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Creating the ‘New’ Asian Woman: Entanglements of Urban Space, Cultural Encounters and Gendered Identities in Shanghai and Delhi (SINGLE)

Creating the ‘New’ Asian Woman: Entanglements of Urban Space, Cultural Encounters and Gendered Identities in Shanghai and Delhi (SINGLE)


Jeroen de Kloet (PI)

Members of the research group

Jeroen de Kloet
Penn Ip
Prof. Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg University, Germany, Project Leader)
Dr. Melissa Butcher (Open University, UK, PI)
Laila Abu-Er-Rub (Heidelberg University)
Lucie Bernoider (Heidelberg University)
Pi Chenying (Heidelberg University & University of Amsterdam)
Maddalena Chiellini (Open University)

Description of the research programme of the research group

SINGLE is a project funded by the HERA scheme of the European Union, it deals with the representation of single women in China (Shanghai) and India (Delhi). The context of urban transformation in both countries is enabling the formation of new cultural geographies and biographies for single women. 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. The project 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.

Envisaged results

15 journal articles
4 PhD dissertations
1 Edited Volume
1 Monograph

Work plan and time schedule

2013: Opening seminar. 2014: workshop Digital Humanities. 2014: seminar at Fei Contemporary Art Center, Shanghai; 3 months fieldwork for PhD, 1 month fieldwork for research affiliate, preparation of two articles (PI, PhD) and 2-3 conference papers. 2015: 3 months fieldwork for PhD, 2 months fieldwork for research affiliate, preparation of two articles (PI, PhD) and 2-3 conference papers. 2016: preparation of edited volume (PI, PhD, research affiliate), monograph (research affiliate); and 2-3 conference papers; final dissemination event: workshop, University of Amsterdam & public event at Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam.

Societal relevance

The significance of theproject is found in its examination of the imbrication of transforming urban space and gendered experience in two key urban centres in the Asia region through a transcultural framework. This enables an analysis of different qualities of cultural encounter embedded in colonial histories, development discourse, cosmopolitanism and global media flows. The project will interrogate the impact of western discourses that have inflected urbanisation and the cultural scripts that delineate gendered use of that space, from British colonialism’s Victorian moral regimes to the neo-liberal “global” city’s emphasis on independence and mobility. This will highlight the complexity of spatial experience outside the context of Western cities. Similarly, the project makes a significant contribution to the study of globalisation as a central arena for cultural change. This phenomenon is often mediated as driving cultural encounter within a predominantly western discourse. However, in this study, the power relations and the range of experiences inherent in localised versions of globalisation will be made explicit through exploring diverse and shifting gendered use of urban spaces.
The project examines cultural encounter in the light of intergenerational change highlighting the critical debate centred on the impact of transcultural flows on the lives of women.
Women who choose to be single in particular periods of the life course represent a radical departure in the space of one generation from “traditional” notions of the family or the depiction of women in defining national identity. Yet the negotiation of cultural encounters with “Western” ideas of female subjectivity, with representations of the “new” Indian or Chinese woman ubiquitous in the media landscape of both cities, are more complex than the simple adoption of a Western lifestyle or a concomitant rejection of “Asianness”. The project has also developed a public dissemination programme with the specific aim to bring together scholarly and cultural practice from India, China and Europe.