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Accepted Paper:

Commoning without a commons? The Social Practice of Spreading the Dharma and Benefiting Beings on WeChat  
Catherine Hardie (Hong Kong University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I draw on digital ethnographic research into Tibetan Buddhism’s spread in Han Chinese society to explore the implications of approaching the blogging activities of Sino-Tibetan Dharma propagators as ‘commoning practices.’

Paper long abstract:

Since the onset of China’s smartphone era in the early 2010s, thousands of grassroots Tibetan Buddhist teachers and Han Chinese followers have embraced the technological and communicative affordances of WeChat to publicly propagate Tibetan Buddhism among Chinese-speaking audiences. Drawing on an age-old emic tradition of ‘spreading the Dharma and benefiting beings’ via the dissemination of Buddhist texts and images, contemporary Sino-Tibetan Dharma propagators have energetically engaged in creating WeChat ‘official accounts’ (intraplatform microblogs) to share Tibetan Buddhist content on a mass scale. The aggregate effect of these decentralised altruistic efforts, one could argue, has been the burgeoning of a ‘Dharma knowledge commons’ within WeChat’s digital ecology that any user of the platform has been free to draw from or contribute to.

In this paper, I draw on digital ethnographic research into Tibetan Buddhism’s spread in Han Chinese society to explore the implications of approaching the blogging activities of Sino-Tibetan Dharma propagators as ‘commoning practices.’ While observing a shared commitment among creators of Tibetan Buddhist official accounts to making their respective content freely accessible to all, I question whether their discourse and agencies have ever coalesced around the idea or project of nurturing a collective Dharma resource. In this connection, I highlight the role of the platform and Chinese state in regulating religionists’ commoning space, and religionists’ attendant alienation from the possibility and process of self-governing the resources they collectively produce.

Panel P110b
Commoning in the digital age – lessons from China and beyond II
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -