Francesca Bray

HSSB 2034; (805) 893-8815

Francesca Bray, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, UK

Francesca Bray was born in Cairo and brought up in London and Paris. She holds a BA in Chinese Studies and a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge. On completing her BA she began work as a researcher at the East Asian History of Science Library (Needham Research Institute) at Cambridge, where she authored the volume on Agriculture in Joseph Needham's series Science and Civilisation in China. She spent several years at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, then taught for nearly twenty years at the University of California, first UCLA then UC Santa Barbara. She has held visiting appointments at various institutions including Yeongnam University, Korea and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. She was appointed to the Chair of Social Anthropology at Edinburgh in May 2005.

Bray's research focuses on the macro- and micro-politics of science, technology and medicine, and on the politics of writing on these themes. She is especially interested in comparative approaches that offer alternatives to Eurocentric accounts of science and technology. She has published on technology and gender in imperial China; rice economies and productivist farming; critical history of science in China; public reactions to genetically modified crops in the USA and Europe; medicine and modernity in the People's Republic of China; and technologies of everyday life in California, including the flush toilet.



Regions of interest








Research interests



 The role of everyday technology in the formation of ideology and culture

Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China (University of California Press, 1997)

Technology and Gender In this feminist history of eight centuries of private life in China, Bray inserts women into the history of technology and adds technology to the history of women. Taking issue with Orientalist images of Chinese women as simple victims of monolithic patriarchal oppression, Bray analyses technologies of space, work and reproduction in the construction of late
imperial Chinese gender roles. She proposes the concept of `gynotechnics', a set of everyday technologies which define
women's roles, as a creative new way to explore how societies translate moral and social principles into a web of material
forms and bodily practices.
This book was awarded the Dexter Prize in 1999 by the Society for the History of Technology.


Technology and Society in Ming China (1368-1644)

American Historical Association-Society for the History of Technology, `Historical Perspectives on Technology, Society and Culture' pamphlet series no. 1, AHA, Washington D.C., 2000.

A short book designed for use in high-school and undergraduate courses. From about 1500 to 1750 China was at the center of the world economy, with the highest exports of commodities and imports of silver of any country of the time. This book shows how the development of farming and textile technologies, added to advances in technologies of communication like hydraulic engineering, ship-building and printing, combined to propel Ming China to the level of a thoroughly commercialized consumer economy.

Technology and Society Cover


My current research project, on everyday technologies and the Californian way of life, looks at the social and political relations and the cultural meanings embodied in such everyday artifacts as the flush toilet, the genetically-engineered tomato, and e-mail.   Tomato



Gender I am interested particularly in innovative ways of exploring gender systems. For example bringing technology and gender together allows us to get beyond the artificialities of theories that privilege language alone.


My own research focuses on the interplay between material and discursive expressions of gender (Technology and Gender was an exploration of this interplay in the case of pre-modern China). The course I teach (An 126) on gender and modernity in East Asian societies concentrates on how the nexus of politics, law and economics stimulate inventions of tradition and modernity around gender.

The history and anthropology of medicine and the body

Chinese Medicine

Some recent projects of mine include

"The Chinese experience," in John V. Pickstone and Roger Cooter (eds), Medicine in the Twentieth Century, (Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000: 717-36).

"Chinese health beliefs," in John Hinnels and Roy Porter (eds), Health, Religion and Suffering, (London, Routledge, 1999: 187-211).


"Chinese health beliefs", in Roy Porter (ed), Religion, Health and Suffering (Routledge, 1998)

"Medical history and gender history;" "Reproductive medicine and the dual nature of fertility;" "Reproductive hierarchies" chapters 7-9 in Technology and Gender (University of California Press, 1997).

The production of knowledge: comparative studies of science, technology and medicine

Insects I teach a seminar (An 215) on cultures of science that examines modern Western scientific knowledge, practices and institutions from the perspective of cultural anthropology. Other recent projects include: "Technics and civilization in Late Imperial China: an essay in the cultural history of technology", Osiris Winter 1998; co-editing the volume on Science in China in the Enciclopedia Italiana's International Encyclopaedia of the History of Science; advisory editor of Isis.

Agricultural systems and agricultural development

Rice Agriculture

My principal expertise is in East and Southeast Asia. I spent a year of fieldwork in a rice-growing village in Malaysia. In 1984 I published a history of Chinese agriculture (Agriculture, Vol. VI.2 of Joseph Needham's series Science and Civilisation in China, Cambridge University Press).


Since then I have published The Rice Economies: Technology and Development in Asian Societies (California 1994) and various papers on agriculture, including "A stable landscape? social and cultural sustainability" in The Sustainability of Wet-Rice Agriculture, IRRI, Manila 1998.

Other recent and forthcoming publications include

"How wholesome is that soup? The political contents of the refrigerator," in Roger T. Ames (ed), Technology and Human Values: On the Edge of the New Millennium (forthcoming, University of Hawaii Press, 2001 or 2002).

"Genetically modified foods: bodies, shared risk and political action," in Lois Ann Lorentzen (ed), A Biotechnology Reader (forthcoming).

The Rice Economies



Courses Taught


Upper Division Courses

Graduate Courses





Graduates whose committees I chair or co-chair:
  • Nina Brown, migrant workers in the Dublin high-tech industry
  • Alice Daly, the impact of new communications technologies on Tongan identity
  • Joseph Powell, farmer knowledge and scientist knowledge in maize breeding in Minho, Portugal

Other UCSB Anthropology graduates I am working with:

  • David Crawford, work and identity in the High Atlas of Morocco
  • Michele DeSando, women's handicraft cooperatives and feminist development in Cuba
  • Teresa Figueroa-Sanchez, Mexican farmers and the strawberry industry in Southern California
  • Matt Lauer, child welfare and reproductive decisions among subsistence farmers
  • Lance Ye, urban space and historical memory in the People's Republic of China

Graduates I am working with outside the department include:

  • Brenda Robb Jenike (Anthropology, UCLA): care provision for the ageing in Japan
  • Shari Marden (Religious Studies, UCSB): medicine, religion and the experience of Tibetan refugees
  • Shao Dan (History, UCSB): ethnicity, gender and state formation in Manchukuo
  • Mayumi Yamamoto (Anthropology, UCLA): comfort women in Indonesia

Some recent news of former students:

Haripriya Rangan's Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Himalayan History was published by Verso in December 2000; Priya, who teaches at the School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University, is currently researching rural livelihoods and economic networks in South Africa

Suzanne Zhang Gottschang was appointed Assistant Lecturer in the Department of anthropology at Smith College in Fall 2000; her co-edited volume, with Nancy Chen, on urban China has just been published by Duke University Press.

Patrick Dowdey curated (and edited the catalogue for) the spectacular exhibition "Threads of Light", on Suzhou embroidery, at the Fowler Museum, UCLA, before taking the position of Curator at the Mansfield Freeman Center for Asian Studies, Wesleyan University