From shanzhai chic to Gangnam style: seven practices of cultural-economic mediation in China and Korea

Tommy TSE*, Victor SHIN, Ling Tung TSANG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the social construction of ‘fashionability’–namely, what is ‘desirable’ and ‘fashionable’–with reference to the concept ‘cultural mediators’ that foregrounds agency, negotiation and the contested practices of market actors in cultural production. It zeroes in on the cultural mediators’ attitudes and positions in the two markets by drawing on 25 in-depth interviews with industry veterans. It shows that the mediators in South Korea and China increasingly occupy hybrid occupational roles and social positions across industries and sectors yet achieve limited success in countering the status quo of Western fashion through mediation. The analysis contributes to the literature with a categorisation of seven mediation practices that shape the valuation of fashion products (i.e. ‘fashionability’) in two ways. Empirically, this categorisation illuminates how cultural mediators make reference habitually to the broader social and cultural contexts to co-construct cultural-aesthetic objects. Theoretically, it advances a cultural-economic approach to the understanding of cultural mediation and challenges the reductionist viewpoint of actor–network theory through the notion of a matrix of cultural-economic agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-530
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Cultural Economy
Issue number5
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The authors are grateful to Maggy Lee, Karen Joe Laidler, Thomas Wong, Tim Lindgren, Anne Peirson-Smith, Agnès Rocamora, Wessie Ling and Jonathan Corpus Ong for their perceptive comments and suggestions. They also thank Monique Lee Hylands-White, Nathaniel Dafydd Beard, Natasha Radclyffe-Thomas, Miriam Driessen, Charlotte Bonham-Carter, Pietari Kaapa and their postgraduate students for a stimulating conversation when an earlier version of this article was presented at the Coventry University London in October 2016, at University of Oxford in October 2018, at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London in October 2018 and at University of Warwick in November 2018. The authors also owe gratitude to Liz McFall (Editor-in-chief), Taylor Nelms (Editor-at-large) and the three anonymous reviewers for their time and effort to provide detailed and constructive comments for our revisions. All errors, of course, remain the authors’ alone.


  • Actor–network theory
  • cultural industries
  • cultural intermediaries
  • cultural-economic mediation
  • fashion
  • globalisation


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