Launch seminar – second keynote address

We are delighted that Johanna Waters, associate professor of human geography at the University of Oxford, will be giving the second keynote address at our launch seminar on 21 September. The abstract of her talk is given below.

Biopolitics and the ‘making’ of the unexceptional student: some geographical reflections on education in East Asia

This paper deals directly with the question of how contemporary students are ‘made’, with a focus on biopolitical processes.  In East Asia, children’s education has variously been described as an ‘imperative’, as a ‘fever’ and an ‘obsession’ amongst the populace. It is given a status, arguably, that is unsurpassed in any other geographical context. Specific technologies, that include high profile public examinations, serve to create particular subject identities, separating the successful from the unsuccessful student. These student identities have far-reaching and potentially profound implications; individuals are often perceived of as having failed ‘morally’ as well as ‘academically’. In this paper, I consider what options are available for individuals who have ‘failed’ to access higher education in the conventional way, drawing on research from two projects that have explored different aspects of students’ spatial (im)mobilities in/from Hong Kong. In one scenario, failing students ‘exit’ the system altogether and seek HE overseas; in another, students obtain HE through continuing education colleges and subsequently pursue ‘non-local’ degree programmes. In both cases, students are able somehow to disrupt the biopolitical production of ‘local’ student identities, offering, in the process, a form of political resistance to dominant ‘meritocratic’ ideologies.

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