Modernization as Maximization: Three Generations of Young Men and Women

Nov 30, 2021 | 7:30 AM - 9:00 AM


Fengshu Liu | Professor, Department of Education, University of Oslo


Ran Zhang | Associate Professor, Department of Educational Administration and Policy, Graduate School of Education, Peking University


Xiying Wang | Professor, Beijing Normal University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2019-20

Beijing Normal University & HYI international webinar series on Sociology and Education

The event will be held virtually over Zoom. To join the meeting, enter the following information:

Meeting ID: 854 8710 3549
Passcode: 864694

The talk will be held from 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM US East Coast time.

Language: The speaker will present in English. The Q&A/discussion will be held in both Chinese and English.

Talk synopsis: Drawing on life-history interviews (N=98) with Beijing young men and women in their last upper secondary school year, their parents and their grandparents, this study examines what it means to be young in post-Mao China undergoing rapid and dramatic transformation by comparing childhood and youth experiences over three generations. It looks at the various aspects of life pertinent to youth experiences, treating them as interrelated and mutually affecting processes—childhood, intergenerational relationships, education and future plans, gender and sexuality. I argue that much of what has happened over the generations is in keeping with the global modernization trends. However, the Chinese youth’s experiences of modernization also bears uniquely Chinese features, which can be characterized as a ‘maximization desire’. Such a desire denotes a strong wish and serious efforts to maximize life and the self, marking the young people as generational, classed and gendered beings in a specific historical, cultural and socio-geographical context. A defining feature of ‘the aspiring individual’ of the young generation, the maximization desire is co-constructed by the parents (sometimes also grandparents) and the young people themselves. The older generations lacked the cognitive resources or the environmental affordances to maximize. The maximization desire addresses the present, as well as the past and the future of the only-child family. It entails personal and familial costs. It invokes century-old cultural ideals and tendencies—exemplary norms, traditional dialectics, and future orientation, as much as it is shaped by the specific post-Mao circumstances. In this presentation, the speaker will illustrate this generational trend by presenting the findings on youth’s gender construction in the three generations.

About the speaker: Fengshu Liu is a professor at the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway. Her research cuts across childhood and youth studies, comparative and international education, sociology of education, and China studies. Much of her work examines the interplay between socio-cultural and institutional processes and the lives of children and young people in contemporary societies, with special, but not exclusive, regard to China. More specifically, it studies children’s and young people’s experiences of ‘global modernization’ and how current political, economic, cultural, technological, educational, socio-spatial and demographic processes create and shape social inequalities and other forms of challenges as well as opportunities, calling forth ‘bounded agency’ among individuals and collectivities in various contexts. Besides, her work also deals with such kindred themes as culture and education, Confucian self-cultivation, school culture and gender, teaching and learning in higher education, and rural education in China. Her earlier academic work was mainly related to the English language and literature. Her recent books include Urban youth in China: Modernity, the internet and the self (Routledge, 2011) and Modernization as lived experiences: Three generations of young men and women in China (Routledge, 2020).