NBN Interviews

Interview with Lucinda Carspecken on her new edited volume: Love in the Time of Ethnography

In this “New Books in Education” episode, I talked with Lucinda Carspecken on her new edited volume, Love in the Time of Ethnography: Essays on Connection as a Focus and Basis for Research.Carspecken is anthropologist and lecturer in the School of Education, Indiana University Bloomington. In this beautifully curated book, contributors from various social science disciplines—sociology, anthropology, education, psychology, etc.—explore different facets of a basic component of human life, love. The authors define love broadly to include affective feelings, expressions, practice and philosophy across different cultures and traditions. It not only reveals how affective feelings are deeply shaped by different cultural, social and political practice, but also examines love’s potential to transcend the boundaries between self and the other, to increase the solidarity among young activists, to overcome traumatic experiences, and to anchor the relationship between human beings and nature. While grounded in the ethnographic approach, the book also intentionally includes unconventional academic writings such as poems and autobiographies. Of particular interest is the discussion of love as a primary tenet in social science research methodology: the conceptualization of research praxis as love-in-action and the expatiation of the relationship between love and validity.



My Speech at IU School of Education’s Winter Convocation

I am honored to be the graduate speaker at IU School of Education’s Winter Convocation. I used this opportunity to express how grateful I am to the faculty members and the fellow students in the school. I also shared with the audience my thoughts on our missions as educators and educational researchers in a global era. Below I would like to share with you, my dear readers, part of my speech:

Now we have graduated from our school. As we celebrate our achievements with our mentors, friends and family, my dear fellow graduates, please allow me to raise this question for us to ponder together: What are our missions as educators and educational researchers in this global era?

For me, as we acknowledge the privilege of receiving an education like ours, it is important to keep in mind those left out or left behind by globalization: They are the poor working class families who became jobless in America’s Rust Belt; they are the rural kids in China’s underdeveloped countryside whose parents had to left for work in the coastal cities; they are the teachers and students without basic supplies of paper and pencils in Uganda’s village schools.

Addressing these issues has never been easy. But as educators and educational researchers, we have our own strengths, approaches and commitment.

The first role model that occurs to me is our school’s alumnus Karen Ross. Currently an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, Karen just published her book Youth Encounter Programs in Israel: Pedagogy, Identity and Social Change. Perhaps the prospect of middle east peace process has never been dimmer than now, but Karen’s work has powerfully demonstrated that, the carefully implemented and grounded peace education programs will create long-term impact on its youth participants, and sow the seeds of social change.

The second example that I think of is Apple Suwannawut. Apple suffered from serious visual impairment. She completed her Phd in IST department through listening and reading Braille. In her own work, she strives to increase the accessibility of online learning platforms for learners of disabilities. When she returned to her homeland, Thailand, she became a youth leader and a renowned advocate for the rights of disabled people. She has been invited to numerous public events and her stories inspired many more people to pursue their dreams.

And of course, how can we forget our wonderful faculty members! Here please allow me to take this opportunity to express how grateful I am to my advisors, Dr. Phil Carspecken and Dr. Barbara Dennis. Thank you—for your unfailing support to not only my academic work but also beyond it, for your insightful intellectual guidance as well as the freedom you gave me to explore what I am interested in most, and above all, for showing me the value of being an exemplary teacher.

My dear fellow graduates, we are not alone here. No matter where you came from, no matter where you are going, we are connected, because of this school, because of our shared name, as educators and educational researchers. As you embark on new journeys, let’s all remember our life here—we used to sit together—equally, freely, peacefully, joyfully—and, we used to read inspiring works, work through challenges, and draw strength from one another.

This is our school’s commitment to us. Let it be our commitment to the world.


Upcoming Panel in 2018 ICQI (International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry)

The panel I organized on doing fieldwork in contemporary China has been accepted by next year’s ICQI (International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry). Here are the abstracts of the panel and the paper that I am going to present in the panel.

Panel title: Doing Fieldwork in China Reconsidered: Reflexivity, State Power and Inbetweenness

This panel reflects upon how qualitative fieldwork as a form of knowledge production is mediated and shaped by the state power in contemporary China. It is often taken for granted that the late-socialist regime imposes strict censorship on researchers’ fieldwork, yet what is needed is a systematic discussion of the methodological and ethical challenges brought forward by the censorship and structural constraints. The papers in this panel investigate the effect of the state power on knowledge production and researchers’ responses from three aspects: the formulation of a research proposal (Duan), access to the field site (Ye), and researcher/research participant interactions (Zhao). Furthermore, existing literature foregrounds a narrative of western researchers entering field sites in China as outsiders of the society. All the authors in this panel are originally from the country and now work/study in western institutions. Together, we present a perspective of inbetweenness and challenge the western-centric narrative.

Paper title: Working the Hyphens in an Authoritarian State: Positionality, Intersubjectivity and Structural Constraints 

This paper explores the methodological and ethical challenges of doing ethnographic fieldwork in an authoritarian state. Drawing from a long-term project conducted in North China, I discuss how a normalized idea of “political appropriateness” mediated the communication between me and my research participants of different genders and social statuses. This phenomenon adds a new layer to the old question of “can the subaltern speak” and calls for a refined understanding of the intricate power relationship between researchers and their research participants. Borrowing insights from Abrams’s state effect theory, I propose to treat the state as a core ideological construction, of which researchers and research participants work collaboratively to make sense. In this way, researchers can intentionally work against “political appropriateness” and still work with their research participants. This approach can, in turn, foster a more deliberate reflection of the process of knowledge production when doing fieldwork in an authoritarian state.



NBN Interviews

My first podcast in “New Books in Education” series is out

Since this October, I’ve joined the New Books Network as a host in the podcast channel “New Books in Education.” I will focus specifically on conducting author interviews with new books published in the field of qualitative inquiry. Now my first podcast episode is out and available for download.

In this episode, I talked with Dr. Karen Ross from the University of Massachusetts Boston on her book: Youth Encounter Programs in Israel: Pedagogy, Identity and Social Change (Syracuse University Press, 2017). It was very interesting and inspiring to talk with Karen!

Click here to read a short description of Karen’s book and listen to my interview: New Books in Education. 



Upcoming presentation at AAS 2018

I am glad to announce that the panel I organized for the upcoming Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in 2018, “Displaced Youth: Migration, Education, and The Young Generations in China’s Post-Mao Era,” is accepted by the conference.

Here is the abstract of my paper, “Changing Fate: Rural Youth and the Resumption of the Merit-based Examinations in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.”

In 1977, Chinese government resumed the College Entrance Examination (gaokao), which by then had been abolished for 11 years. The College Entrance Examination, together with other merit-based examinations held by local governments in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, created new life chances for rural youth to cross the urban/rural divide and achieve upward social mobility in post-Mao China. This paper examines the life histories of those rural youths who succeeded in the merit-based examinations. It focuses on their experiences of taking the exams and receiving higher or professional education—according to their own words, the decisive events that “changed their fate.”

Based on ethnographic data, historical archives, and life history interviews with 41 then-rural-youths, the paper probes the meanings that underpin these former rural youths’ claims that the exams have changed their fate. I argue that “changing fate” for the rural youths involved a profound shift of value orientations and the experiences differed along the gender line. While the state’s grand narrative emphasizes the new educational opportunities provided by the exams, the former rural youths’ narratives focus more on the adjustment to an individualistic value and an emerging sense of uncertainty triggered by a mechanism of competition. Meanwhile, although both male and female narrators framed their life stories similarly, female narrators constantly encountered more structural obstacles in their pursuit of life opportunities and their fate-changing endeavors were very often compromised and incomplete.