Precarious privilege in the time of pandemic: a hybrid (auto)ethnographic perspective on COVID-19 and international schooling in China

Adam Poole, Tristan Bunnell

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Although the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic in terms of school closure and the sudden shift to online learning has started to be explored, little has so far been written about the impact on teachers. This paper addresses this gap by drawing on the first author's autoethnographic experiences of working in the growing body of ‘non-traditional’ international schooling in Shanghai, China, during the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020. These experiences are complemented by insights from other teachers from the author's school site, leading to a hybrid (auto)ethnographic perspective. By utilising and developing the emergent concept of ‘precarious privilege’, we can see that whilst the pandemic has restricted teachers' movements and agency in a physical sense through lockdowns and travel restrictions, this immobility also fosters new symbolic and physical spaces, which in turn give rise to new forms of privilege. The privilege in this context is not financial, as is often the case, but rather existential (reclaiming a more authentic self) and spatial (the school offers teachers security) in nature. This fresh, nuanced approach to discussing precarity is timely and necessary. Given the novelty of the situation we now find ourselves in, new positionings are required to orient the individual and the researcher to a post-pandemic world. This paper offers one such positioning in the form of autoethnography for (re)imagining precarity and privilege in international schooling within the context of an emerging new world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-931
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number5
Early online date10 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding information: This author did not receive funding for this research.


  • COVID-19
  • autoethnography
  • international schooling
  • precarious privilege

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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