Ghanaian trade agents in China as vectors of "world time"
Alena Thiel (Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg)
Paper short abstract:
Focusing on traveling ideas associated with transnational entrepreneurship, this paper shows how Ghanaian trade agents in China act as translators between West African and Chinese urban modernities.
Paper long abstract:
African trade agents in China have been described as actors in a process of "globalization from below" (Mathews 2011, Mathews and Yang 2012). Catering for the needs of transnational entrepreneurs from Africa and its diasporas, these African agents act as toeholds (Müller 2011, Bredeloup 2012) for a "new brand of traders" (Darkwah 2007), who in search for ever new lucrative commodity hubs pass through global sourcing destinations like Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and/or Yiwu. With the help of the case study of resident Ghanaian trade agents in Guangzhou, Yiwu and, marginally, Hong Kong, this paper analyses Chinese exports to Africa from the perspective of these border crossers (Gupta and Ferguson 2002) facilitating business deals for large numbers of venturing entrepreneurs. Tracing the biographic and entrepreneurial trajectories of established Ghanaian agents in the three location, as well as their integration into communal and business structures in China with their associated socio-economic hierarchies, I illustrate how the concept of "globalization from below" faces its limits in describing the complex composition and constellations of the Ghanaian community in China. Nonetheless, theories of globalization remain core to the analysis of the traveling ideas that these African residents in China both bring in their conceptual luggage but also transport back into their home societies along with their processing of Chinese consumer goods for export. Focusing on traveling significations in the realm of entrepreneurial practices, I show how Ghanaian trade agents in China act as translators between West African and Chinese urban modernities.
A world of goods and the wealth of nations: anthropologies of export