2023 Annual Paul Priday Lecture: Dreams of Flight: The Lives of Chinese Women in the West

Chau Chak Wing Museum | 5pm, 17 March, 2023

In this lecture Fran Martin will draw on a 5-year ethnographic study of the social and subjective experiences of fifty young women from China through the years of their university study in Australia.* 
Although around 60% of outgoing students from China are female, the gendered dimensions of China’s educational diaspora have to date been little discussed. My study was interested in how educational mobility affects post-90s middle-class women’s negotiations of the contradictory gendered life scripts and self-understandings available to them today.

One of the study’s premises was the observation of a tension in contemporary Chinese public culture between, on the one hand, a neoliberal-style discourse of self-reliant, self-entrepreneurial professional subjecthood that has strong attractive power for well-resourced, middle-class, urban singleton daughters; and, on the other hand, a neotraditionalist discourse of women’s inherently family-centred “nature” and their biological destiny to marry and have a child(ren) by age thirty.

Some of the key findings draw on fieldwork and interviews to explore the type of subjectivity that was ultimately produced through participants’ experiences of transnational educational mobility. The research reveals an overseas-graduate subjectivity marked by decreasing identification with the neotraditionalist model of femininity, and correspondingly increased identification with mobile enterprising selfhood.

 *These findings were recently published in Dreams of Flight: The Lives of Chinese Women Students in the West (Duke U.P. 2022).

Drinks and Canapes will follow the lecture. About the speaker:
Fran Martin is a Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne and a former Australian Research Council Future Fellow. She is a leading scholar of her generation in feminist inter-Asian cultural studies, focusing on sexuality, intimacy, gender, mobility television, film, literature, Internet culture and other forms of cultural production in the contemporary transnational Chinese cultural sphere. Her talk draws on a deep ethnographic study she conducted about women from China living in Australia to attend university.

About the Paul Priday Annual Lecture in Gender and Cultural Studies
Dr Paul Priday was a role model in his work as an “ad man” embodying the opposite of what Madmen represented. As advertising colleagues said, he was a gentleman as well as a stellar creative across many of the top advertising agencies. Like many in the 1960s and 70s, he worked his way up in the industry without having attended university. Lecturing in the Business School and giving guest lectures to a Gender and Cultural Studies class on Consuming Cultures inspired him to go to school. He quickly did a BA Hons at the University of New England, and then joined GCS for his PhD. Elspeth was lucky enough to supervise Paul’s brilliant multi-sited ethnographic research in three multinational ad agencies – in Sydney, Delhi, and Shanghai. His objective was to find out why women rarely featured in the heady ranks of the creatives – a “manspace” par excellence. He graduated with his doctorate in 2016 shortly before his premature death. With this series we honour his research and most especially his work within the Department to harness what he called “the rocket science” of gender studies for debates beyond the university. Paul’s spirit continues to add to our research culture of intellectual generosity and openness.
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