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“Social Mobility via academic mobility: reconfigurations in class and gender identities among Asian scholars in the global north”

Maggi W. H. Leung

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, advance article, 2017

Geographic mobility is increasingly perceived worldwide as a key to academic excellence, career advancement and upward social mobility. Drawing on long-term qualitative fieldwork data, this paper interrogates the impact of academic mobility in reconfiguring class and gender identities among students, early professionals and their families from Hong Kong and Indonesia who have studied or received further training in Germany, the Netherlands and the USA. This analysis problematises the crude ‘academic mobility → upward social mobility’ formula and considers international academic mobility as a contextual, dynamic and multi-directional process. Through this process social positions and identities of the moving individuals and families are negotiated in an on-going manner as migrants insert into, depart from and re-insert into the various social milieus where their mobility trajectories touch ground. Narratives of interviewees illustrate the complexity and contradictions in class and gender configurations as students move across borders. They show how these individuals are inserted in contrasting social positionings, and experience how a particular social class or gender position carries different connotations. The paper concludes with a few conceptual and methodological reflections.

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