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Reframing sociality: gifting money as social activity through Red Packets and the Transfer function on WeChat
Univeristy of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Understandings of technologically enabled and commercially driven digital relationships and connections are based on dominant western platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (e.g. Van Dijck, 2013; Bucher, 2012). Yet, other widely used platforms, such as WeChat, which penetrates nearly every aspect of individuals’ daily life, may shape the online sociality in different ways. WeChat is an all-inclusive app which offers users integrated and wide-ranging services, including instant messaging and social sharing, payment and entertainment, transportation and food delivery. The characteristics of WeChat necessitate questioning beliefs about the way in which sociality is mediated on digital platforms that have dominated to date.
Drawing on ethnographic interviews (and linked diaries) with 41 WeChat users, I found that WeChat users incorporate monetary gifts into their relations in the form of ‘Red Packets’ (digital red envelopes stuffed with digital money) and the money Transfer function, the transactional practices which are made possible by WeChat. For example, gifting Red Packets is considered as a fun game for social interactions and as an incentive for others when asking for certain favours, such as voting or re-posting content/links. I therefore argue that WeChat simultaneously monetises social practices and socialises monetary transactions. This finding advances debates in internet studies about how platforms are reframing online connectedness. In the example I discuss, it does so by attaching monetary value to socialisation.
9:20am - 9:40am
FROM OPEN KNOWLEDGE SHARING TO SEMI-CLOSED GROUPING: THE EVOLUTION OF ACADEMIC SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHINA
Western Sydney University, Australia
This paper reviews the evolution of Chinese academic social media in the past twenty years or so, with an analytical focus of trust and openness. It examines and compares the communicative models in scientific blog, Weibo and WeChat, and explores how academic social media co-evolve with academics’ changing demands, as well as broad social and institutional contexts in China.
This research employs multiple methods and combines data collected at different periods of time including 20 interviews, participatory observation of about 200 social media accounts, and document/discourse analysis. This research identifies transformative changes of Chinese academic social media practices, particularly the shifting focus from open sharing of knowledge in public sphere to semi-closed and semi-public grouping based on acquaintance networking. While Chinese academics believe acquaintance grouping enables more reliable and rewarding communications, this raises issues regarding a “closed” and “exclusive” approach to building trust in scholarly/scientific communications.
Potts, et al. (2017) theorize “knowledge club” as an entity where members form self-constituted groups, endeavoring to create new knowledge, and balancing the positive externalities of commons against the negative externalities of crowding is key. This paper understands the evolution of Chinese academic social media as a process of “clubization” of digital knowledge systems and further discusses the reasons and impact in the Chinese contexts.
9:40am - 10:00am
THE CONCEPT OF ‘SHARING’ IN CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA
Luolin Zhao2, Nicholas John1
1The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; 2Peking University, China
In this paper we analyze the concepts of fenxiang and gongxiang—the Mandarin words for ‘sharing’—in the context of Chinese social media. Drawing on earlier work on ‘sharing’, and based on analyses of four corpuses and changes over time to the homepages of 32 Chinese social network sites (accessed through the Wayback Machine), we find that the concepts of fenxiang and gongxiang offer a heuristic for understanding Chinese social media, while also pointing to an important facet of the discursive construction of Chinese social media. Although seeming to refer to the same activities as ‘sharing’, analysis of the language of fenxiang and gongxiang in Chinese social media reveals the entanglement of a new individualistic self with a self that remains socially embedded in pre-existing relationships; it shows how micro-level harmony (fenxiang) and macro-level harmony (gongxiang) cohere with each other; while also reflecting the interplay among social media platforms, users, and the state.
10:00am - 10:20am
Justice & Social Credit
Marcelo Thompson, Zhang Xin
Hong Kong University, Hong Kong S.A.R. (China)
China’s Social Credit System has been characterized as embodying new reputation or trust-based paradigms of State authority, which are said to defy the ideal of the rule-of- law. In contrast, this article explains the SCS as a response to justice concerns typical of liberal societies in conditions of high modernity. Such concerns spring from the exponentially increasing articulation of identity attributes under circumstances of dominance and lack of trust. To address such circumstances, the SCS institutionally reconfigures the instantiations of an important conceptual relationship — namely, that between trust, identity, and the law —, which, far from new, is found at the very roots of modern societies.