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Indiana University Bloomington
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Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences
One Discipline, Four Fields

Sara Friedman


Associate Professor, Anthropology Department


(812) 856-4595 | Email | Office Hours

  • Ph.D. in Anthropology, Cornell University
  • M.A. in Anthropology, Cornell Univeristy
  • B.A. in East Asian Studies, Yale University

Geographical Areas of Specialization: China, Taiwan

Topical Interests: marriage and the state; citizenship; socialism and post-socialism; gender and sexuality; reproductive politics; kinship; ethnicity; media and representation


My research to date has examined the connections between large-scale political processes and intimate life, with particular attention to the place of state power and citizenship in gender identities, intimate relationships, and bodily practices of dress, labor, and sexuality. These interests reflect my interdisciplinary training in sociocultural anthropology, gender studies, and East Asian studies. They also emerge from my experiences living and working in China and Taiwan since the late 1980s.

My first book, Intimate Politics: Marriage, the Market, and State Power in Southeastern China (Harvard UP 2006), is based on two years of fieldwork in a coastal community in rural Fujian Province. It argues that efforts to transform citizens’ intimate lives and relationships have been critical to solidifying and expanding state power in socialist and late-socialist China. Spanning the period from the high tide of socialism in the 1950s to the reform era of the 1990s, the book examines the experiences of women from eastern Hui’an County, a region known for unusual social and cultural practices (especially with regard to marriage and gender roles) that undermined a clear ethnic status for local residents. The book shows how state actors, in responding to these atypical features, strove to build a new socialist society at the village level through revolutionizing intimate aspects of women’s lives. It finds, however, that official models of progress and civility were often challenged by the diversity of regional practices and the active commitments of eastern Hui’an residents. These politicized entanglements generated what I call “intimate politics,” a form of embodied struggle in which socialist visions of progress and civilization have been formulated, contested, and transformed through the bodies and practices of local women.

A second major strand of my research looks at how cross-cultural analyses of intimacy and sexuality challenge norms rooted in Euro-American cultures. This body of work also investigates the consequences of different models of intimacy for individuals whose private lives might not conform to dominant societal norms. I have questioned the portrayal of rural Chinese society as ruled by conservative sexual mores and an exclusively reproductive model of sexuality institutionalized through near-universal marriage rates. I have also examined the role of film in constructing models of same-sex intimacy that may or may not be associated with sexual identities.

My current project builds on my longstanding interest in the historical and contemporary relationship between Taiwan and China. Whereas much research has examined cross-Strait relations from the perspective of high-level politics or the growing presence of Taiwanese businessmen in China, I have sought to understand how these ties shape the intimate lives of individuals who marry across the Strait. Through studying these marriages in their broader political and social contexts, I seek to understand changing definitions of citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity on both sides of the Strait. By focusing on Chinese spouses’ efforts to acquire residency and citizenship in Taiwan and their interactions with government bureaucracies and NGOs, I show how Chinese spouses have influenced citizenship models and national identities as Taiwan seeks to establish an international position for itself in the shadow of its more prominent neighbor. This project illustrates how formal domains of law and bureaucracy intersect with immigrant identities and gendered family roles to create a model of citizenship based on both everyday practices of sociopolitical belonging and official legal status.

I am currently completing a book based on this research titled Exceptional Citizens: Chinese Marital Immigrants and the Contested Borders of Family and Nation Across the Taiwan Strait.

Selected Publications

2012 "Adjudicating the Intersection of Marital Immigration, Domestic Violence, and Spousal Murder: China-Taiwan Marriages and Competing Legal Domains."  Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 19:1 (Winter), pp. 221-255.

2010 “Determining “Truth” at the Border: Immigration Interviews, Chinese Marital Migrants, and Taiwan’s Sovereignty Dilemmas.” Citizenship Studies 14:2, pp. 167-183.

2010 “Marital Immigration and Graduated Citizenship: Post-Naturalization Restrictions on Mainland Chinese Spouses in Taiwan.” Pacific Affairs 83:1, special issue on Citizenship and Migration, pp. 73-93.

2010 “Women, Marriage and the State in Contemporary China.” In Elizabeth Perry and Mark Selden, eds. Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance. London: Routledge, pp. 148-170.

2009 “The Ties that Bind: Female Homosociality and the Production of Intimacy in Rural China.” In Chinese Kinship: Contemporary Anthropological Perspectives, eds. Susanne Brandtstädter and Gonçalo Duro dos Santos. London: Routledge.