FASS News, Global Asia, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

Introducing Dr. Nadine Attewell, the new Director of SFU’s Global Asia Program

February 10, 2022
Dr. Attewell is also an Associate Professor in SFU’s Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies

Dr. Nadine Attewell has studied and worked in English departments throughout Canada and the United States, including Cornell University, the University of Nevada, Reno, and most recently McMaster University. In the Spring of 2021, she returned to her hometown of Vancouver to teach as an Associate Professor in Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies as well as direct the undergraduate Global Asia program.

Attewell’s three English degrees and teaching experience within English departments belie the variety of fields and disciplines that her interests and research areas span. Her work combines elements from Asian and Asian diasporic studies, Indigenous studies, British colonial and postcolonial studies, visual studies, as well as feminist and queer theory, as she strives to understand texts and lived realities from across the globe. In her current research, she focuses mainly on colonial histories, intimacy, and Asian and Asian diasporic communities.

This passion for interdisciplinary research grew while writing her first book, Better Britons: Reproduction, National Identity, and the Afterlife of Empire, which centers on reproductive discourse (like eugenics) and national identity in Britain and British settler colonies. This project started as a dissertation focusing on abortion narratives in literature. However, it evolved through examining Caribbean author Jean Rhys’ 1934 novel Voyage in the Dark. Attewell’s exploration of Black feminist and Indigenous writings and the experiences of colonized and enslaved subjects transformed the project into what it is today.

Her experiences with interdisciplinary research led her to explore the lives of Chinese and Chinese diasporic people in early-twentieth-century Britain and Hong Kong. Her current project, Archives of Intimacy: Racial Mixing and Asian Lives in the Colonial Port City, aims to take a more bottom-up, intimate approach to understanding histories of interaction and community-building across racial lines in port cities like Hong Kong, Liverpool, and London.

Throughout her research for this project, Attewell found herself having to move away from written texts, which often originated from a colonial, racial-science-oriented point of view, and focus instead on visual media. Family photographs and other photographic collections from archives across the globe all play a key role in her research, and she now sits on the editorial board of the journal Trans Asia Photography.  

This semester, Attewell teaches Global Asia 101: Introduction to Global Asia. Her passion for interdisciplinary Global Asian studies is evident throughout the class syllabus. Students engage with a variety of topics, from the specifics of Asian diasporic histories here in British Columbia to the movement of people, ideas, food, and pop culture around Asia and beyond. Throughout, the course draws attention to the importance of Asian and Asian diasporic subjects cultivating relationships not just with each other but other communities around the globe.

Attewell’s vision for her new position as director of the Global Asia program is informed by her own long history of engagement with Indigenous and Black Studies as well as Asian and Asian diaspora studies. In an upcoming piece in Verge (the first scholarly journal dedicated to the study of Global Asias), she urges scholars of Global Asian studies to consider whose lives, stories, and knowledges they centre in their work, and what methodologies and frameworks might allow them to address anti-Blackness in the field. She is excited to develop courses for Global Asia that acknowledge connections between different struggles for global social justice and transformation, and support the crucial work being done by Indigenous and Black thinkers at SFU.