Accepted Paper:

Old people's emoticons and generational distinction: Chinese families on social media  

Author:

Gabriele de Seta (University of Bergen)

Paper Short Abstract:

How do pervasive digital media influence familial relationships across generations in contemporary China? This paper draws on ethnographic research and presents a series of vignettes illustrating the tensions and contradictions emerging when families become articulated through new forms of mediation.

Paper long abstract:

In the People's Republic of China, digital media have been routinely associated with youth, the segment of society that has historically adopted new forms of communication with the most enthusiasm. In recent years, this equivalence is becoming less and less accurate: particularly in light of the popularization of mobile devices and Internet access, widening populations of middle-age users embrace digital media platforms, opening up new market opportunities and broadening the scope of online interactions, but also challenging existing social relationships - particularly in the familial domain.

Taking stock of the central role that the family traditionally plays in Chinese society, this paper begins from a straightforward question: how do increasingly pervasive digital media influence familial relationships across generations? My starting hypothesis linked the widespread mediated sociality among Chinese families to the persisting importance of kinship guanxi and filial piety in contemporary China. Further ethnographic research evidenced a contrasting possibility: that digitally mediated family relationships were carefully nurtured as a way to cope with accelerating social change and the accumulation of inter-generational gaps that have come to characterize Chinese modernity.

From passionate collectors of "old people's emoticons" to epistemological rifts between parents and children, and from the rapprochement of distant cultural and historical experiences to the searing politics of distinction between compressed generations, this paper draws on an ongoing engagement with Chinese digital media platforms and the practices of local users to present a series of vignettes illustrating the tensions and contradictions emerging when families become articulated through new forms of mediation.

Panel P059
Kinship: taking stock in the light of social media