Passing Through Shanghai: Ethnographic Insights into the Mobile Lives of Expatriate Youths
Marie Sander
Passing Through Shanghai: Ethnographic Insights into the Mobile Lives of Expatriate Youths

Passing Through Shanghai examines how children experience international mobility. Focusing on a specific yet diverse group of expatriate youths in contemporary Shanghai, the book investigates how children negotiate cultural identity when they are subject to the highly mobile and often privileged lifestyle associated with their parent’s international careers. The ethnographic fieldwork that informs the book was carried out in Shanghai from 2010 to 2012 and focused on expatriate teenagers’ everyday practices, their lives at international schools, their engagement with the city, their dreams and aspirations, as well as their questions of belonging. The book’s ethnographic approach captures the “in-between” state of moving while growing up and explores teenage practices and positionings in this transitory situation. The teenagers’ own perspectives and experiences of living in expatriate communities contribute to a larger view of the interdependence and contradictions between the aspired flexibility of twenty-first century identities and the rigidity of cultural divisions based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.

Print editions available via Heidelberg University Publishing

Table of Contents
Paul’s Experience Growing up on the Move
Is Paul a “Third Culture Kid?”
How does being young shape the expatriation experience?
How can we understand the cultural entanglements of Paul’s world?
Why are spatial practices insightful?
The structure of this book
Part I. Getting Acquainted
Chapter 1. Expatriates in Shanghai
Chapter 2. Going to School
Chapter 3. Joining Two Peer Groups
3.1 Fieldwork with “the girls:” real ambitions and fake Louboutins
3.2 Fieldwork with “the boys:” repulsive moments and aesthetic jellyfish
Chapter 4. Meeting Individuals: Four Students’ Narratives of the Self
4.1 Antonia: I consider myself Shanghainese, but others see me as a foreigner
4.2 Bjorn: Shanghai is the best thing that can happen to you, if you’re a villager
4.3 Arnaud: When you are in-between, you can’t be the best at anything
4.4 Xia: I’d like to be like Einstein, a citizen of the world
Chapter 5. The Common Ground: Capturing the Heterogeneous Experiences of Expatriate Youths
Part II. Leaving
Chapter 1. Retrospectives on the Decision to Move
1.1 To move or not to move: the decision-making process
1.2 Family relations and the idea of “best interest”
1.3 Caught in limbo: fearing the next move
Chapter 2. The Emotional Challenges of Moving
Part III. Arriving
Chapter 1. Making Sense of the City
1.1 Navigating the city
1.2 Sensing the city
1.3 Concluding thoughts on managing life in the city
Chapter 2. Making Home(s): Houses, Belongings, and Belonging
2.1 Gated community living
2.2 Material practices: belongings, food, and family
Personal objects
Family life and settling in
2.3 (Trans)local ties: theorizing students’ negotiations of home and belonging
Talking about home and belonging
Students’ positions on home and belonging
2.4 Concluding thoughts on home
Chapter 3. Building Community: The Role of International Schools
3.1 Shanghai’s landscape of international schools
3.2 Image and community
3.3 Learning and living “expatriateness”
Example 1: Everyday Comforts
Example 2: Cultivating Concern
Example 3: Convenient Cosmopolitanism
3.4 Privilege and pressure: youths’ experiences at school
3.5 Concluding thoughts on “expatriateness” and the role of schools
Part IV. Living
Chapter 1. "My Time is Now:” The Role of Age
1.1 Wrong time to move, right time to be there
1.2 Future benefits and the art project “My time is now”
1.3 Rejecting “old people”—claiming spaces
Chapter 2. Nightlife: Going Out
2.1 Shanghai’s nightlife spaces
2.2 Open doors and open bars: negotiating access and parental concern
2.3 Practices and transformations: the Friday night routine
2.4 Staging youth culture: concluding thoughts on nightlife practices
Chapter 3. The Shop: Hanging Out
3.1 “The shop is our place to chill”
3.2 “The shop is not expat:” The shop as an in-between space
3.3 “The shop is somewhat like a park:” The shop as an open space and street
3.4 Concluding thoughts on the shop
Chapter 4. “Guests Stay Guests:” The Lack of “Local” Friends
4.1 Autonomous and special? The demarcation of the expatriate community
4.2 “We don’t fit in:” The gaze of the “other”
4.3 Barriers to “integration,” or, the difficulties of making “Chinese” friends
4.4 Youths’ perceptions of local attitudes towards foreigners
4.5 Concluding thoughts on the local-expat youth divide in Shanghai
Part V. Moving On
Chapter 1. Goodbyes and Graduation
1.1 Leaving Shanghai
1.2 Celebrating twice: graduation and goodbyes
1.3 Moving on: anticipation and anxieties
1.4 Reflections on leaving Shanghai and what lies ahead
Chapter 2. New Beginnings and Concluding Thoughts
Appendix A: Transcription Key
Appendix B: Student Directory: Who’s Who?
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