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Lecture | China Seminar

China Fashion Power - Fashioning Power through South-South Interaction: Rethinking Creativity, Authenticity, Cultural Mediation and Consumer Agency along China-Africa Fashion Value Chains

Wednesday 3 May 2023
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Fieldwork in ‘post-pandemic’ Guangzhou, China – Tianxiu Building, Xiaobei (China's "little Africa"). Photo taken by Tommy Tse (Jan 2023)


My ERC project China Fashion Power investigates how, in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s global power is manifested, negotiated, and resisted in people’s daily life in a South-South setting using fashion as an exemplary case. Fashion is recognised as a significant economic force globally and one of the most poignant indicators of cross-cultural exchange. By critically examining China-Africa networks of fashion production, trade and consumption, this project will theorise how fashion is created, circulated, valuated, and consumed in and through Global Souths Value Chains (Guangdong-Nairobi-Maputo), dissecting complex dynamics and expressions of power.

Using a multi-disciplinary, multi-method, multi-sited, and multi-scalar approach, the following questions frame this project and its four subprojects: 1) How are everyday fashion products designed and produced in China for African markets; 2) How do Chinese and Africans interact to valuate and trade fashion products for Kenyan and Mozambican markets; 3) How and by whom are cultural differences negotiated and mediated in the marketplace; and 4) What values, meanings and “power” do African consumers derive from consumption, and what ideas and constraints are imposed on them?

This project’s major contribution is threefold. Theoretically, it will move beyond a Western-centric epistemology to map the chains, restraints and materialities of China’s power expansion through fashion. Methodologically, this project will synergistically collect and triangulate empirical information along complete South- South commodity chains through multi-sited ethnography, semiotic and visual analysis, individual and focus group interviews, and wardrobe archival studies. Empirically, it will provide evidence of how Chinese-African fashion industries impact upon the social, cultural, economic and affective lives of African consumers in the context of increasing globalisation, digitalisation, consumerism, and China’s ambition abroad.

About the speaker

Dr Tommy Tse completed his Bachelor of Arts (Hon) degree in HKU Comparative Literature, followed by his MPhil study in Gender, Literature and Film in the same department. After graduation, he first worked in various media and creative companies, and then decided to pursue a PhD degree at HKU Sociology, conducting ethnographic research on the intricate production and mediation of fashion in Hong Kong and across Asia. He specialises in East Asia’s media and cultural industries, creative labour, consumer culture and sociology of fashion. In 2022, Tse received the prestigious European Research Council’s Consolidator Grant (ERC CoG) (2 million Euros) for his 5-year multi-sited ethnographic project entitled “China Fashion Power – Fashioning Power through South-South Interaction: Re-thinking Creativity, Authenticity, Cultural Mediation and Consumer Agency along China-Africa Fashion Value Chains”.

He is an elected member of the Amsterdam Young Academy (2020 – 2023), and he also serves the Editorial Board of Fashion, Style and Popular Culture (2021 –2023), International Journal of Fashion Studies (2021 – 2023) and Work, Employment and Society (2021 – 2024). His work has appeared in Information, Communication and Society (Taylor & Francis), Journal of Consumer Culture (Sage), Journal of Cultural Economy (Taylor & Francis), Sociology (Sage), and Work, Employment and Society (Sage).

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