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Love in a big city: Sexuality, kinship, and citizenship amongst lala ('lesbian') women in Beijing.

Engebretsen, Elisabeth Lund (2008) Love in a big city: Sexuality, kinship, and citizenship amongst lala ('lesbian') women in Beijing. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is a critical analysis of individual and collective aspects of same-sex sexuality between women in post-millennial Beijing. I argue that sexual subjectivity ('lala'), rather than being a stable core constituent of self, is continually being produced by, and produces, social aspects of personhood, including bonds of kinship and national belonging. In particular, the fundamental interrelationship between gender and sexual difference in producing subjectivity is probed. I argue that transformations in gender norms in the domain of family, marriage, and alongside national socio-economic development, have enabled lala subjectivity to emerge. I demonstrate the Chinese-specific anchoring of lala, and thereby I critique globalization, sexuality, and China scholarship that predict inevitable Westernization and progress-oriented modernity, including Western-like queer life. My thesis is based on twenty months' anthropological fieldwork, mainly utilizing the methods of participant observation, semi-structured and informal conversations. The core group of informants numbers ninety-five. Chapters 1 and 2 develop an ethnographically informed theoretical framework for the study of sexuality and gender in China. Chapters 3 and 4 present social geographies and narratives to demonstrate the interrelationship between gendered sexual subjectivity and social factors that together constitute selfhood, including age/generation, socio-economic background, marital status, motherhood, and residency. Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the enduring importance of kinship and marriage, and present ethnographies of marital strategies including same-sex, lala-gay contract marriages, 'conventional' marriages, and resistance. Chapter 7 discusses lala community and social activism. It compares post-millennial initiatives with those in the 1990s, and with regional and global activism. The extensive ethnographic material and critical analysis of kinship, marriage, relationships, and community demonstrate that non-normative sexuality is not inherently transgressive. Conforming is a strongly felt personal desire, not simply an imposed duty. Strategies which ensure the appearance of hetero-feminine and marital conformity and normative national belonging ('Chineseness') are being creatively and continually combined with growing possibilities for lala ways of life in Beijing.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: GLBT Studies, Asian Studies, Women's Studies
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
Departments > Anthropology

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