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The Impact of Economic, Cultural and Social Capital on the Personal Development of Migrant Children in China – a Case Study

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posted on 2022-08-12, 01:59 authored by Li Kan

Since the late 1970s, China has witnessed enormous intra-national migration of farm workers from rural areas into cities in search of work. Among the huge populations of migrant workers working in cities, a large portion has children living with them. These children are called “migrant children.” China also has a dual household registration system (Hukou) which operates similarly to class, and privileges urban populations over rural populations. This system greatly hinders the education of migrant children, who retain their rural Hukou even when living in cities. This has the effect of limiting their personal development and trapping them in their social class, despite education being widely seen as the path to self-improvement. The thesis seeks to understand this problem. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu, it explores the way an impoverished family capital (economic, cultural and social capital) impacts on the education and personal development of migrant children to reproduce their social disadvantage rather than enable them to break out of it.

Two public schools located in Xiamen city, Fujian Province, China, were used for the intensive qualitative case study of ten migrant students underpinning the thesis. Narrative inquiry was the major method used for this study. The findings show that the reproduction of social class happens in both the school and family field. The capital most migrant children inherit from their parents simply stabilizes the class to which they already belong. This solidification of class is exacerbated through the school, most noticeably through the subtle prejudices of teachers and the assessment system. Unless migrant parents can empower themselves, or be empowered, with knowledge, skills and positive parenting styles, their children will be unable to jump out of this vicious circle of low social status, and efforts at policy improvement in education for migrant children will continue to fail.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction -- Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework and Relevant Literature Review -- Chapter 3: Research Methodology -- Chapter 4: Introduction to the Field -- Chapter 5: Economic Capital and Personal Development -- Chapter 6: Cultural Capital and Personal Development -- Chapter 7: Social Capital and Personal Development -- Chapter 8: Conclusion and Discussion -- Bibliography -- Appendices


This thesis is presented in the fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communications and Cultural Studies, 2020

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communications and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Qin Guo

Additional Supervisor 1

Naren Chitty


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