Neoliberalism and the social imaginary: interpreting study abroad policy in Japanese higher education

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With internationalisation continuing at an ever-increasing pace, Japan incentivises student mobility via study abroad (SA) programmes in the hope of cultivating the global human resources necessary for future economic growth. Against this background, proficiency in English emerges as a dominant linguistic and epistemic model, increasingly viewed as prerequisite to high-level employment. Seeking to address the sociological foundations of this practice, this inquiry incorporates ‘Western’ philosophical perspectives with Japanese academic voices to explore the market-driven imaginaries driving Japanese SA. Regarding behaviour, pressure falls on Japanese SA participants to follow implicit socialisation rules, whereby avoidance of co-national sojourners holds the potential to undermine deeply-held ways of being. Concerning learning, it is shown that, while ostensibly multicultural, the Japanese State maintains a preference for English when describing ‘the further development of Japan as a nation’, reinforcing essentialist-culturalist interpretations of SA and, indeed, foreign language. Finally, discourses surrounding post-sojourn benefits suffer from a lack of clarity and unrealistic targets that, in turn, subtly produce an informal–and, for many, unpayable–social debt between actor and state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-181
JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
Issue number1
Early online date19 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jan 2022


  • globalisation
  • Japan
  • neoliberalism
  • Social imaginary
  • study abroad

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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