‘Do you ride horses?’: discursive constructions of Chinese minority ‘Mongolian university students’ subjectivities

by Yongxia Zhang

Institution: University of Newcastle
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: Mongolian students; subjectivities; ethnography; Michel Foucault
Record ID: 1053796
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1057617


Research Doctorate - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) The idea of what it means to be a Chinese minority ‘Mongolian university student’ is usually explored in Chinese academic scholarship and educational practice within essentialist discourses. This approach not only stereotypes students as being ‘backward’, ‘underachieving’, ‘disruptive’, ‘powerless’ and with ‘low’ intelligence, but adopts a perspective that the researcher is the “author of knowledge” (St. Pierre, 2000, p. 494) whose detached observation and rational mind provide unmediated access to students’ lives. In this ethnographic study, utilizing poststructuralist perspectives and drawing upon the analytic framework of Foucauldian discourse analysis and category boundary work, I explore the multiple, fluid and heterogeneous ways in which ‘Mongolian university students’ subjectivities are variably enacted, validated, contested or rearticulated in the continuous constitutive practices of category boundary work – maintaining, reinforcing, contracting and challenging category boundaries. It is a perspective that sees ‘Mongolian university students’ as the discursive category and in within/against which subjectivities are constantly enacted and contested in the process of discursive inclusion and exclusion. I focus on how ‘Mongolian university students’ negotiate the category’s boundaries and what subject positions are available. Through emphasizing the strategic negotiation of multiple and shifting subject positions, I aim to disrupt the notion of ‘prejudice reduction’ (Banks, 2004) in multicultural education which aims to “help students develop positive racial attitude and values” (p. 5). I argue that this understanding of ‘prejudice reduction’ not only essentializes ‘minority students’ as single, fixed and stable attributes, but perpetuates the stereotypical representation of them. I argue for using Petersen’s (2004, 2007) concept of category boundary work to denaturalize and defamiliarize normative constructions of ‘minority students’ subjectivities. Such a denaturalizing act brings into light how discourses are utilized to make certain knowledge legitimized and what discourses are mobilized to constitute conditions of possibilities of certain subjects. Therefore, my study contributes to the poststructuralist problematisation of the conventional wisdom of essentializing discourses prevailed in minority education and social science research and opens up a promising space for future research to explore how meanings are discursively enacted and contested.