Navigating conflicting desires: Parenting practices and the meaning of educational labor in urban East Asia

Kristina Göransson, Yoonhee Kang

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


South Korea and Singapore have established a reputation as top performers in international student assessment tests and rankings, which is usually understood to be the result of competitive education systems and a distinct parenting culture. They also share a large private tuition industry, fueled by parents’ anxiety over their children’s academic achievements and future. In an attempt to contest simplistic interpretations of contemporary parenting in Asia and beyond, this paper explores the emotional and moral dimensions of middle-class parents’ educational labor, and how they cope with complex and sometimes contradictory demands in raising their young children. Based on multi-sited fieldwork in Seoul and Singapore, it demonstrates how parents indeed were deeply concerned about their children’s education and future. But their concern was not just about grades; it was also about their child’s emotional well-being. While previous studies have tended to frame these two desires as conflicting, this paper suggests that they are intimately intertwined at a meta-cognitive level. In particular, our analysis draws attention to parents’ moral imperative to raise children to ‘want to learn’ and ‘enjoy learning’, so as to reconcile the ambivalent desires to upskill the children while cultivating their emotional well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Nov 19
EventAmerican Anthropological Association Annual Meeting: Unsettling Landscapes - Baltimore, United States
Duration: 2021 Nov 92021 Nov 13


ConferenceAmerican Anthropological Association Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleAAA Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work


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