Shanghai Workshop – Concept Note
By on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

The Workshop “Precariously Yours:
Gender, Class, and Urbanity in Contemporary Shanghai” took place on 4 – 6 December 2014.



The rapid reforms in China have resulted in increasing inequalities and disjunctures. While Shanghai is transforming into a global mega-city, like many other big cities in Asia, its dwellers are often confronted with a way of life enabled and disabled by precarity. This precarity is generally perceived to be along the lines of labour and class, characterised in Guy Standing’s term “The Precariat,” or those with short labour contracts and poor working conditions. These can be low skilled jobs, but also the emerging creative class and academic jobs increasingly fall under this rubric. Our focus is particularly on the intersections of such inequalities and disjunctures with gender.

In Precariously Yours we extend the notion of precarity towards the domain of gender, love and sexuality. In particular single women serve as a prism to explore the complexities surrounding precarity, urbanity and class. They are the ones that negotiate the changing gender roles in China, in which we can witness a conservative return of patriarchy, coupled to a perceived crisis of masculinity. For instance, the derogative term shengnü – “leftover women” – gestures towards a group of women whose singlehood at their late 20s seems to be enough to evoke intense stigmatisation and reiteration of societal demands regarding love and family life.

Precariously Yours wonders: How do single women negotiate the multiple expectations and demands that society imposes upon them? What are their tactics of resistance against normative gender roles and expectations? How do they negotiate the gendering of urban space? How to love in a city that never stays the same? How to navigate through the city, as a young woman without getting lost or feeling unsafe? How to imagine the city as a more intimate and fragile space? What is to be lost and gained in remaining a single woman?

Precariously Yours explores these questions through an art exhibition, lectures and public debates. The workshop will particularly zoom in on how tropes like shengnü can be read as imaginations of a “new” Asian femininity, how different modes of loving and desiring are being explored in diverse creative and sexual cultures in Asian cities and how art and activism attempt to intervene in hegemonic understandings of love, gender and sexuality. Precariously Yours engages not only with Shanghai, but also with other Asian cities as to foster a comparative approach and allow reflections upon the lives and hopes of single women in a rapidly changing Asia.