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OpenSpace Research Centre

The Open University's Centre for Geographical and Environmental Research

Creating the 'New' Asian Woman

September 2013 - September 2016

Dr Melissa Butcher and European partners Prof. Christiane Brosius (University of Heidelberg) and Prof. Jeroen De Kloet (University of Amsterdam) have been awarded a €970,000 HERA grant for their project exploring the gendered geographies of Delhi and Shanghai.

Cities such as Shanghai and Delhi are the backdrop to changing family patterns and the unravelling of ‘traditional’ social contracts as a result of migration, new work opportunities, delayed marriage, divorce, open homosexuality, and a growing leisure and consumer society. These transformations have enabled the formation of new cultural geographies and biographies for single women who have become increasingly visible in public spaces, in media representations, everyday practices and mobilities.

Yet gendered imaginaries of emancipation are contested in the light of a variety of practices that impact women’s multiple life-worlds, informed by repertoires of cultural encounter stemming from urban and national histories, globalised media landscapes and aspirations to cosmopolitanism and Global City status. The possibilities are precarious, marked by asymmetrical power relations reflecting opposition to ‘westernisation’ and associated perceptions of transgressions of normative gendered comportment and the division between domestic and public space.

Creating the ‘New’ Asian Woman: Entanglements of Urban Space, Cultural Encounters and Gendered Identities in Shanghai and Delhi (SINGLE) uses ethnographic, mobile and visual methodologies to explore these concerns, documenting the experiences of single women in Delhi and Shanghai that are indicative of wider social and demographic transformations, and set within wider debates of cultural encounter, world cities and globalisation. ‘Singleness’ includes temporal and spatial understandings, re-positioning the category as salient to collective as well as personal identity and experience (e.g. loneliness or independence), and as a phenomenon that women move into and out of throughout their lives. The research sites are linked by a conceptual framework centred on transcultural analysis and cross-cutting themes of autonomy, respectability, precarity and the shifting boundaries of public and private space.

The project allows for an exploration of specific as well as similar trajectories and experiences in both cities, extending scholarship in comparative urban theory through interdisciplinary and multi-sited research. SINGLE also aims to extend work in the Digital Humanities, using a state-of-the-art online platform for both analysis and the creation of an interactive public gallery. Visual methods are central to this work and collaboration with artists in Shanghai and Delhi will culminate in public events in both cities as well as a final exhibition in Amsterdam in 2016.

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