Learning to “fit in”: the emotional work of Chinese immigrants in Canadian engineering workplaces

Hongxia Shan (Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 29 June 2012



The paper aims to explore the emotion learning experiences of some Chinese immigrants in Canadian engineering workplaces.


The paper is based on life history style interviews with 14 Chinese immigrant engineers and 14 key informant interviews.


Research respondents constructed a competitive, masculine, and individualistic engineering “culture” in Canada, where the emotional and the relational, supposedly central to the Asian and Chinese culture, are largely devalued. To fit into the individualistic culture, some Chinese immigrants learned to change their patterns of socialization and some became hard‐nosed competitors. To ameliorate the deleterious effects of the alienating workplace environments, some resorted to their cultural teaching to maintain emotional health; some also tried to build collegiality and collectivity to humanize their work settings.

Research limitations/implications

The study was not a comprehensive study of the emotion work in engineering workplaces. It does not capture the emotional order that may as well exist to afford different people differential negotiation power in the engineering culture.

Social implications

The study suggests that while emotional connection and personalized relationship are “culturally” discouraged in engineering workplaces, they are of significant use value for immigrant workers and should be addressed to create humanized work environments.


This is one of the few articles that examine emotion learning at the intersection of gender, race and class relations.



Shan, H. (2012), "Learning to “fit in”: the emotional work of Chinese immigrants in Canadian engineering workplaces", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 351-364. https://doi.org/10.1108/13665621211239886

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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