The Importance of 'Guanxi' for Parents of Children with Autism: A Study of Social Capital in Navigating School Sources

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Hui Zhang
Diana Arya


Inclusive Education, Parental Advocacy, social capital, Guanxi, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis


Studies relating to the impact of power imbalances between parents and school actors have increased in recent years. Yet, there remains little insight into the nature of such imbalances from a parent perspective in non-Western countries such as China. Drawing from Bourdieu’s Social Capital framework from the 1960s, we analyzed audio-recorded interviews with 16 parents of children identified as autistic who live in one of four different provinces across China using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Specifically, we analyzed the expressed processes and strategies (e.g., personal connections with key school officials, or what is called in Mandarin guanxi) that participating parents used to advocate for inclusive education services. Findings from our study suggest that a parent’s use of social capital (in the form of guanxi) surpasses explicit national policies as an effective strategy for garnering adequate services for their child. Such unspoken power dynamics between schools and parents reveal significant implications for equitable access to educational resources. In making more visible the parental perspective from a less-understood region of the world, we aim to support a deeper understanding of the often-hidden tensions that emerge when parents seek support for their children with special needs.

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