Creating a Cosmopolitan 'Bubble': Constructing Locality at an International School in China
Michal Assa-Inbar (Hebrew University of Jerusaelm)
Paper short abstract:
Based on ethnographic research in an international school in China, this lecture will introduce the creation of a cosmopolitan 'bubble'. I will illustrate how the school constructed a 'Chinese locality' in order to define its own symbolic boundaries.
Paper long abstract:
The notion of Cosmopolitanism captures the duality of the global world. On one hand, it mirrors the assumption of a common world where all people connect interdependently. On the other hand, cosmopolitanism has become cultural capital owned by the global elite, frequently manifested in distinctive enclaves. This talk, based on ethnographic research conducted a decade ago in an international school in China (2005-2008), will introduce the concretization of this paradox. The school's harmonious ideology of cosmopolitan world citizens was tangled up in the tense daily lives of foreign students and teachers living in the Chinese city and created a conflictual reality. The gated school, where according to Chinese law local students are not permitted to study, enhanced the symbolic boundaries between locals and Expats. However, Chinese-ness filled the school in many other ways, through teaching-staff or language for instance, and reinforced the need to draw lines. Subsequently, I argue, the school created a protective, cosmopolitan 'bubble' based on the erosion of cultural borders alongside their reconstruction. Based on Hannerz's idea, that "There can be no cosmopolitans without locals" (1990: 250), I will focus on the way 'Chinese locality' was constructed and what role it played in the creation and maintaining of the school's cosmopolitan 'bubble'. In the context of the school's cosmopolitan and multicultural ideology, Chinese-ness was conceived as 'local' but also carried 'cosmopolitan qualities'. I, therefore, suggest that by, selectively, employing encounters with 'the Chinese-other' to cater its needs, the school revealed an economy of values characterizing cosmopolitan enclaves.
Cosmopolitan enclaves: tensions and paradoxes