Social Networks and the Right to Education of Rural-Urban Migrant Children in Beijing, China

Shisong Jiang successfully defended his PhD.

Shisong Jiang successfully defended his PhD titled Social Networks and the Right to Education of Rural-Urban Migrant Children in Beijing, China. This PhD project was co-supervised by Prof. Koen De Feyter (UAntwerpen), Prof. Andrea De Guttry (Scuola Superiore Sant'Ana) and was a joint PhD at the University of Antwerp and the Scuola Superiore Sant'Ana, Pisa, Italy.

This Ph.D. dissertation is about the right to education and rural-urban migrant children in China. Rural-urban migrants have played a very significant role in China’s rapid development of industrialization and urbanization. However, they are often denied access to adequate health care and housing and are excluded from the vast array of state benefits available only to permanent urban residents. Rural-urban migrant children, in comparison with their urban peers, suffer substantial disadvantages and discrimination in their pursuit of education in terms of availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability. Under international human rights law, education is an inalienable human right for all. The Chinese government, which has already ratified the principal international instruments concerning the right to education, is legally obligated to take measures to guarantee free, quality compulsory education for every child in China. The gap between China’s human rights commitments and the educational experiences of rural-urban migrant children on the ground deserve more scholarly attention.

This dissertation intends to explore the role of social networks in the process of localizing human rights in the context of the compulsory education of Chinese rural-urban migrant children. Against the backdrop of the increasing prevalence of applying network theory and methods to human rights research, this dissertation as a whole attempt to contribute to the literature of social networks and international (human rights) law. More concretely, taking Beijing as a case study, this study adopts a qualitative social network analysis approach to empirically investigate whether and to what extent social networks of rural-urban migrant households affect the local relevance of international human rights norms in relation to free and quality compulsory education. The findings generally demonstrate that international human rights standards are not relevant for rural-urban migrant households’ encounters with discrimination and inequality in education. From a social network perspective, the findings reveal that the excessive concentration of the family and kinship relations and the slippery weak ties in urban cities, which together constitute a passive human rights network, are the relational barriers to the process of localizing human rights in the Chinese context.