus reveals the geographical and emotional traces of their individual trajectories, like the experiences they encounter at different stages of their life and the forms and amounts of resources they accumulate along the way. Moreover, most participants tend to maintain close ties with their rural families, as repaying parents is one of the essential requirements of filial piety in the Chinese tradition. I suggest the contradictions and ambivalences aroused from the tension between rural origins and urban life appear in a nuanced form and reveal the distinctiveness of the Chinese rural context.

About the author: Jiexiu Chen is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University College London, UK. She was awarded a full PhD scholarship by the China Scholarship Council’s National Construction High-Level University Postgraduate Project. Her research interests include social mobility, urban-rural migration, cross-cultural adaptation, and higher education policy. She has an emerging journal article and book publication on rural students’ social mobility experiences and international scholars’ cross-cultural adaptations in China.


This series is hosted by the UCL Centre for Global Youth and co-organised by Dr Avril Keating (Director of the Centre), Dr Sazana Jayadeva (University of Cambridge) and Rachel Benchekroun (UCL-IOE). The series is funded by IOE International.

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