Mobile Chinese students navigating between fields: (Trans)forming habitus in transnational articulation programmes?

Dai, K., Lingard, B., & Musofer, R. P. (2019). Mobile Chinese students navigating between fields: (Trans)forming habitus in transnational articulation programmes? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-12. doi:10.1080/00131857.2019.1689813

Kun Dai

Dr Kun Dai, Peking University, China


Transnational articulation programmes are one way China is attempting to advance its higher education (HE) system. We report a study of twelve Chinese students’ experiences in two China-Australia 2 + 2 articulation programmes. In our analysis of semi-structured interviews, we use Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus to understand the impact on the habitus of the students. We report the experiences of the Chinese students in the HE sub-field in Australia. Students were like fish in water with the logics of practice of Chinese HE. In the new sub-field of HE in Australia, their habitus was out of place. This field/habitus mismatch created a field-habitus dissonance that can be productive of change to the habitus. Some in the study strategised to overcome this field-habitus mismatch and to adjust to the logics of the new field. We designate this emergent habitus as an in-between, diasporic cosmopolitan habitus, while others were able to ‘compartmentalise’ the demands of the new field, indicating durability of habitus.



This study investigated Chinese students’ experiences in China-Australia transnational articulation programmes using Bourdieu’s thinking tools, particularly field and habitus. Research on articulation programmes has explored transnational higher education (TNHE) and forms of TNHE in the Chinese context (Huang, 2003; Yang, 2008). Australia has been successfully internationalising its higher education (HE) and is one of the active partners that have engaged in articulation programmes with China (Dai, 2018a). Enrolling in China/Australia articulation programmes under the 2+2 mode, students learn in China for the first two years and then they move to an Australian university to complete the remaining two years of their undergraduate degrees. Few studies have investigated the experiences and adjustments of Chinese students in transnational programmes (Qin & Te, 2016). It is those adjustments or otherwise that this paper is focused on to understand what occurs in relation to students’ habitus.

The evidence demonstrates that some students modify their habitus in response to the demands of what we see as the sub-field (see Thomson, 2008) of Australian HE with its particular logics of practice that are contrastive with those in what we are referring to as the Chinese subfield of HE. Both sub-fields are situated within what we can today rightly see as a global field of HE with some converging policy developments in all HE systems, including the emergence of a one world science system, mass participation, and new managerialist/marketised, management/leadership practices (Marginson, 2016). While some students modified their habitus, others demonstrated the durability of their extant habitus developed in China and thus ‘compartmentalised’ their experiences of the challenging new logics of practice of the Australian HE sub-field (Jin &Ball, 2019).

Research methodology

This qualitative study investigated twelve students’ learning experiences in two China-Australia 2+2 articulation programmes. By adopting a purposive sampling approach, the first author recruited these students (see Table 1) based on his networks. Seven students studied in Programme A, and their major was about Design. The other five students were in Programme B and studied in Information and Technology (IT) related fields. The students were also in different years of the Australian stage; five students were in their first year, the rest in second year. All participants had successfully completed all required courses in the Chinese stage and met the English requirement for starting their Australian study. When they were interviewed, they were studying in their major courses in different years in Australia. Thus, they had both Chinese and Australian learning experiences, which meant they were able to share their stories from a comparative perspective.

Discussion and conclusion

Here we begin with some speculative analysis, which concerns the emergence of a cosmopolitan habitus amongst some of the students who modified their extant habitus in response to field-habitus dissonance in the Australian HE sub-field. It also concerns digital space as a field. There is much globalisation literature that comments on the flows of people (including mobile international students), ideas (articulation programmes), policy (internationalisation of HE), finance, images and media across the globe and related talk about diasporic public spheres, where migrants still participate in the life of their country of origin through usage of social media and new technologies (Appadurai, 1996). This has altered the migrant experience and we would argue the lives of mobile international students as indicated in our interview data. Rizvi, Louie, and Evans (2016) argue that long-stay international students can be seen as a diaspora, perhaps a short-term diaspora, but a diaspora nonetheless. Their experiences, like those of contemporary migrants and guest workers, are different from those of pre-internet migrants. Today social media and the new technologies allow and enable ongoing real-time communications with ‘home’ when away from home. This diasporic experience means continuing influences of and connections with the home nation during overseas study. The articulation programme facilitates this diasporic experience (Dai et al., 2018). The students participate in China and in Australia in particular material places. At the same time, the internet enables their participation in an internet space in-between the two places, in-between the two HE sub-fields. It is this experience of an in-between or liminal space (Dai, 2018b), which we speculate encourages a more cosmopolitan habitus in some of these mobile international students, particularly for those who incrementally modified their habitus. Reflecting an emergent cosmopolitan habitus, some such students speculated on their possible futures in a global labour market.

Author Bios

Dr Kun Dai is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow (funded by China International Postdoc Exchange Program) at the Graduate School of Education, Peking University, China. He obtained his PhD from The University of Queensland, Australia. His research focuses on transnational education, intercultural learning and adjustment, and students’ cross-cultural learning experiences. His articles have appeared in several peer-reviewed journals, including Scottish Educational Review, Compare, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, and Higher Education Research & Development. He can be contacted via email:

戴坤博士于2018年12月毕业于澳大利亚昆士兰大学,获博士学位。同年入选中国博士后国际交流引进计划,自2019年4月起进入北京大学教育学院从事博士后研究工作。戴坤博士的研究方向主要为跨境教育,国际教育,学生跨境学习体验,大学教与学的改革等方面。读博期间以中国学生在中澳合作办学项目中的学习体验为研究重点开展探索,相关成果发表在Compare, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Scottish Educational Review, Journal of International Students, 以及Educational Philosophy and Theory等刊物。此外,其最新研究通过运用活动理论(Activity Theory)将学生跨境学习体验进行的分析即将在Higher Education Research & Development上发表联系邮箱

Dr Bob Lingard is an Emeritus Professor at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia and a Professorial Fellow at The Australian Catholic University. He is a sociologist of education who researches education policy, globalization and education, systemic and school reforms and social justice in schooling. His most recent books include, Globalizing Educational Accountabilities (Routledge, 2016) and Politics, Policies and Pedagogies in Education (Routledge, 2014). He is Editor of the journal Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education and of the Routledge, New York Book Series, Key Ideas in Education. He is a Fellow of the Academies of Social Science in both the UK and Australia and is a former President and also a Life Member of the Australian Association for Research in Education.

Bob Lingard教授,现为澳大利亚昆士兰大学教育学院荣休教授,澳大利亚天主教大学学习科学与教师教育研究中心专职研究员,澳大利亚及英国社会科学院院士。其研究领域主要为教育全球化,国际化,教育政策,以及教育社会学。其新著作有Globalising Educational Accountabilities (2016) 和Politics, Policies and Pedagogies in Education (2014).

Dr Reshma Parveen Musofer completed her PhD in curriculum reform enactment using Bourdieu’s theoretical resources. She is currently working as research project manager at the School of Education, The University of Queensland.

Reshma Parveen Musofer博士于2018年12月在澳大利亚昆士兰大学获博士学位,现为昆士兰大学教育学院科研项目主管。其研究主要集中在通过运用布迪厄相关理论工具进行中小学课程的设计,创新和发展。同时,Musofer博士还对STEM教育进行探索。



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