GVPLS Lecture Review: “EXPLORING AFFECTIVE FIELDWORK EXPERIENCES: CREATIVITY, RECIPROCALITY, AND THE EVERY DAY LIFE OF LOWER-CLASS WORKING WOMEN IN SHANGHAI”

Lecture by PENN IP, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPT. OF CULTURAL INDUSTRY AND MANAGEMENT AT SHANGHAI JIAO TONG UNIVERSITY

Professor Ip begun this week’s lecture highlighting that she had come from a background of cultural analysis, therefore, to approach this research effectively she had to learn how to conduct fieldwork. Ip demonstrated that the qualitative research associated with fieldwork encompasses the data-collection phase: leaving a desk to go out into the field, that being a setting or a population. Ip centred her research around interest, curiosity and perplexity as core to her process.

As one of the urban migrant sites Ip researched, Ip demonstrated the initial interest spiked by her search of rural to urban migration of factory girls. From this initial investigation, Ip noted the results of the search, of the single narrative of sad factory girls, those without agency as victims of global capitalism.

Ip took us back to the establishment of this notion, highlighting China’s division of its population into the rural and the urban. As a consequence, different social values became imposed: urban citizens become the centre of modern culture with access to better resources located in the city such as healthcare, welfare and education, however, rural people were assigned to the lower class as the backward other

Once again, with regards to her research process, Ip demonstrated the importance of employing the affect theory, that of which helps to better understand how workers’ bodies and minds connect with urban spaces and globalising worlds. As a result of this, Ip conducted various research methods such as in-depth interviews, the go along method, photo diaries, investigative, home visits as well as mental mapping.

Ip’s argument depicts the agency of the women, her first example being the women in the factories, that these women both chose to work in the factory and respectively have the choice to leave. In addition, as understood from the results of her research, Ip found that the factory work was not considered to be harsh if the women were able-bodied.

Ip’s second example demonstrated beauty service industry workers and the lower social hierarchy imposed upon them as a result of the cultural understanding of having to touch the hair and face of their clients. What the beauty industry means for rural women who have moved to the urban centre is opening up the possibility of change. Learning a craft is the incentive for working in the beauty industry, the possibility of opening their own business one day. Furthermore, with respect to gender and work, Ip explained how in Shanghai, since clients trust male stylists more, the females from rural areas have to dress up more which means buying new clothes to be considered fashionable and modern. 

In her conclusion, Ip spoke to the importance of sustainable research, that of which seeks to question the role and contribution of the investigator. Thus, Ip highlighted that central to her research process is the giving back; collecting data which is more interactive with the community through building trust, sharing love and having fun. Ip therefore ended her lecture discussing how she had organised an art and cultural exhibition for the women who had formed a part of her study. Ip’s final theoretical reflection gave an important insight that demonstrated how creativity can help us get to know more about research participants.

Ip delivers her lecture to students of Trinity College.