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Technology, Gender, and History: The Case of Late Imperial China
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
3:30 - 5:00pm
Social Sciences and Media Studies Building, Room 2135
Technologies played a dramatic role in birthing the modern industrial world, so it is hardly surprising that classic and widely familiar histories of technology trace narratives of triumphant Western progress, contrasted to backwardness or stagnation in other societies around the world. But in recent years historians of Western technology have become less interested in technology as a catalyst of human progress, and more interested in how technical practices shape social identities, symbolic systems and power relations. In the case of China, historians of technology likewise spend less time now struggling to explain why China “failed to progress” after 1400, asking instead what they can learn by mapping the technological landscapes of imperial China, and by considering what social and symbolic as well as material work technologies performed in imperial society.
Prof. Bray’s own research explores the nexus of technology, governance and gender in late imperial China. She uses sources documenting technological artifacts and practices – in this talk she focuses on the construction and use of domestic architecture – to investigate male and female subjectivities and to show how gender principles were woven into the material fabric of empire. While her narrative is not necessarily one of “progress” it is certainly one of change, inviting us to reflect anew upon such key features of modern society and the modern self as privacy and consumption.