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“We Have Many Options, But They are All Bad Options!”: Aspirations Among Internal Migrant Youths in Shanghai, China

Abstract

This article explores the considerations internal migrant youths in Shanghai make as they orient themselves towards the future. Unlike their parents, these youths come of age with dreams and desires that mirror those of their local middle-class peers, yet they are funnelled into the vocational educational system since they do not have local household registrations. Cast as non-aspiring and failed students that break with doxic middle-class aspirations, I contend these youths still find ways to aspire and strategize to achieve a better life. As such, I argue for a more nuanced understanding of the grounds on which vocational education is chosen. Rather than a negative choice, I argue that migrant youths who attend vocational education may do so as a compromise between potential material gains, prestige, feelings of belonging, filial piety and closeness to family and friends. Therefore, educational aspirations cannot be untied from broader desires for the future.

Resumé

Cet article explore les considérations des jeunes migrant.e.s internes à Shanghai lorsqu'ils et elles se tournent vers l'avenir. Contrairement à leurs parents, ces jeunes arrivent à maturité avec des rêves et des désirs semblables à ceux de leurs pairs de la classe moyenne locale ; cependant, en l’absence d’enregistrement local de leur foyer, ces jeunes sont dirigé.e.s vers le système d'enseignement professionnel. Bien qu’ils et elles soient considéré.e.s comme des étudiant.e.s sans aspiration et en échec, en rupture avec les aspirations doxiques de la classe moyenne, je soutiens que ces jeunes trouvent tout de même les moyens d'avoir de l’ambition et d'élaborer des stratégies pour parvenir à une vie meilleure. Ainsi, je fais appel à une compréhension plus nuancée des motifs pour lesquels l'enseignement professionnel est choisi. Plutôt qu'un choix négatif, je soutiens que les jeunes migrant.e.s qui suivent une formation professionnelle peuvent le considérer comme un compromis entre les gains matériels potentiels, le prestige, les sentiments d'appartenance, la piété filiale et la proximité avec la famille et les amis. Par conséquent, les aspirations éducatives ne peuvent être dissociées des désirs plus globaux envers l'avenir.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Peggy Froerer, Nicola Ansell and Roy Huijsmans for organising the very inspiring conference ‘Theorising Youth Aspirations’ at Brunel University in April 2018, and for their constructive feedback during my writing of this article. Furthermore, I owe Anneke Newman and Francis Collins my thanks for sharing their insights with me. Finally, I am grateful to the department of Anthropology at the University of Bergen for hosting me as an associate researcher during this phase.

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Correspondence to Ole Johannes Kaland.

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Kaland, O.J. “We Have Many Options, But They are All Bad Options!”: Aspirations Among Internal Migrant Youths in Shanghai, China. Eur J Dev Res 33, 35–53 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-020-00301-z

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Keywords

  • Aspiration
  • China
  • Internal migration
  • Youth
  • Education