The Value of English Literary Studies in Hong Kong: Insights from Interviews with MA Students
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This chapter uses interviews with eight mature students in full-time employment who voluntarily took up a self-paid part-time master’s course in English literary studies in order to rethink the question of the value of the humanities for Hong Kong from the perspective of the students themselves. These students were not under the common social pressure in Hong Kong to obtain a first undergraduate degree for better future career options, having already received one, and their responses could therefore be a better measure of the value of humanities studies in Hong Kong beyond this reason. The chapter shows that despite obvious relevance to students’ careers emerging from the interviews, half of the respondents maintained a deliberate distance from such pragmatic reasons, elevating the personal meaning of the subject above all else. The chapter thus warns against diminishing this personal aspect in positioning humanities programmes in favour of highlighting career pragmatism in the face of market pressures. The expected finding of personal interest was also explored in greater depth by the method of “transformative interviewing,” whereby the interview was treated as an educational experience and students were challenged to think of social uses for their studies. The responses that emerged indicated that the anti-pragmatism of English literary studies in Hong Kong lead precisely to its relevance and use in society as a valuable resource that could counter pervasive commercialism and materialism, not least in its educational sector. Chan thus argues for a renewed, instead of oppositional, understanding of the “pragmatics” of humanities studies, which programmes can use to position themselves in Hong Kong. The success in the reconfiguration of the value of a literary studies degree in the process of the interview, Chan suggests, can be replicated by adding a metatextual, self-reflexive dimension to the humanities classroom, through which students are challenged to think more deeply about the values of their studies without threatening the integrity of the subject.
KeywordsEnglish Literature Literary Study Personal Interest Literary World Literary Work
The author is grateful to Irene Chan for helping her with the interview transcription work for this chapter, and to both her and Jenny Kwok for conducting literature reviews of research on the humanities in higher education. The author’s special thanks go to the MA students who agreed to be interviewed, and who therefore made this chapter possible.
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