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Susan Brownell

Susan Brownell (PhD UC Santa Barbara 1990) is one of the leading cultural anthropologists of her generation with a specialization in contemporary China. She has been conducting research in China since 1985. Her research interests are in globalization, nationalism, the body, and gender in China from the late 19th century to the present.  Her recent research on the Beijing Olympic Games (2008) and the Shanghai World Expo (2010) examined the process of China’s integration into the global community through the hosting of history’s two biggest mega-events.  She is the author of Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic (1995) and Beijing’s Games: What the Olympics Mean to China (2008).  She co-edited (with Jeffrey Wasserstrom) Chinese Femininities/Chinese Masculinities: A Reader (2002) and (with William Kelly) The Olympics in East Asia: Nationalism, Regionalism, and Globalism on the Center Stage of World Sports (2011), and edited The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism (2008) and From Athens to Beijing: West Meets East in the Olympic Games, vol. I: Sport, the Body and Humanism in Ancient Greece and China (2013). She is a member of the Advisory Council of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the premier major funding agency for the discipline of anthropology in the U.S. which also provides international grants.  
Susan Brownell received a Fulbright Senior Research Award to conduct one year of ethnographic research on the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and later conducted four months of research on the Shanghai World Expo 2010.  Based on this research, she has published on the internationalization of the educational system and on the transnational debates in the mass media about human rights in China. As an internationally-recognized expert on Chinese sports, she is frequently interviewed in the media, and has worked as a guest commentator for the English-language channel for China Central Television during the Beijing Olympic Games.
In her research project on “China, International Organizations and Public Spheres” to be conducted during her term as Visiting Professor in Heidelberg, Susan Brownell will build on previous projects on the Olympics and World Expo by expanding the scope of inquiry to encompass the larger context of the growth of transnational society since the mid-19th century.  The research problem is to understand to what degree China has actually been “integrated” into the world order over the past 150 years. Engaging with what has come out of a critical reading of works such as Jürgen Habermas’s theory of the public sphere, and Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined community, as well as theories of civil society and voluntary associations, she will utilize the history of China’s engagement in international organizations as a means of examining China’s place in the growth of transnational society, and will explore the relevance of Western theories for China. Ideas about Public spheres are central to her research because they shed light on the question of whether China has been an equal participant in the discursive communities for which international organizations serve as epicenters.
Professor Brownell’s empirical research and theoretical interests intersect with the Popular Culture Research Group initiated by Professor Barbara Mittler at the Institute of Chinese Studies and with the research conducted at the HCTS.
Professor Brownell will focus on getting her project on “China, International Organizations and Public Spheres” on its way, and has offered to organize a workshop on this topic in Heidelberg which will bring Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Professor of History, University of California-Irvine) who will speak on “Globalization and Public History in China” and Wang Mingming (Professor of Anthropology, Peking University; Professor of Anthropology and Ethnology, Minzu University of China) who will speak on “Globalization and Public Anthropology in China” to Heidelberg for a discussion with members of the HCTS and the Centre of East Asian Studies.

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