Creating the ‘new’ Asian woman: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi (SINGLE)

This HERA project on single women in Delhi and Shanghai is carried out together with Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg University, Project Leader) and Melissa Butcher (Open University, PI). The project will start in September 2013 and run for three years.

Project Summary

The context of urban transformation in India and China is enabling the formation of new cultural geographies and biographies for single women. 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. As a result, single women are becoming increasingly visible in public, be it through media representations or everyday practices and mobilities. Their presence is informed by repertoires of cultural encounter stemming from urban and national histories, globalised media landscapes and aspirations to cosmopolitanism and Global City status. Yet the resulting subjectivities are precarious, marked by asymmetrical power relations reflecting opposition to ‘westernisation’ and associated perceptions of transgressions of normative gendered comportment and spaces such as the domestic and the public. Gendered imaginaries of emancipation are contested in the light of a variety of cultural practices that impact women’s multiple lifeworlds.



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, repositioning it 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 class, governance, precarity and the shifting boundaries of public and private space. The project as a whole allows for an exploration of the specific as well as similar trajectories and experiences of both cities, extending scholarship in comparative urban theory through inter-disciplinary and multi-sited research. The project 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 Shanghai, Delhi and Amsterdam.

Here you can find the final poster of this project.