Author: Lin, Minfen
Title: Discursive construction of personal and social identities by Chinese celebrities on Sina Weibo
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2018
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Discourse analysis -- Social aspects
Social media
Identity (Psychology)
Department: Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Pages: vi, ii, 304 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: With increasing uses of Social Networking Sites (SNSs) for presenting self and interacting with others, studies of online identity construction are very much wanted, particularly in the field of Chinese microblogging practice. The present study has thus attempted to investigate how Chinese celebrities discursively construct their personal and social identities on Sina Weibo. Integrating the notions of self-presentation, of "individual self" and "social self" from Symbolic Interactionism, and the approach of Interactional Sociolinguistics, the present study attempts to describe and explain how high-profile celebrities construct their "personal identities" and "relational identities" on Sina Weibo. While "personal identity" is related to the construction of "individual self", "relational identity" is related to the construction of "social self". It is postulated that "personal identity" and "relational identity" are always intertwined in interpersonal communication, especially in social media, i.e., on Social Networking Services sites. The data for the present study was collected in a twelve-month period from June 2012 to June 2013 of tweets from the timelines of the six most influential public figures in Mainland China, based on the Most Influence Ranking List released by Sina Weibo System in July 2013. A total of 5641 microposts have been collected, via the Sina Weibo API, which contains a total number of 11323 utterances for coding.
The first part of the thesis investigates how the Chinese celebrities have constructed their personal identities for their multiple audiences, both known and unknown, on Sina Weibo. It is found that the Chinese celebrities tend to be broadcasters of their individual self on this platform. Multi-faceted personal identities have been constructed including being an expert of competence, a responsible social citizen, a reliable friend with love and care, and a sensualist, which can be grouped according to three categories of "the public self", "the public private self", and the "transgressive intimate self". Furthermore, considering the communication-immanent side of identity as relational and interactional achievements, the second part of the present study investigates what relational acts and facework the Chinese celebrities have performed on Sina Weibo. In contrast with the existing studies on speech acts on SNSs, which rely heavily on the criteria and taxonomy of Searle (1976), the present study adopts a relational perspective and redefines "speech acts" in terms of how they contribute to the "social self" in the interaction. It is found that the cluster of relational acts performed by the Chinese celebrities on Sina Weibo include daily and festive greetings, congratulations, directives, promising, promotion of assets, sharing of information, displaying stance, showing appreciation, showing concern, self-depreciation, etc. Furthermore, the characteristic linguistic features used by the celebrities represent an informal and sometimes non-standard style, a style popular among Chinese netizens. It is worthy of special notice that the celebrities on Weibo no longer adhere to the Chinese traditions of face and politeness or to the principles of power and hierarchy in interaction; instead, they focus primarily on building affiliation and solidarity and showing politeness with their followers on Weibo, adhering to the informal and sometimes non-standard style of Chinese writing. The study is highly significant as it has attempted to incorporate the insights from socio-psychology to build an integrated framework of analysis for describing and explaining the processes and products of identity construction by Chinese celebrities. It makes an important contribution to the research on identity construction with its significant insights regarding the multi-faceted nature and relational dynamics of identity construction on social media and the uncovering of linguistic acts and features constituting relational identity. In addition, the insights from the study can provide practical implications for personal branding and personal rapport management in the new Web 2.0 era.

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