Research Output
Superheroes in Shanghai: constructing transnational Western men's identities
  This article examines the ‘superhero’ phenomenon, in which Western masculinity is constructed differently in East Asia than in Western countries. This produces an imagined, Occidentalist ‘authenticity’ that frames expectations about the performances and identities of Western men in the context. As a result, sojourning Western men in Asia may feel, and be treated, like ‘superheroes’, because their gendered national identities are attributed (super)powers that are often unfamiliar from prior experiences in their home countries. These object (attributed) identities may be different from individuals' subject (appropriated) identities, with resulting identity tensions for the men themselves. This article reports on empirical, qualitative research from China, and examines the lived realities and identity/masculinity constructions of seven young, heterosexual men, from the UK, the US and Canada, working in Shanghai as English language teachers. The study participants experienced perceptions of increased personal and sexual confidence but also identity tensions, concerns that relationships may be transactional and ethical struggles over peer-sanctioned and locally expected behaviours. The study is framed by literature from tourism studies on the commoditization of identities through the staging of out-group notions of ‘authenticity’. A critical approach is taken to the neo-imperialistic power differentials underpinning relationships in the context.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    09 May 2011

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    Carfax Publishing, Taylor & Frances Ltd

  • DOI:


  • Cross Ref:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    G1 Geography (General)

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    306 Culture & institutions

  • Funders:

    Historic Funder (pre-Worktribe)


Stanley, P. (2012). Superheroes in Shanghai: constructing transnational Western men's identities. Gender, Place and Culture, 19(2), 213-231.



China, masculinities, English language teaching, transnationalism, authenticity, Occidentialism

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