Mobile Study / Mobile Selves is a multi-phase, longitudinal study of Chinese women students in Australian higher education, conducted by Prof Fran Martin and supported by a Future Fellowship (FT 140100222, 2015 – 2020) and a Discovery Projects grant (DP230100442, 2023 – 2026) from the Australian Research Council.
In recent years, large numbers of young women from China have chosen to study in Western nations including Australia. Motivated by desires to overcome gender discrimination in China’s labour market and to escape the neotraditionalist ideology that increasingly restricts women’s opportunities at home, significantly more Chinese women than men travel overseas for degrees. They typically do so during a formative period of their lives, between ages 18–24. This raises the question of how education mobility affects these women’s lives in the long term.
Beginning with a pilot study in 2012 (phase 1), Prof Martin is conducting an ongoing program of ethnographic research that follows a core group of 50 female students from China who studied in universities in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. In 2021, Prof Martin concluded phase 2 of the research: a landmark 5-year study, published in her 2022 book, Dreams of Flight, which showed that studying abroad weakened young Chinese women’s identification with conservative gender roles and reoriented them toward alternative life scripts that resist the patriarchal ideology ascendant in Chinese society today. In other words, educational mobility fostered women graduates’ gender de-traditionalization, with potential to significantly transform their lives over the longer term. Prof Martin is now continuing her investigations with a third phase of the study, which tracks her participants’ lives several years post-study, as they enter their late twenties and early thirties.
From before their departure from China through to their lives in the years after graduation, Mobile Study / Mobile Selves is building a detailed picture of how these young women’s time in Australia affects their gendered identity over the long term.
Who were these women when they arrived in Australia – and who do they become during and after their international studies?