Wilson Center Experts
Sara L Friedman
My research to date has examined the connections between large-scale political processes and intimate life, with particular attention to the place of state power and citizenship in gender identities, intimate relationships, and bodily practices of dress, labor, and sexuality. These interests reflect my interdisciplinary training in sociocultural anthropology,gender studies, and East Asian studies and my subsequent joint teaching appointments at Washington University in St. Louis and Indiana University. They also build on nearly eight years of experience living and working in China and Taiwan since the late 1980s.My first book, Intimate Politics: Marriage, the Market,and State Power in Southeastern China, is based on two years of fieldwork in a coastal community in rural Fujian Province. It argues that efforts to transform citizens' intimate lives and relationships have been critical to solidifying and expanding state power in socialist and late-socialist China. Spanning the period from the high tide of socialism in the 1950s to the contemporary reform era, the book examines the experiences of women from eastern Hui'an County, a region known for unusual social and cultural practices (especially with regard to marriage and gender roles) thatundermined a clear ethnic status for local residents. The book shows how state actors, in responding to these atypical features, strove to build a new socialist society at the village level through revolutionizing intimate aspects of women's lives. It finds, however, that official models of progress and civility were often challenged by the diversity of regional practices and the active commitments of eastern Hui'an residents. These politicized entanglements generated what I call "intimate politics," a form of embodied struggle in which socialist visions of progress and civilization have been formulated, contested, and transformed through the bodies and practices of local women.A second major strand of my research has grown out of my research and teaching in gender and sexuality studies and looks at how cross-cultural analyses of intimacy and sexuality challenge norms rooted in Euro-American cultures. This body of work also investigates the consequences of different models of intimacy for individuals whose private lives might not conform to dominant societal norms. I have questioned the portrayal of rural Chinese society as ruled by conservative sexual mores and an exclusively reproductive model of sexuality institutionalized through near-universal marriage rates. I have also examined the role of film in conveying models of same-sex intimacy that may or may not be associated with sexual identities.My Wilson Center project builds on my longstanding personal and scholarly interest in the relationship between Taiwan and China both historically and in the present day. Whereas much research has examined cross-Strai relations from the perspective of high-level political relations or the growing presence of Taiwanese businessmen and white-collar workers in China, I have sought to understand how these ties are experienced by individuals and families whose intimate lives are rooted on both sides of the Strait. In 2002, I became interested in Chinese spouses of Taiwanese citizens who were residing in Taiwan and who faced immigration and naturalization policies that were stricter than those applied to all other categories of marital immigrants. This situation drew my attention to new forms of citizenship emerging in the distinctive geopolitical context of China-Taiwanrelations, especially those created by the rapidly growing wave of cross-Strait marriages.After preliminary research in 2002-2005, I embarked on a year of fieldwork in 2007-08 that focused on three groups: policymakers and bureaucrats in Taiwan and the Mainland and the changing directions of immigration policy and marriage regulation; NGOs in Taiwan devoted to immigration reform and those engaged in immigrantservice provision; and the experiences and aspirations of immigrant spouses and their familymembers on both sides of the Straits. After completing follow-up research in summer 2009 on the policy changes introduced by a more pro-China government in Taiwan, I am ready to complete a book manuscript titled Exceptional Citizens: Chinese Marital Immigrants, Contested Borders, and National Anxieties across the Taiwan Strait. The book uses cross-Strait marriages as a lens through which to understand changing definitions of citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity on both sides of the Strait. It examines how Taiwan-China relations have shaped the intimate life choices of cross-Strait couples. Through a focus on Chinese spouses' efforts to acquire residency and citizenship in Taiwan and their interactions with government bureaucracies and NGOs, I show how Chinese spouses have influenced citizenship models and national identities as Taiwan seeks to establish national sovereignty in the shadow of its more prominent neighbor. The project illustrates how formal domains of law and bureaucracy intersect with immigrant identities and gendered family roles to create a model of citizenship based on both everyday practices of sociopolitical belonging and official legal status.
B.A. (1988) East Asian Studies, Yale University; M.A. (1995) Anthropology, Cornell University; Ph.D. (2000) Anthropology, Cornell University
Associate Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, Indiana University, 2008-present; Visiting Scholar, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, 2007-2008; Assistant Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, Indiana University, 2004-2008; Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Program in Women and Gender Studies, Washington University in St.Louis, 2001-2004
Marriage and the state; socialism and post-socialism, immigration and citizenship; gender and sexuality; China; Taiwan
We hear much in the news about the contested relationship between Taiwan and China, but little about the nearly 300,000 marriages that have taken place across the Taiwan Strait. My Wilson Center project uses these marriages as a lens through which to understand changing definitions of citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity on both sides ofthe Strait. It examines how Taiwan-China relations have influenced the intimate lives of cross-Strait couples and the decisions they make about their future together. Through a focus on Chinese spouses' efforts to acquire residency and citizenship in Taiwan and their interactions with government bureaucracies and NGOs, I show how Chinese spouses have influenced citizenship models and national identities as Taiwan seeks to establish an international position for itself in the shadow of its more prominent neighbor. The project illustrates how formal domains of law and bureaucracy intersect with immigrant identities and gendered family roles to create a model of citizenship based on both everyday practices of sociopolitical belonging and official legal status.
- Intimate Politics: Marriage, the Market, and State Power in Southeastern China Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard University Press, 2006;
- "Watching Twin Bracelets in China: The Role of Spectatorship and Identification in an Ethnographic Analysis of Film Reception" Cultural Anthropology 21:4 (2006), pp. 603-632;
- "The Intimacy of State Power: Marriage, Liberation, and Socialist Subjects in Southeastern China," American Ethnologist 32:2(2005), pp. 312-327