The term neijuan (in English ‘involution’) has captured feelings of perpetual competition and anxiety among university students in China preparing for their post-graduation careers. In this article, we develop a neo-Weberian reading of neijuan to construct a framework using positional conflict theory and the concept of ‘possible selves’. We investigated how final-year university students from three social class factions—rural, urban non-elite and urban elite—envisage, plan and strategise for their future careers. We draw on in-depth interviews (n = 100) and a post-graduation survey (n = 97) with students at two public universities, one elite and one lower-tier, in a metropolitan city in Guangdong province. The findings underscore marked differences in the nature and clarity of students’ envisaged future selves along the lines of social advantage and disadvantage. We demonstrate how social class is deeply connected to the scale of the competition—national or global—that students perceive themselves to be implicated in. In doing so, we draw attention to social class differences in expressions of and capacities to realise what we term ‘globally orientated possible selves’, which involved escaping both the sense of entrapment and the prospect of failure evinced by neijuan. Copyright © 2022 British Educational Research Association.
CitationMulvey, B., & Wright, E. (2022). Global and local possible selves: Differentiated strategies for positional competition among Chinese university students. British Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/berj.3797
- Graduate labour market
- Positional conflict theory
- Possible selves
- Social inequality