Chinese and Italian place brands in contemporary Sydney : assembling ethnicity and/in the city
This thesis is based on an ethnographic study conducted in Sydney, Australia, to investigate the relations between ethnicity and the city filtered through the practice of place branding. I adopt a comparative case study that addresses the production and application of what I call ‘ethnic place brands’ to two precincts named Chinatown/Haymarket and Leichhardt (Little Italy), with the aim of dynamising the type of analysis proposed, for example, in the ‘immigrant economy’, ‘ethnic precinct’ and ‘urban tourism’ literatures, where ethnicity is often conceived as a quality contained within demarcated urban units and treated as a static essence that defines unchanging categories of collective identification. In contradistinction, this thesis argues that ‘ethnic place brands’ are complex assemblages that are put together in contingent and disaggregated processes of representation and identification defined by inherent tensions between the need to essentialise for marketing purposes and increasing degrees of cultural complexity. My work unfolds in two main parts. The first three chapters are dedicated to the overview of the emergence of ‘precincts’ as a point of departure for the analysis of the entanglements between culture, ethnicity and the city in global urban discourses and how they become visible in the Sydney context. ‘Ethnic place brands’, I argue, are social, cultural and economic constructs that increasingly drive revitalisation projects targeting some of these urban areas, where ‘difference’ has been reworked across a series of narratives spanning from ethnic marginalisation to ethno-specific service provision to end up becoming strategic points of competitive differentiation. By framing Chineseness and Italianness within this paradigmatic shift, this thesis proposes a theoretical framework for understanding ethnicity and/in the city, which takes into account the complex system of value production in which place branding practices are embedded, while respecting the multiplicity of discourses that frame the making of difference. Street ethnography is introduced in this context as a mobile, creative and selfreflexive method of inquiry that enables to ‘act’ on this complex phenomenon (Chapter Four). In the second part of the work I look at the brand management strategies for the two precincts that are the focus of my investigation to describe the way in which ethnicity can be understood beyond the limits of static representation. Chapter Five illustrates how Chineseness has become a ‘flexible’ brand for Chinatown/Haymarket, which incorporates different meanings into the production of a brand identity based on ambiguous articulations of ‘multi-Asianness’. These converge on a ‘flexible platform’ that makes bounded notions of Chinatown morph into the more spatially porous Haymarket. The production of Leichhardt’s brand, on the other hand, remains confined within ‘rigid’ representations of Italianness, which systematically disavow the increasingly complex fabric of the precinct; in Chapter Six I discuss how the continuing attempts to mobilise Italianness result into a series of competing and mutually exclusive conceptions of Little Italy contextualised by a narrative of decline. Lastly, in Chapter Seven, the role of the Chinese and Italian communities as integral parts of the two ‘ethnic place brands’ is considered. My argument is that ‘ethnic place brands’ shed light on the ‘ethnic community’ as a temporarily assembled network of stakeholders, defined by strategic positioning and instances of alignment or discord over the aims of the two brand management strategies. This thesis brings different levels of urban analysis in conversation with one another and replaces the essentialised and static conceptualisations of ethnicity that loosely circulate to advertise the specificity of ‘ethnic precincts’ with a more nuanced, description of place branding as an abstract, complex and networked process, which is less dependent on fixed conceptions of space and difference and more oriented towards the type of fluid relations by which ethnicity and the city are constantly reconfigured. I address ‘ethnic place brands’ as platforms of plural and contested meanings and treat them as instances that offer the opportunity to imagine what Amin and Thrift (2002) call ‘new sociospatial vocabularies’ based on the understanding of cities as spaces of heterogeneity and circulation.