(Re)Shaping Chinese University Students’ Subject Positions: The recontextualisation of knowledge discourses and disciplinary demeanours

Year: 2019

Author: Hu, Yijun

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper focuses on the academics who returned to work in an elite Chinese university after completing their research degrees in English-speaking countries. More and more highly educated graduates have been encouraged to come back to China to assist with constructing world-class universities. The Chinese government, universities and students all have high expectations upon these returned academics for bringing back knowledge and skills they have acquired in overseas elite universities and produce new knowledge to promote China’s research reputation.

This paper draws on the empirical data collected from 19 returned academics who are working across seven faculties in the disciplines of social sciences and humanities in a research-intensive Chinese university. It proposed to explore the pedagogic contributions of these academics. In particular, this paper centres to investigate how these returned academics have worked with specific discipline knowledge and how they have translated, recontextualised and pedagogised such knowledge for the purpose of shaping Chinese students into subject-specific positions.

Basil Bernstein’s (1971, 1990, 1996) theorisation of pedagogic discourse has been adopted to understand the recontextualising rules which embeds the returned academics’ knowledge work. Bernstein proposed instructional and regulative components of pedagogic discourse through which two modes of knowledge are principally transmitted (knowledge about abstract concepts/skills and knowledge about moral conduct). This paper firstly illustrates that knowledge recontextualisation undertaken by the returned academics in their daily pedagogic activities includes both converting knowledge from its abstract form to teachable curriculum content (as taken up from Bernstein’s definition), and also translating such knowledge across nation/culture (e.g. from an English-speaking country to China). Knowledge translation has been enabled and achieved mainly as a result of the returned academics’ contact with different sets of knowledge discourses during their overseas research studies.

Additionally, the returned academics narrated that their contribution to knowledge work (of teaching) should rest in both translating knowledge discourses and cultivating students’ competence in thinking and performing within subject areas. To detail, they demonstrated their attempts of re-establishing moral and power order constituted the pedagogic communications in their Chinese university. Their accounts extended Bernstein’s theoretical corpus as they proposed to shape Chinese students into disciplinary dispositions and demeanours which are relevant to not only one specific institutional/ cultural context but are more globally compatible. Noticeably, the returned academics have increasingly chosen to recontextualise Western pedagogic norms in constructing and defining Chinese students’ academics behaviours.