2019 Sydney Chinese Studies Seminar Series: Soft skills and virtual self-improvement in contemporary urban China
2019 Sydney Chinese Studies Seminar Series
Organised by the Department of Chinese Studies in collaboration with the China Studies Centre ‘Language, Literature, Culture and Education’ Research Cluster
Soft skills and virtual self-improvement in contemporary urban China
Speaker: Gil Hizi, Teaching Fellow, Department of Anthropology
This paper explores practices of ‘self-improvement’ in contemporary China, focusing on pedagogies of interpersonal ‘soft’ skills for young adults. Based on 13 months of fieldworks in workshops in the city of Jinan, I describe the ideal of the person produced by self-improvement and the ways that this ideal is pursued. While workshop curricula correspond to market-driven imperatives of self-reliance, individual autonomy, and entrepreneurship, the teaching also positions soft skills in tension with existing social practices pertaining to familial responsibilities, ‘guanxi’ networks and social hierarchies.
The ideal of the person exercised through self-improvement therefore extends beyond the ‘local’ society to an imaginary of more ‘modern’, cosmopolitan, and ‘moral’ social worlds. Furthermore, workshop activities facilitate highly emotional interactions that enable participants to experience themselves in new ways, temporarily transcending their social roles and personalities. Considering the developmentalist ideology and affective mechanisms that underlie pedagogies of soft skills, I suggest that practices of self-improvement in contemporary China are increasingly contingent on moments and spaces where individuals experientially exceed their ordinary worlds and through this sustain hope in their ongoing life pursuits.
About the Speaker
Gil Hizi is a Teaching Fellow at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on contemporary China society, particularly new conceptions of personhood constructed through practices of self-improvement and psychotherapy. He has published peer-reviewed articles in Continuum, China – An International Journal, Asian Anthropology, The Asian Pacific Journal of Anthropology and Asian Studies Review (forthcoming).