Council on Anthropology and Education
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores how an emerging set of companies within China’s $260 billion private education market economize and internationalize the concept of “research skills” (diaoyan nengli) through the facilitation of trips to “developing country” (fazhan zhong guojia) destinations, specifically Nairobi, Kenya. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research conducted in China and Kenya, this paper centers on the ways in which domestic education companies (jiaoyu jigou) structure the motivations of highly mobile, young Chinese citizens whose economic “flexibility” (Harvey 1987; Ong 1999) as members of China’s sprawling middle class enables “choice” (xuanze) with regard to educational and professional pathways, a shift from the pre-reform era practice of vocation allocation (Kipnis 2012). Anthropological research on Chinese education has shown that choice exists within a highly competitive and hierarchical educational regime founded on the intertwining of aspirational inter-generational social mobility, filial piety, and national strength (Hoffman 2010; Howlett 2017). To succeed in this environment, young Chinese nationals must mobilize themselves in order to highlight their “uniqueness” (Bregnbæk 2016), at times seeking the assistance of education companies who commodify this quality in the form of “packaged experiences” (baozhuang jingli). Trips to “developing countries" to foster research skills have begun to garner attention as a resume-builder that enables students to stand out among their peers. Using the case study of Kenya, this paper examines both the practice and implications of conceptualizing “research skills” as a form of expertise honed in Global South nation-states, which can later be used for entry into Global North educational markets.