Gender, cultural capital and transnational mobility: Chinese female international students’ transnational aspirations and transnational lives in the UK
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Embargo end date08/07/2020
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Drawing on 25 semi-structured interviews and participant observation at a Scottish university, this thesis explores the ways in which gender and cultural capital are closely linked with Chinese female international students’ transnational educational choices and their transnational living experiences during their stay in the U.K. It explores the role of gender and cultural capital in shaping various study choices (such as subjects and programmes). It then examines students’ experiences of the perceived benefits (such as symbolic worth and the disposition of mind as well as body) and the anticipated disadvantages of converting cultural capital in future job markets. It also explains that transnational mobility may bring about empowerment, struggles as well as compromises regarding Chinese female students’ marriage values and their regulation of appearances during their transnational mobility. The sample of this research consists of young mainland Chinese female adults from both working-class and middle-class backgrounds, although students from middle-class backgrounds are my main focus. In order to have a better understanding of the unique composition of the Chinese middle-class, I divide the middle-class students into two groups based on their natal families: the Chinese middle class inside the Chinese government system and the Chinese middle class outside the Chinese government system. The thesis contributes to an understanding of cultural capital from a gender-related perspective in a certain field and shows that cultural capital for young Chinese women is associated with both gender benefits and gender constraints. Before Chinese female students study abroad, their choices of subjects, programmes and when to study abroad are closely linked with gender. Although the students from middle-class families enjoyed increasing educational opportunities, their study subjects are still highly gendered, which also affect their future career choices. My findings also suggest that transnational educational mobility was believed by students to offer the most privileged opportunities to fulfill their desires in gaining a better quality education, to enable middle-class social reproduction, and to experience a new lifestyle. Chinese female international students obtain various valuable cultural capitals, especially symbolic worth and new manners, as well as behaviours in the U.K. Therefore, the research extends Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital in explaining Chinese female students’ status distinction. In addition to identifying cultural capital as Western knowledge, skills, dispositions and qualifications obtained through U.K. international tertiary education, the thesis identifies the specific and different forms of transnational cultural capitals, especially transnational embodied cultural capital. It therefore expands Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capitals and addresses an important gap in current sociological knowledge in the field of transnational migration. The research captures the depth and complexity of female students’ transnational experiences on an individual level. While Chinese female students are confident of status advantages and see themselves as more distinctive and globally exposed than their Chinese peers who do not experience transnational study, their cosmopolitan desires can never be fully realised because of their actual living conditions being repositioned in a different (U.K.-based) hierarchical system. Chinese female international students’ personal backgrounds (such as relationships with parents, age, transnational study intention, and hometown), their interaction with the transnational cultural context, development of transnational ties, and social circles are all significant factors in constructing their complex emotions and attitudes towards their understanding of performing femininity and considering future marriage during the migration process. Therefore, the importance of transnational mobility for different groups should be understood as diverse and complex rather than essentially similar for all Chinese female international students.
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