Talking to the BBC about social media in China

By Alison Major, on 23 March 2017

Today’s guest blog is by Tom McDonald of Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University. He is author of Social Media in Rural China

Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to be interviewed by the BBC on my research onto the use of technology in China. The article that was published as a result of the interview is a good example of ‘public anthropology’,

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

showing how the discipline’s research can made relevant to a wider audience.

This commitment to engaging with the public through anthropology is something that is also mirrored in two books that I published last year: Social Media in Rural China and How the World Changed Social Media (the latter is co-authored with the rest of the Why We Post team). Both of these volumes tried to respond to the immense interest in social media from the general public, by writing in an accessible and open style. We chose to keep all citations and the discussion of wider academic issues to endnotes. Many readers seem to have enjoyed this style of easy-to-understand writing.

A central aim of the book Social Media in Rural China was to try and help non-Chinese audiences, who have limited experience of Chinese social media and find it hard to imagine what they are like, to understand the nature of these platforms and the kind of social effects they are bringing to a small rural community in China.

Given this, it’s also been surprising to see how the book has been received in Hong Kong and Mainland China. I’ve gained a lot from discussing sections of the book with undergraduate and postgraduate students—most of whom are Chinese—in my Local Cultures, Global Markets and New Media and Digital Culture courses. Readers are often interested to understand a “foreigner’s” reflections on contemporary rural China.

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

This feedback will be particularly useful as I put together articles for academic journals over the coming months. In this way, I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to balance two quite different forms of writing: academic writing aimed at fellow researchers in universities, and a more accessible writing for a general public which can also inspire articles such as the one that appeared on the BBC.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog. It has been re-posted with permission.

Social media and Brexit

By Daniel Miller, on 28 June 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 14.22.03One of the common claims made about social media is that it has facilitated a new form of political intervention aligned with the practices and inclinations of the young. Last week I attended the launch of an extremely good book by Henry Jenkins and his colleagues called By Any Media Necessary which documents how young people use social and other media to become politically involved, demonstrating that this is real politics not merely ‘slacktivism’, a mere substitute for such political involvement.

And yet, currently I am seeing social media buzzing with young people advocating a petition to revoke the Brexit vote, which only highlights the absence of a similar ‘buzz’ prior to the vote. I await more scholarly studies in confirmation, but my impression is that we did not see the kind of massive activist campaign by young people to prevent Brexit that we saw with campaigns behind Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

The failure to create an attractive activist-led mass social media campaign to get young people to vote for Remain is reflected in the figures; although 18-24 year-olds were the most favourable segment towards Remain, only 36% of this group actually voted at all. As such, Brexit represents a catastrophic failure in young people’s social media, from which we need to learn. Being based in ethnography, our Why We Post project argued that we need to study the absence of politics in ordinary people’s social media as much as focusing on when it does appear. But the key lesson is surely that just because social media can facilitate young people’s involvement in politics doesn’t mean it will, even when that politics impacts upon the young.

One possibility is that social media favours a more radical idealistic agenda. By contrast, even though the impact of Brexit might be greater and more tangible, the remain campaign was led by a conservative prime minister, backing a Europe associate with bureaucracy and corporate interest, and was a messy grouping of people with different ideological perspectives, that made it perhaps less susceptible to the social media mechanisms of aggregated sharing.

At the same time I would claim that our work can help us to understand the result. My own book Social Media in an English Village is centred on the way English people re-purposed social media as a mechanism for keeping ‘others’, and above all one’s neighbours, at a distance. I cannot demonstrate this but I would argue that by supporting Brexit the English were doing in politics at a much larger scale exactly what my book claims they were doing to their neighbours at a local level: expressing a sense that ‘others’ were getting too close and too intrusive and needed to be pushed back to some more appropriate distance. And it is this rationale which may now have devastated the prospects for young people in England.

About the author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at UCL and author of 37 books including Social Media in an English VillageThe Comfort of Things, Stuff, Tales from Facebook and A Theory of Shopping.  Find out more about the Why We Post series at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/why-we-post.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog, using the title ‘Social Media and Brexit’. It has been re-posted with permission.

Housing – Critical Futures: ‘a critical issue at a critical time’

By Graham Cairns, on 17 June 2016

research programme led by AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) and supported by UCL Press

The Housing – Critical Futures research programme confronts a critical issue at a critical time. In London, a leading capital of global finance, there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing for those that service ‘the service’ sector. The crisis is at levels not seen since World War II. In Beijing, capital of the 21st century’s political powerhouse, the displacement of long-standing communities is a daily occurrence. In Mumbai, thAmps finale biggest health risk faced by the city today has been identified as overcrowded housing, while in São Paulo, football’s 2014 World Cup took place against a backdrop of community unrest and the chronic living conditions of the poor. The private sector, the state and residents themselves are searching for solutions. Whether housing refugees in conflict areas, providing safe water to the households in the developing world, or ensuring key workers can live in the cities they support in the West, the question of housing is not only global, but critical.

In addressing these questions AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) has partnered with institutions, organizations, individuals, activists, designers, theorists and, of course publishers. Our key publishing partner is UCL Press which has been fundamental in ensuring that the work of those we collaborate with reaches a wide and relevant audience on an open access basis. UCL Press has worked with us in developing a book series on housing that allows AMPS to bring together the ideas of diverse players internationally around the issue of housing. The Press is supportive of our interdisciplinary agenda meaning together we are able to present an amazing array of perspectives covering a range of issues. Whether it be architects dealing with design-led ideas, residents analyzing participatory processes, planners critiquing models of development, economists explaining financial frameworks at macro and micro levels, or activists campaigning for changes on government policy, UCL Press has worked with us to find dissemination routes.

The AMPS journal, Architecture_MPS is also published through UCL Press and while this is open to an interdisciplinary body of authors and is open to a much wider range of topics, UCL Press has welcomed our use of the journal to promote our housing agenda. We have developed a series of SIPs (special issue publications) with them and our first special issue, which will be published in September 2016, is focused on housing.

About the author

Graham Cairns is Director of AMPS and Executive Editor of the associated journal Architecture_MPS. He is currently based at Columbia University, New York, and is Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

More details:

Architecture_MPS journal: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uclpress/amps

Housing Critical Futures Book Series: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/series/housing-critical-futures