This panel is formed of researchers who share the common interest in studying the roles of digital media in the everyday lives of different social groups in contemporary China. What we also share is an attempt to go beyond the parameters largely set by urban users and researchers regarding what it means to “go online” and “use ICTs”. A prominent and somewhat normative approach to studying the Chinese internet has been addressing how “grassroots” netizens are empowered by digital media to participate in politics and resist the party-state’s control in various ways. However, who constitute “grassroots” netizens? Does digital empowerment necessarily mean political participation? Should political participation be automatically associated with resisting or succumbing to the party-state’s control? Without reflection on these questions, studying digital media in the Chinese context can be oriented towards young white-collar workers and university students whose ICTs use is more likely to fit the normative approach. While Chinese internet users indeed mainly consisted of this social group in the first decade of the new millennium, the composition is now much more diverse. With the popularisation of smart phones, the number of digital media users has been particularly increasing among rural migrant workers and other social groups in rural China.
To grasp these trends, it is imperative to “de-urbanise” digital media studies. The title of our proposed panel is inspired by the call for “de-westernising” media and communication research in the past two decades, which means not only bringing in more non-Western cases into discussion, but also questioning certain analytical assumptions that is implicated in Anglo-Saxon epistemology and history. Similarly, de-urbanising the studies of digital media in China on the one hand involves investigating how digital media have been appropriated by social groups other than urban middle-class youth. On the other hand, these investigations need to be grounded in a more comprehensive analysis of the social structure and local histories of China, which can debunk certain epistemic assumptions of urban researchers. The panel's five presentations demonstrate our effort to de-urbanise digital media studies in China.
Chair: Yanning Huang, XJTLU, China
Paper 1. The classed practice of self-mockery: comparing urban and rural youths’ engagement with online wordplay in China. Yanning Huang, XJTLU, China.
Paper 2. “Talk to dispel your mind”: how and why rural Chinese women manage emotions with social media. Yini Wang, Hunan University, China.
Paper 3. Behind Access: Why does the Chinese rural elderly not use a smartphone? Hao Wu, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
Paper 4. Between the factory and the platform: Chinesenongmingong confronting a technologically-mediated working-class labourscape in a time of economic transition. Yang Zhou, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
Discussant: Prof. Wei BU, Institute of Journalism and Commmunication, Chinese Academy of Social Science