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IGHC Research Seminar Series

Tue., Jan. 24, 12:30pm - 1:30pm, L.R. Wilson Hall 1003, Encounters that Bite: Social Welfare, Community Engagement, and Transnational Intimacy in Interwar London, Dr. Nadine Attewell

Jan 17, 2017

In this talk, I reflect on the work of social inquiry as a means through which subjects are not only known but come to know themselves as members of racial, diasporic, and/or (trans)national communities. I focus on the writings of Irene Ho, who pursued doctoral study in 1930s London with the support of her wealthy Hong Kong Eurasian family, researching the lives of mixed race Chinese youth in London’s East End. Reading the encounter between Ho, a wealthy postgraduate student from colonial Hong Kong, and Chinese diasporic working-class Britons, as a vexed site of self- and community-formation, I trace the ends of social welfare work as this was imagined to mediate both working-class and elite aspirations for the future. But I also ask what it means that Ho did not complete her planned study of “the Intellectual and Temperamental Characteristics of British and Sino-British Children Living in East London.” What can this “failure” tell us about the risks that attend attempts to know, learn, and connect across differences of class and national location?

Co-hosted with the Department of English and Cultural Studies

About the Speaker:

Nadine Attewell ( is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. Her first book, Better Britons: Reproduction, National Identity, and the Afterlife of Empire, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2014. She is currently at work on a second, SSHRC-funded book project entitled Archives of Intimacy: Racial Mixing and Asian Lives in the Colonial Port City, which traces early-twentieth-century histories of multiracial identity- and community-formation in Hong Kong, Liverpool, and London through readings of photography, fiction, scholarship, life writing, newspapers, and state and other institutional records.

(Photo courtesy of the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)