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Passing Shanghai. Ethnographic Insights into Expatriate Youths' Mobile Lives

Sander, Marie

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The dissertation Passing Shanghai explores how children experience international mobility by focusing on the specific, yet heterogeneous group of expatriate youths in contemporary Shanghai. While Shanghai, as one of China’s most thriving metropolises, hosts a considerably large expatriate community, many of these foreigners - or so called ‘expatriates’ - only stay three to five years in the city before moving back ‘home’ or on to new destinations. This highly mobile lifestyle of the families under scrutiny is typically accompanied by a privileged status with high financial benefits. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among expatriate teenagers in Shanghai from 2010 to 2012, this dissertation highlights their age-specific perspectives of growing up abroad. Through participant observation at international schools, homes in gated communities, restaurants, clubs, bars and other leisure sites in Shanghai, it investigates expatriate teenagers’ everyday practices, their engagement with the city, their dreams and aspirations as well as questions of belonging. The ethnographic approach captures the students’ limbo of moving and growing up and explores teenage practices and positioning within this transitory space. In these accounts the tensions between the dependency on parents (and mostly their decisions to move) and youths’ own agency to deal with the realities of moving often become visible. The dissertation consequently highlights how students negotiate issues of home and cultural identity and develop self-reflective transcultural perspectives on their way of living. These processes of making-sense of the stay(s) abroad are accompanied by the retreat to familiar practices and related spaces, which often lead to a division between expatriates and locals. The youths’ perspectives and experiences of living in expatriate communities presented in this dissertation thus also contribute to a larger view on the interdependence and contradictions between the aspired flexibility of twenty-first century identities and the rigidity of cultural divisions, based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, or class.

Item Type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Brosius, Prof. Dr. Christiane
Date of thesis defense: 17 July 2013
Date Deposited: 05 Feb 2014 07:30
Date: 2014
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Behavioural and Cultural Studies > Institute of Ethnology
Subjects: 300 Social sciences
390 Customs, etiquette, folklore
Controlled Keywords: Internationale Migration, Jugendkultur, Shanghai
Uncontrolled Keywords: Expatriates, Europeans in Shanghai, Third Culture Kids, Youth, Transculturality
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