A Case of Double Socialisation in the Social Sciences: The Experience of Chinese Researchers Trained in France

Guiheux, Gilles; Simeng, Wang and Hall, Jonathan*. A case of double socialisation in the social sciences: The experience of Chinese researchers trained in France [online].China Perspectives, No. 4, Dec 2018: 21-30.



Professor Gilles Guiheux, Université de Paris, France

Simeng Wang

Dr Simeng Wang, The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France

ABSTRACT: This article discusses the epistemological issues raised by the internationalisation of the social sciences as they affect the case of students from the People’s Republic of China who are trained in social sciences in France and return to pursue their career in higher education and research in China. The aim is to assess whether the epistemological differences between the two academic worlds may give rise to any professional difficulties in this many-sided scientific socialisation. However, although our qualitative enquiry has revealed a number of differences, the problem of the availability of professional opportunities does not seem to have a distinctively epistemological dimension.

KEYWORDS: internationalisation, social sciences, Chinese students, France, China, epistemology, higher education, research.


SUMMARY: This article discusses the epistemological issues in the internationalisation of the social sciences as attested by the case of students from the People’s Republic of China who undergo their training in social sciences in France and return to pursue their career in higher education and research in China. The question of the epistemological differences between Chinese and French social sciences is posed when one considers the paths taken by Chinese students coming to gain their PhD in France and then returning to take up a university position in China. What is at issue here is the double scientific socialization undergone by individuals who have been trained according to the norms of French and Chinese institutions or, as Alain Coulon (1997) put it, who have acquired a double “affiliation”. The paper deals with the conditions of appropriation and re-appropriation of knowledge and new scientific practices, that is, in the apprenticeship modalities specific to France on the one hand, and the conditions for entry into the Chinese scientific labour market on the other. Its aim is to investigate the gaps between the two academic worlds and the existence or non-existence of difficulties caused by this multiple form of scientific socialization: to what extent does a young researcher trained in France find himself on returning to China in a state of tension due to a scientific environment different from his previously acquired knowledge, commitments or skills?

Following some exploratory interviews, an open questionnaire was sent to 29 PhD students and graduates, half of whom have since gone on to take up a university position in China. They spent an average of seven years in France, a large number of them having come to France for a Master’s degree. These residential study periods all took place after the year 2000; and 40 per cent after 2010. A large majority, 22 out of 29, received financial support for their doctoral studies. The questionnaires were circulated through our acquaintanceship network, which explains that nearly half (13 out of 29) are sociologists, but all the human and social science disciplines are nonetheless represented.

Relying on the data from this enquiry, the first part of our article sets out in detail the specific gains from their university training in France. The questions put to our interviewees allow us to identify the specific gains from university training in France, in terms of learning about methods and concepts, the demand for intellectual freedom, and for the assimilation of new categories of thought. The answers reveal the epistemological differences produced by their stay in France in comparison with what they had already learnt in China. The enquiry shows a number of differences due to the academic training abroad and resocialization in migration, in terms of both the place of training and epistemological issues. In France, the interviewees experienced scientific practices quite different from those which they had known in China, opening a lot of room for individual autonomy, and for a fuller acquaintance with intellectual traditions, while at the same time assimilating concepts forged in the European context which for some of them were not directly applicable to the Chinese context. From that point of view, international mobility between the different areas of science is a salutary experience, since it ensures the defamiliarisation of the categories of thought and reminds us that all intellectual production must be seen in its context.

The second section goes back to consider the question of “value” in terms of the Chinese academic job market. Our enquiry has provided us with some aspects of the conditions faced by our interviewees on returning to China and their professional integration. This may well be considered the moment when the value of their abilities acquired in France was put to the test. It throws light on the advantages and the disadvantages of their French university training. The testing demands which these interviewees faced in their professional integration do not seem to have had any specifically epistemological dimension. What they showed was their greater or lesser mastery of the requisite know-how and professional strategies. In sum, the major Chinese universities – although there is no doubt more to be said on the diversity of appointments in relation to the establishments concerned – have aligned their patterns for recruitment, assessment, and promotions with those of the English-speaking world, which gave rise to considerable debate in the early 2000s.

Authors Bio

Professor Gilles Guiheux is Professor at the Université de Paris since 2006. He specializes in economic sociology of contemporary China. He has recently published La République populaire de Chine (Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2018) and co-edited a special issue of the Asian journal of German and European Studies on ‘Labor market formation during high-growth period in China and Japan’ (https://www.springeropen.com/collections/Laborgrowthchinajapan). He has also published numerous articles and contributions in French and English on enterprises and entrepreneurs. He received his Ph.D. from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).

Dr Simeng Wang is a permanent Research Fellow at The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). She specializes in Chinese immigration in France and earned her PhD from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. She has recently published Illusions et souffrances. Les migrants chinois à Paris (Paris, Éditions rue d’Ulm, 2017) and co-edited two special issues “Participating in the Chinese world: a youth connected” (in Participations, 2017) and “Chinese Migrations and Generations” (in Hommes & Migrations, 2016). She is co-leading a granted research program “Chinese of France: identifications and identities in transition” (2018-20). She is also an elected member of the executive committee of the French Sociology Association since 2017. For more publications of Simeng, please refer here. Couverture_IllusionsetSouffrances



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