Author: Bahroun, Allan
Title: 'WeChat wants to become the everyday' : an ethno-semiotic study of computerized media, between industries and practices, in Shanghai and Chengdu (2015-2017)
Advisors: Herold, David Kurt (APSS)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2018
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Online social networks -- China
Department: Department of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: 352 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: This doctoral thesis focuses on the encounter between computerized media industries and everyday practices in China. More specifically, the investigation was aimed at understanding how the industrial strategies of Tencent, embodied in WeChat, successfully met the daily expressions of ordinary individuals. To put it in a simple way: what has WeChat created for people to spend so much time within it? Offering a counter-point to the macroscopic accounts of media usage, this qualitative exploration with 16 participants, in Shanghai and Chengdu, in 2015 and 2016, reveals how a certain 'Everyday' is constructed by and through WeChat. The perspective adopted in the thesis is anthropological, its methods are ethno-semiotic, and its epistemology sits within communication studies. In theory, the thesis makes three intellectual gestures: (a) it approaches computerized media from the standpoint of writing; (b) it seeks to articulate processes of powers and dynamics of practices in a political economy of mediation; (c) it constructs WeChat as a new scriptural economy. In practice, the ethnographic experience with participants and a longitudinal media observation provide the living reservoir of situated knowledge. Three data chapters then present the relations woven between WeChat's scriptural economy and the ordinary users' practices at different but interdependent levels. It is firstly shown how participants invest the material frames constituted by the device with forms captured from their own life worlds, thus endowing WeChat with a capacity to represent them. This occurs at an infra-ordinary level, where the device itself is ignored as a technical construct to enter their daily sensory experience. From the seemingly immediate presence of the device in their communication, emerges a second process of naturalization: WeChat has indeed become a space requiring timely interventions to sustain one's social presence. The variety and temporality of this mediated presence are described as they demonstrate the participants' pragmatic engagement with WeChat's architexts. The thesis then finally exposes how participants reflexively contribute to the invention of a certain 'Everyday'. This ordinary invention coincides with the commercial discourses promoted by WeChat itself. Ultimately, by putting in perspective the participants' communicative practices with the material mediations through which they occur, this thesis does not only explain how WeChat informs their ordinary activities. This doctoral work also hopes to create a window of observation onto a new kind of industrialization that has emerged in China as well elsewhere: a process through which computerized media companies delegate to users the creative production of 'everyday life' to feed their expanding scriptural economies.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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