Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu


On her book The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and The Cultural Economy of Fashion

Cover Interview of August 23, 2011


I often find myself saying that this book is about New York’s fashion industry—but then almost immediately thinking that it’s really not about the fashion industry at all.

The book certainly started out that way, and fashion has remained a central object of analysis.  But what I discovered in the process of research was that I was actually learning much more about the nature of social connection and affiliation—about how we manage to retain social relationships in the face of forces that continually divide.

One of the ways in which we have been thinking about these questions lately is through discussions of social media.  But while such technological developments have allowed us to keep up with old friends from far away and have as such ameliorated the problem of temporal and spatial distance, they have not really resolved the problem of social distance.  For even in the midst of all this social networking, we are still seeing each other as inherently disconnected, as red states and blue states, as West and non-West, as us and them.

For me this was not a problem of difference only—if fashion teaches us anything it is culture’s ability to domesticate difference and to make it desirable and consumable—it was really a problem of social distance.

What excited me about what I witnessed here was the way that people were coming to see each other—across vast differences—as potential allies (potential only).  I was very interested in exploring those moments, and they were often no more than just moments, when people could express to each other a sense of obligation (if not actual responsibility) that exceeded their relationships as producers and consumers, clients and contractors, employers and employees—that was extra-market, even as it rooted in the marketplace.

Without such moments of recognition of mutual interdependency, it would be impossible to engage in acts of coalition.  And what, really, would be possible in this world without acts of coalition?

© 2011 Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu