Accepted Paper:

A possible digital world - Chinese rural migrants' visual expressions on social media  


Xinyuan Wang (University College London (UCL))

Paper short abstract:

Based on a contextualized visual analysis of the photos on Chinese rural migrants’ social media profiles, this study explores the relationship between the appropriation of social media and people’s living experience in diaspora as well as the social consequences of digital-mediated social connections.

Paper long abstract:

This paper takes as its premise that people's daily engagements with social media and their perceptions of social connections and personal lives are authentically objectified in photos on their social media profiles. The online photos, in this specific research, opened a window to look into the inner worlds of Chinese rural migrants in a small factory town where the researcher conducted long-term fieldwork. This paper focuses upon visual expressions on online profiles (QQ and Wechat) as the point of entry to look into the living experience of Chinese rural migrants and the negotiation and collusion between one's online and offline life.

During the fieldwork it was noted that online visual expression was significantly more popular than text-based expression among my participants. Besides a discussion of reasons for the popularity of visual expression, a detailed analysis of people's social media photos in this paper describes the dynamic of people's daily engagement with photo-taking and photo-sharing via social media. The differences and similarities on different social media platforms further suggest a 'polymedia' strategy in dealing with social relationships. Case studies in this paper illustrate that photos on social media not only allow people to craft a new digital personhood, but also facilitate the dissemination of ideas among rural migrants and between them and their fellow villagers in rural areas of origin. Rather than taking a technological-deterministic point of view, this paper argues that social media provide an alternative/additional digital world for Chinese rural migrants with lower social capital in their real-life world.

Panel P04
Comparative studies in social media photography