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Reason: There are sensitive and confidential data (i.e.interview scripts and response from study participants) in the submitted dataset, so I would like to apply access restrictions due to privacy concerns.

Supporting data for "The Making of a New Generation of Chinese Workers: Marginalized Youth, Vocational Education and Class Formation"

posted on 2022-03-04, 03:06 authored by Xinmiao Song

In the past forty years, China’s integration into the global capitalist system and its pursuit of modernity have given rise to a widening class inequality in education and led to a majority of those who did not academically succeed out of academic inquiry. Based on 112 interviews with students and teachers in seven vocational schools, this study aims to extend social reproduction theory in education (SRE) by scrutinizing working-class formation in vocational schools in contemporary China.

Taking a political economy perspective, this study views learning skills in vocational schools as a transforming and contested process to make new working-class subjects for China’s accumulation regime. The interaction between structural constraints and youth agency is an ongoing theme in this study to understand both the economic and cultural reproduction of class. Key findings indicate that, structurally, underclass students experience two major frustrations before entering the labor force. First, the exam-based sorting system fails to compensate for class-based unequal resource allocation, which channels a disproportionate number of rural/migrant students into the vocational track. Second, ineffective skills training in vocational schools further frustrates students’ hopes of becoming skilled workers. The state’s craftsmanship discourse articulates an ideal that vocational schools should provide high-quality skills training, recognized skills certificates, relevant internships, and a smooth transition to work. In reality, many schools cannot deliver on their promises of skills formation and better employment, which further undermines the marginalized youth’s already low self-efficacy and leaves them to confront the increasingly flexible labor market without adequate institutional support. This gap between skill formation and the moral ideal fosters a sense of delusion among vocational students who see through the myth of schooling as a means of upward mobility.

In terms of identity formation, vocational students actively construct their own morality as independent, altruistic subjects with firm beliefs in practicality. They are not constrained by the ineffective educational institution, but seek out alternatives and self-growth in professional associations, peer groups and the workplace. Despite their proactive efforts to navigate schooling and work transitions, we will see that the system fails these students and works to reproduce social class inequality instead.

This research contributes to social reproduction in education theory by revealing that vocational education is not a unified and hegemonic apparatus, but a battlefield with its own systemic problems. “Fractured governmentality” in vocational schools is a result of tensions between the interests and capacities of vocational schools and the state’s expectations, as well as between the school and the market. Furthermore, the structural dilemma in skill development puts vocational youth in an in-between position, caught by aspirations of skilled jobs and the reality of entering a precarious, unskilled labor pool. Still, fractured governmentality stimulates vocational students’ agency in constructing their own moralities and subjectivities, which leads to their own diverse initiatives to establish mutual aid groups both on and off campus.


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