The Entrepreneur and the Broker

The Entrepreneur and the Broker

14.01.16 - 15.01.16

Textile traders in Guangzhou, China. Photo by Nellie Chu.


14.01.16 09:00 Alte Sternwarte, Geismar Landstr. 11, 37073 Göttingen
University of Göttingen

The Entrepreneur and the Broker:
mediating transregional flow, scale & belonging

A Workshop of the CETREN Pilot Project "Entrepreneurial Citizenship"

Organizers: Lisa Björkman (University of Louisville) and Nellie Chu (CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher)

Program flyer


About the workshop

This research workshop is animated by a constitutive tension between two figures who might be described as the ambivalent heroes and the villains of late modernity: the entrepreneur and the broker. Scholars have become increasingly interested in ‘entrepreneurialism’ and ‘enterprise citizenship,’ whether as a valorized ethic of self-making or as a despised mode of neoliberal governmentality that characterizes the contemporary global era. Alongside the entrepreneur, the figure of the ‘broker’ or ‘fixer’ has emerged as an equally prominent and ambivalent figure in popular discourse and scholarly inquiry. The role of intermediation and brokerage in enabling cultural, capital and commodity circulations – by facilitating access to material, financial and sociocultural resources, markets, infrastructures, and various kinds of institutionally-and informally-backed rights and entitlements – is featured within a growing interdisciplinary literature on the infrastructures of transnational capital, global commodity chains, migration, finance, variegated citizenship, urbanism, and logistics. The individualist romance of the entrepreneur, needless to say, sits uncomfortably alongside the necessarily embedded and mediating figure of the broker, the indispensible shadowy figure whose work animates and facilitates flows of capital, goods, people and ideas.

While advocates of the “spirit of enterprise” applaud the scaling back of state-regulatory regimes for unleashing entrepreneurial spirit (theorized as a property of individuals), critical scholarship has called attention to the socioeconomic relations and institutional contexts that enable some individuals to successfully pursue entrepreneurial activity while thwarting the efforts of others. Celebrations of entrepreneurialism have thus been critiqued for obfuscating entrenched inequalities of class, status, and power, and for ascribing socio-economic successes born of pre-existing structural endowments and class advantages to ‘bootstrapping’ individualistic heroics. The broker/fixer has emerged in critical scholarship as a means by which these entrenched hierarchies can be obviated, relations of domination resisted, and new sorts of counter-hegemonic possibilities and aspirations pursued. At the same time, however, even when destabilizing hegemonic relations of power, brokerage has been characterized as a morally fraught (and frequently violent) sphere of activity, often bound up with corruption and criminality, political-administrative distortion and dysfunction.

Leaving aside these normative questions (for the time being), we propose that the empirically interesting question concerns first, the content of brokerage in producing, sustaining, and subverting entepreneurial energies and worlds, and second, the relationship of this content to ideas and practices of transregional flows and exchanges. For the most part, existing scholarly debates on the various configurations of state-and non-state forms of entrepreneurialism and brokerage have largely taken place in reference to the territorial confines and conceptual/methodological frameworks of the nation state, to the exclusion of other locations and directionalities and scales. This workshop takes a somewhat different approach, taking the figure of the broker as a methodological entryway for exploring how processes and practices of brokerage mediate transregional movements of people, money, knowledge, objects, and ideas through mercantile and capitalist enterprise.

We invite contributions that explore how a variety of actors and institutions mediate flows of goods, scales, and claims of belonging. The following questions are of interest to us, although we welcome other lines of inquiry:

  • As mobile subjects who challenge the notion of culture and identities as fixed or bounded, what kinds of regimes of governance, imaginaries of ‘stateness’ or rights regimes are activated or destabilized by the broker-mediated border transgressions of migrants, refugees, nomads and traders?
  • How are borders and territories constituted through the brokerage practices of translators, mediators, and transregional commercial actors whose boundary-crossing work articulates contours of political regimes?
  • What sorts of non-human and cosmological worlds both animate and are effected by brokerage practices?
  • How are movements of money, commodities, and other resources made to flow across borders, and how do these infrastructures of flow transform socionatural and built environments?
  • What kinds of spaces and scales (urban, national, regional, marginal or borderland) are produced, demolished, or (re)built through the complex sociomaterial and relational activities of transregional entrepreneurialism?


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Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen