As a cultural anthropologist, I have concentrated my research and writing in the areas of gender, marriage, family, and technological change. My early specialization in Chinese culture and society led to my fieldwork in South China, where I focused on one meeting point of culture and technology – the local silk industry and marriage practice. I conducted interviews to determine the effects of the changing silk technology on family and marriage. After three years and three hundred interviews with Cantonese women, I wrote my first ethnography, Daughters of the Canton Delta: Marriage Patterns and Economics Strategies in South China, 1860-1930, published by Stanford University Press.
In my next research and writing projects, I continued to pursue my interest in gender, marriage and family, technology and culture change, this time in broader comparative and cross-cultural contexts. My second book, Marriage in Culture: Practice and Meaning Across Diverse Societies, was published by Harcourt in 2002. This is an ethnological work that I wrote to introduce students to the vast cross-cultural diversity in “marriage” that has been documented by anthropologists. My goal was to introduce a wide audience of readers to rich ethnographic insights into marriage, its different practice, dynamics, and meanings in historically and culturally specific settings.
Marriage in Culture was followed by another comparative project, Globalization and Change in Fifteen Cultures: Born in One World, Living in Another, an anthology that I co-edited with George Spindler. Published by Wadsworth in 2007, this text explores several themes across fifteen cultures. Among these themes are identity, migration and mobility, globalization, and economic and technological change.
Concurrent with my work on the anthology, I launched a second research project focused on the industrialization and globalization of another textile (silk) industry, this time not in China – but in New England. The resulting manuscript Silk Roads to New England: Information and Technology, Innovation and Globalization, 1760-1930 focuses on the co-evolution of these two regional industries and the exchange of technology, information, methods, and products between them. I began research for this project while an Associate in Research at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard. Later, I expanded the scope of the original project and undertook additional research at the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford, where I completed a final draft manuscript in 2018. The resulting manuscript Silk Roads to New England: Information and Technology, Innovation and Globalization, 1760 – 1930 is now out for review.
My research and writing on changing textile technologies is part of a broader interest in the impact of new technologies on marriage, family, and gender hierarchy cross-culturally — including in Silicon Valley.
As a member first of the Advisory Board of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (www.anitaborg.org) and later the Social Science Advisory Board of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (www.ncwit.org) I have taken part in research on workplace culture in IT industries and efforts to increase opportunities for the advancement of women in them. I recently published a chapter “Technologies and Culture Change” that incorporates insights from this research in my new digital text Mapping Cultures Across Space and Time (Cengage 2018).