Vocational education has long been regarded as being simply dependent on economic structures, changes in technology, and organisation of labour. This project is based on the assumption that vocational education is a representation of how societies sanction vocational labour potential, thus providing insight into the internal logics of how societies conceptualise and appropriate social and economic processes of change.
The project deals with the three contexts of China, India, and Argentina in order to demonstrate these assumptions. In these three countries, diverging vocation-related representations can be seen to have developed from completely different socio-cultural and historical prerequisites. Through the comparison of these three countries, we can also observe the cross-breeding – or 'hybridisation' – of autochthonous interpretative traditions by successive processes of transfer in the context of colonial dependence, European expansion during the 19th century, increasing industrialisation and economic globalisation and finally international cooperation through aid programmes in the second half of the twentieth century.
The project on China
The project work on China has been concentrating on the period when the idea of vocational education emerged as an institutionalised alternative to training within the traditional guilds. It focuses on how Chinese elites between 1912, the founding year of the Republic, and 1927, the end of the warlord period, framed and negotiated concepts around 'profession', 'education', and 'vocational education'. Since the second half of the 19th century, Chinese elites have been widely propagating the exploitation of 'talent' and 'human resources' for the sake of modernisation, and they designed educational programmes to support this agenda. However, until now, a major part of the Chinese population found it difficult to link the concepts of 'profession' and 'work', on the one hand, with the idea of 'education' on the other. The project illustrates how the originally Western idea of vocational education was imported into the Chinese context, and how Chinese elites appropriated the idea by linking it with other both 'traditional' and 'modern' concepts.
The project concentrates on the members of the Chinese Association of Vocational Education (Zhonghua Zhiye Jiaoyushe 中華職業教育社), which was founded in 1917 by Huang Yanpei (1878–1965). This heterogeneous group of Confucian-educated scholars, modern scientists with international experience, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, craftspeople, journalists, politicians, and political advisors was particularly active (and partly successful) in promoting and researching vocational education, through their engagement in the media, in politics, in professional associations and guilds, and in schools. The reference horizon of this group was twofold: first, they drew on 'indigenous', albeit (re )constructed resources and traditions; second, they turned towards the international environment which they both admired and feared: Japan and the 'West'.
The project is based on the assumption that the representations that these modernisers had about 'profession(s)' were semantically transformed through a complex interplay of Chinese and non-Chinese resources. In particular, it is assumed that the semantic trans¬formation of these representations was closely related to (i) traditional concepts of profession, work, and education – whether by re-affirming these concepts or by (partly) discarding them; and (ii) the Chinese experience of the modernisation and globalisation processes, which went hand in hand with the reception of international ideas (theories, programmes, models etc.). A final assumption is that the conceptual transformation of 'profession(s)' generated an ambivalent relationship between ideal and reality, that is, between what was discussed as the ideal educational programme to tackle 'vocational education', and what was actually implemented and achieved. This is investigated in a case study of the Chinese Vocational School 中華職業學校 in Shanghai, which was founded in 1918 by the members of the Association.
The analyses both of the Association and their discourse, and the case study on the school illustrate in great detail how the actors, as members both of a local organisation and of an increasingly interconnected global educational community, responded to and shaped the modernisation processes in China, how they mediated between the local public and the global academic arena, and how they eventually transformed and appropriated foreign ideas and designs within what they perceived as the Chinese context.
More information on the project (including graphs, maps and a German-language database) can be found here (new window - select 'research' and 'Vocational Education in Republican China')
Information on the current state of the project can be found here (new window, in German)