Open lecture on social media in rural China

On 4 February 10-12, Alpha 1, Ideon, Tom McDonald (UCL Department of Anthropology) will give a lecture on his current research.

On the level: materiality, hierarchy and value on social media in rural China

people standing in a group lookking at a mobile phone

Photo by Gillian Bolsover



China is often thought of as being a society of hierarchies, whether those be spatial, religious, social, cosmological or familial. This paper, based on 15 months ethnography conducted within a rural Chinese town, examines how hierarchies become overtly expressed on China’s most popular social media platform, QQ. In addition to explaining the administration and bureaucracy of the levels themselves, this paper will discuss the changing attitude of rural Chinese townsfolk towards these levels, and how desires to accumulate levels influence their practices and tactics of internet use in everyday life. The paper concludes by discussing the role of Chinese social media for our understanding of hierarchies.

This paper forms part of the Global Social Media Impact Study , an ERC funded, cross-cultural comparative ethnographic study dedicated to understanding the implications of social networking sites for global humankind and society, and explaining their significance for the future of the social sciences.
Tom McDonald is a Research Associate at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Between 2009 and 2011, he spent two years in a remote county-town in China’s Yunnan province undertaking the long-term study which formed the ethnography used in his PhD, submitted in 2013. The thesis documented the transformation of hospitality practices from domestic to commercial spaces, and discussed how this transition precipitated a number of social changes in the town. It identified concerns over a lack of co-presence of family members, and an enhanced facility for the creation of socially efficacious relationships that are free of the ties and purview of kin relations. He has recently completed a further 15 months fieldwork in rural north China, examining the impact of social media on everyday life in a small town and its peripheries as part of the Global Social Media Impact Study. He has published several peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Ethnos; Internet, Communication and Society; and Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture.

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