Flying the flag: Gender and the projection of national progress through global air travel, 1920-1960

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Gibson, Emily Katherine
Krige, John
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This dissertation uses a feminist analytical lens to study questions of power and difference in the gendered and racial dynamics of marketing strategies, public relations, and employment within the aviation industry from 1920-1960. Demonstrating that gendered and racial business strategies and views of technology did not develop separately from the aviation industry, this work argues that understanding modern meanings and patterns of commercial air travel requires an examination of how notions of gender, race, and international development determined the course of commercial aviation’s development. The dissertation is divided into two parts that correspond to two main periods in the history of aviation: the inter-war period formation of major commercial aviation firms and the WWII/immediate post-war period of global expansion and the “jet age.” The first section argues that women occupied a unique role in commercial aviation’s growth as a state project and symbol of national modernity during the inter-war period, while they also challenged the limits of those proscribed roles. This section examines women as symbols of domestication for the technology of flight in the United States, China, and Turkey. The second section examines commercial aviation’s growth and expansion during WWII and the postwar period. This section examines Pan American Airways and Air France as vectors of national political and economic power that worked to: build a brand for their airline based on providing exceptional service, articulate a particularly gendered corporate vision of sales and service, and promote diplomacy and state interests in international and colonial contexts.
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