Self, Career and Nationhood: The contrasting aspirations of British and French elite graduates

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Abstract

There is increasing interest in the emergence of a ‘global middle class’ in which high achieving young graduates increasingly look to develop careers that transcend national boundaries. This paper explores this issue through comparing and contrasting the aspirations and orientations of two ‘elite’ cohorts of graduates. Interviews with students at the University of Oxford, England, and Sciences-Po, France, reveal very different ambitions and allegiances. Our Oxford respondents portray their futures as projects of self-fulfilment as they build portfolio careers by moving from job to job and from country to country with limited social allegiances – epitomizing the nomadic worker of the transnational elite. Our Parisian respondents, on the other hand, display strong allegiances to the nation, state and civic duty. Their projects of the self involve reconciling their personal aspirations with strong allegiances to France. The paper concludes by discussing the significance of these differences. It argues that the enduring role of education in the formation of national identities should not be overlooked and that more detailed research is needed on the contextual specifity of transnationalism and the (re)production of elites.

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