Norwegian version of this page

Brokering China’s Extraversion: An Ethnographic Analysis of Transnational Arbitration

BROKEX is an interdisciplinary research project funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant. Heidi Østbø Haugen is the principal investigator. The project will run from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2023.

Seen from above down on glasses on the high building and people on the ground.

Guangzhou Library. Co-designed by Nikken Sekkei and Guangzhou Design Institute.

Photo: Heidi Østbø Haugen.

Chinese global engagements are deepening across sectors and geographic regions. The objective of BROKEX is to fill specific gaps in knowledge about how China’s extraversion advances. The project takes an original approach by examining brokers who mediate in transnational fields. It opens China’s global integration to analysis by moving beyond descriptions of input and output characteristics to elucidate underlying dynamics.

The PI and two postdoctoral researchers will carry out ethnographic fieldwork in the Pearl River Delta, South China, that yield complementary information on the common challenge of brokering across geographic scales:

1) Connecting low-cost Chinese manufacturing with African markets;
2) Integrating Chinese academic research with global scientific communities;
3) Attracting new foreign investments to China to underpin industrial upgrading (case study funded through Research Council of Norway project);
4) Transnational architecture production.

The cases offer insights into the mechanisms of brokerage across distinctive sectors. We build on the empirical findings and literature to develop brokerage theory. Social scientific research on brokerage commonly uses the morphology of social networks as its starting point, and focuses on how actors positioned at the intersection between groups operate.

BROKEX adopts an innovative approach by examining how actors strategically seek to shape network morphologies in order to bridge gaps between groups. By directing theoretical attention towards relationship formation that precedes acts of brokerage, this line of inquiry advances understandings of how and why brokered connections emerge. Rich empirical data combined with critical theorization will generate new knowledge about the processes beneath the “rise of China” ─ one of the most consequential socioeconomic developments of our times.

For information about the project implemntation and outputs, please refer to the BROKEX website.

Project organization

The core project team will consist of the PI, three postdoctoral researchers, and one PhD scholar. The figure below illustrates the four case studies included in BROKEX. A fifth case study will be designed by the PhD scholar. The PI and Dr Lai Sze Tso are conducting fieldwork for case study 1 and 3, respectively.

The Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages University of Oslo, will soon post announcements for the following positions:

  • Postdoctoral researcher to work on BROKEX’ case study 2;

  • Postdoctoral researcher to work on BROKEX’ case study 4;

  • PhD scholar to work on self-designed project within BROKEX.

A lightly edited version of the ERC project description serves as the reference document for the positions. The application deadline is 31 January 2019.

Partner institutions

Sun Yat-sen University


The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 802070). The PhD scholar in the project is funded by the Faculty of Humanities, UiO.

Related publications

Haugen, Heidi Østbø (2018) The unmaking of a commodity: Intermediation and the entanglement of power cables in Nigeria. Environment and Planning A, 50(6): 1295-1313.

Haugen, Heidi Østbø (2018) China‒Africa exports: Governance through mobility and sojourning. Journal of Contemporary Asia. (Online first

Haugen, Heidi Østbø (2018) From Pioneers to Professionals: African Brokers in a Maturing Chinese Marketplace. African Studies Quarterly, 17(4): 45-62.

Tags: China, Chinese, Cultural encounters, International cooperation
Published Apr. 3, 2018 4:09 PM - Last modified Mar. 31, 2020 9:29 AM