Channels: Small Traders in the Digital Age

Speaker: Biao Xiang
Venue: Hosted via Zoom
Date & Time:
2022-2-23 | 20:00-21:30 (Shanghai)
2022-2-23 | 7:00-8:30 (New York)
2022-2-23 | 16:00-17:30 (Abu Dhabi)
2022-2-23 | 13:00-14:30 (Berlin)

Co-organizer: Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

This presentation explores how petty traders and manufacturers from the global South can join the world market without relying on hierarchical supply chains, monopolistic platform companies, or informal networks. It suggests that international trade based on “channels” among petty traders can empower small players. Channel is in-person connection (though often supplemented by online communication) that people establish purposefully to exchange selected information for a particular goal. Neither random encountering nor friendship are channels. Channel is horizontal, thus different from supply chain. Channel enables traders and manufacturers to communicate constantly and therefore to change the product, the price, the methods of payment and goods delivery, thus different from digital platforms that offer many choices among ready-made goods and set prices but few chances for making changes or developing collaboration. Channel is “deal-specific” in the sense that traders constantly make new channels, thus it is different from personal networks. All transactions need channels of some sort, the question is under what conditions can small traders make effective global channels at a low cost, thus can free themselves from large corporations. This presentation addresses this question by drawing on traders’ experiences in Yiwu, a town in southeast China known as the world’s largest wholesale center for manufactured commodities for daily consumption.

Biao Xiang 项飙 is Director of Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany since 2020, and Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford before that. Xiang’s research addresses various types of migration – internal and international, unskilled and highly skilled, emigration and return migration, and the places and people left behind – in China, India and other parts of Asia. Xiang is the winner of the 2008 Anthony Leeds Prize for his book Global Bodyshopping and the 2012 William L. Holland Prize for his article ‘Predatory Princes’. His 2000 Chinese book 跨越边界的社区 (published in English as Transcending Boundaries, 2005) was reprinted in 2018 as a contemporary classic, and 自己作为方法 (Self as Method, co-authored with Wu Qi) was ranked the Most Impactful Book 2020. His work has been translated into Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, German and Italian.

Opening Remarks by Burkhard Schnepel, Professor of Social Anthropology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.

Introduction by Tansen Sen, Professor of History Director of the Center for Global Asia, NYU Shanghai.

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