The libidinal global economy of the elite school market

Jane KENWAY, Johannah FAHEY, Aaron Soon Lee KOH

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Mention elite schools and the temperature rises. Intense emotions circulate around, through and about them. With the explosion in the type and number of such schools around the world, which we will explain, the market in elite schools has expanded and gone global. Wealthy parents, travelling employees of transnational companies, globally mobile professionals and sometimes students themselves increasingly comb the globe in the quest for a school that matches their desires and assures their children's, or their own, educational and social ascendency. Indeed, desire is central to the libidinal economy of the global elite school market. In Hong Kong, elite schools are caught up in a widespread education frenzy, which includes a high demand for English- speaking schools, concerns about the latest curriculum reforms, as well as limited and thus hyper-competitive access to local universities places. This frenzy leads some parents to send their children to elite schools overseas, particularly in the UK, and others to buy every available educational add-on, including the extensive use of 'cram schools' and 'celebrity tutors'- in the booming shadow education industry. In this paper we tell two tales. The first is about how one elite boys' school in Hong Kong seeks to navigate this emotional ferment - how teachers anxiously compete for credibility with cram school tutors, how the boys are torn between the fierce demands of the school, their parents, their out-of-school tutors and their own wishes and how the school navigates the highly charged tensions between old and new Hong Kong and its own links to Britain and mainland China. The second tale focuses on the affective intensities of the Hong Kong girls and parents who seek educational superiority though patronage of an elite girls' boarding school in England. This is about the strategies they passionately, even desperately, deploy to ensure that the girls accumulate every possible benefit they can extract from the school - particularly benefits that ensure elite university access, globally mobile high-end careers and expensive life-styles. Both cases illustrate the constituting force of the emoscapes associated with global markets in elite schools- the fears and the fantasies involved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


Kenway, J., Fahey, J., & Koh, A. (2012, December). The libidinal global economy of the elite school market. Paper presented at the Joint International Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education and the Asia Pacific Educational Research Association (AARE-APERA 2012): Regional and global cooperation in educational research, the University of Sydney, Sidney, Australia.


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