From Communities of Practice to the Emergence of Thirdness: Voices, Identities, and Subject Positions of Chinese International Students in the U.S.

Based on data collected from in-depth interviews with 15 Chinese international students enrolled in a large public university in the U.S., this exploratory study brings to the fore the heterogeneous and contentious nature of negotiating one’s voices, identities, and subject positions as an international student in a transnational milieu. The findings of this study cast doubt on the extent to which a unified and neutralized account of social engagements, as suggested by a dominant theoretical framework in this field, i.e., communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lave, 1991; Lave, 1993; Wenger, 1998), captures the dynamics involved in the socialization process associated with international students who have to navigate their day-to-day lives at the interstices of varied languages, cultures, relations, and expectations. Instead of drawing decisive conclusions about what counts as an ideal framework for understanding and interpreting the living and learning experiences of international students, the study is intended to foreground the potential of a post-structurally informed perspective, as characterized by the affordances of “thirdness” (Kramsch, 2009), for envisaging alternative ways to talk about this burgeoning student population.

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