PhD defence - Susanne Bregnbæk

Title: Family, State and the Quandaries of Education.
The Tension between Self-sacrifice and Self-actualizationamong University Students in Beijing

Time and place

Friday, 3 September 2010, 14:00. Please be on time.
Place: CSS, auditorium 1.1.18, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 Copenhagen K 

The thesis can be bought at Akademisk Boghandel, Øster Farimagsgade 5.

Assessment Committee

Prof. Michael Puett, Harvard University, USA
Prof. Charles Stafford, London School of Economics, England
Prof. Susan Whyte, University of Copenhagen


Based on ten months of research at two elite universities in Beijing, (Tsinghua University and Beijing University), this thesis focuses on the conundrums of life for young people in China today who were born after the introduction of the One Child Policy. Addressing the seemingly paradoxical situation faced by these young people, many of who are among the lucky few, who have made it to the top of a very competitive educational system, yet feel deeply ambivalent about their own futures, and often suicidal, the thesis explores what is at stake for these elite university students as they come of age. I argue that they experience a double bind, in the form of two opposing (yet interconnected) social imperatives, those of "self-sacrifice" and "self-actualization". I see these as tied to existential aporias, moral dilemmas that admit no resolution and reflect contradictions intrinsic to the human condition.

The thesis provides a critique of one of the dominant paradigms in the field that interprets current developments in China as based on either neo-liberalism or on bio-politics as defined by Michel Foucault. I argue that such a paradigm tends to see individuals as instantiations of these larger governmental regimes, thereby missing much of the complexity and tension. Through case histories of students of different social backgrounds, I explore how intergenerational dilemmas are linked to but not entirely reducible to historical and political transformations, including the Chinese state's educational policies focused on improving the "quality" of the population.