I am a historian and anthropologist of science, technology and medicine, specialising in China. I am particularly interested in how politics are expressed and enacted through everyday technologies (with lots of work on technology, gender and the state), and in the politics underpinning different narratives about technology in national, comparative and global history.
I began my research career working on the history of agriculture and of science, technology and medicine in China. After a wonderful year of ethnographic fieldwork, which I spent in Kelantan, Malaysia splashing through the mud of paddy-fields and learning from farmers how they negotiated the challenges of Green Revolution technology, I expanded my interests to anthropology and issues of rural development. More recently, through my interest in the macro- and micro-politics of everyday technologies (including food, housing, communications and hygiene) in contexts as far apart as imperial China and contemporary California, I have been involved in collaborative projects not only with anthropologists, historians and development studies specialists, but also with STS scholars. I am also engaged in several experimental projects exploring new, non-Eurocentric ways to write global history.
I have worked at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, UCLA, the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, then UC Santa Barbara and, since 2005, the University of Edinburgh. In 2015-16 I was President of the international Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), and as SHOT’s Past President I continue to work towards making SHOT and the field of history of technology more truly international, not just socially but intellectually.