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China Africa Fashion Power (2022 – 2027)

“No matter how the world may change and no matter what challenges may come up ahead, cooperation between China and Africa will never stop.”

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (The 20th Anniversary of The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, 12 November 2020)

"[…] fashion no longer is an exclusive property of the West. Contemporary fashions are created rapidly and in great volume from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, redefining both consumption and fashion itself in the process and propelling multidirectional style shifts across the globe."

Karen Tranberg Hansen (2004: 370)

My ERC project 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 ChinaAfrica 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.

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