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Theorizing brokerage through China’s extraversion

The proliferation of brokerage across sectors has placed the topic back on the agenda in the social sciences. Yet, approaches to brokerage have remained remarkably static. This project will use ethnographic case studies from Guangdong to advance theories of brokerage.

Heidi Østbø Haugen

One case of China's extraversion: The export of goods to African markets. (Photo: Heidi Østbø Haugen)

About the project

This project will address an oft-neglected phase of brokerage: How actors position themselves in interstitial spaces to make brokerage possible. Theoretical innovation will be pursued by confronting current theories of brokerage with analytical perspectives from research on guanxi (interpersonal relations). Guanxi studies elucidate how relationships are generated through a mixture of interest, affect, and moral obligations, and this emphasis can produce new insights into how actors become brokers.

Theory development will be grounded in three ethnographic studies of how transnational linkages are generated in Guangdong, South China:

  • export of low-grade manufactured goods;
  • international recognition in academic research;
  • foreign investments in high value-added sectors.

China's extraversion is a privileged vantage point for studying brokerage because of its massive scale and the intensity with which new links are being forged.

The principal investigator in the project is Dr. Heidi Østbø Haugen.

We are now hiring a postdoctoral researcher for a position that includes 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Guangdong. More information about the required qualifications and hiring process. Application deadline: February 19, 2018.

Project objectives

The primary objective of the project is to advance theories of brokerage by analyzing how actors instigate relationships to make brokerage possible.

The secondary objectives are to:

  • Examine how instrumental relationships are forged, strengthened, and maintained.
  • Bring analytical approaches from research on guanxi (interpersonal relations) to bear on the topic of brokerage in the social sciences.
  • Contribute to methodological renewal in brokerage research by analyzing the dynamics of a limited number of strategic relationships ethnographically.

Partner institutions

School of Sociology & Anthropology, Sun Yat-sen University.


The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway through the FRIPRO Young Researcher Talent program.

Project duration

June 2018 to May 2021.

Tags: Chinese, Cultural encounters, China, International cooperation
Published Jan. 25, 2018 12:24 PM - Last modified Jan. 25, 2018 3:05 PM