Researching Digital in Asia – University of Copenhagen

ADI Conference 2018 > Panels > Researching Digital in...

10th Annual International ADI Conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative, University of Copenhagen
18-20 June 2018    


Researching Digital in Asia

Convener: Jun Liu, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen

The panel invites scholars to discuss and (critically) reflect upon research related to digitalization, informationalization, and datafication of Asian societies. Digital development is enabling new ways of knowing society, from online surveillance to behavioral analytics to real-time research. What are the implications of this for the relations between social science and society in the Asian region? In practice, it not only provides exciting opportunities to re-invigorate research, but also poses new challenges for researchers to handle, process, and interpret Asian societies. Especially, emerging computational social science has sparked intense debates across disciplines including sociology, political sciences, anthropology, and communication studies, to mention a few, in recent years. 

This panel also aims to offer an advanced discussion to the key epistemic, methodological and normative issues they raise, such as: What are the implications of the rise of computational social science for the relations between social research and social life in various Asian digitalizing societies? How would scholars in Asian studies take advantage of their disciplinary backgrounds to contribute to research on digital in Asia? Do we really need new methods in order to study digital societies in Asia? What would be the potential benefits of digital transformation in researching Asian digitalizing societies, from boosting the efficiency of research processes to driving methodological innovation? How would we face possible digital “disruptions,” in particular challenges of data protection to “go digital” and issues about new digital ethics?

20 June

Researching Digital in Asia

Session 1

Room 35.0.12

09:00-11:00 Welcome by Jun Liu, University of Copenhagen

Sampa Kundu, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

Digital Revolution in Myanmar: Policies, Flaws and Opportunities
Discussant: Rebat Kumar Dhakal

Rebat Kumar Dhakal, Kathmandu University

Everything’s a Little Mad Here! Locating Learning Spaces in a New Education Paradigm

Discussant: Sampa Kundu

Bo Ærenlund Sørensen, University of Oxford

The Chinese party-state's use of model worker narratives to legitimize reform and maintain order, 1977-1992

Discussant: Zexu Guan


11:00-11:15 Break

Researching Digital In Asia

Session 2

Room: 35.02.12


Robert Li, University of Edinburgh

Understanding Chinese online public opinion: is it valuable for public policy reference

Discussant: Bo Ærenlund Sørensen

Zexu Gua, Leiden University

Professionalization of Digital Laborers: Wanghong Economy and the Audience Labor Theory

Discussant: Robert Li


12:45-13:45 Lunch

Reseraching Digital in Asia

Session 3

Room: 35.02.12


Xenia Zeiler, University of Helsinki

Researching Digital Culture in India: Video Games and Gaming

Discussant: Jillet Sarah Sam

Jillet Sarah Sam, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur

Folklore in a Digitalizing Asia: Connective Ethnographies through Intertextuality

Disscussant: Xenia Zeiler


Round-table discussion


Sampa Kundu, Dr, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, India

Digital Revolution in Myanmar: Policies, Flaws and Opportunities
Myanmar represents one of the newest Asian societies opening up itself to the trends of globalisation including digitisation or information revolution. In the last few years, the number of mobile and internet users has seen a remarkable growth in Myanmar which brings flow of information as well along with it. Since 2010 when Myanmar witnessed the first ever general election after a gap of almost five decades, it has slowly adopted few policies which are in sync with modernisation and democratisation. Accordingly, Myanmar has partially accepted freedom of right to expression and information. However, debates can still be continued on this state-granted freedom as violation of those rights remains a general trend in Myanmar. The majority Bamar-Buddhist state of Myanmar is still at a nascent stage of democratisation as tolerance to opposition remains unpractised, both by the majority society and the state. In this given background, the proposed paper will analyse the digital information maturity of Myanmar.  Therefore, the laws, regulations and policies that have passed and implemented since 2011 to ensure freedom of right to expression and information will be analysed. The state-imposed restrictions on the information users will also be studied and few cases will be examined to see how the state uses its power to control the flow of information.  Finally, the study will see whether Myanmar is ready to cope up with the external challenges facing the cyber/information world which includes various forms of online fraudulent activities.

Rebat Kumar Dhakal,
Doctoral student, School of Education, Kathmandu University, Lalitpur, Nepal

Everything’s a Little Mad Here! Locating Learning Spaces in a New Education Paradigm
It was a friendly brown-faced headteacher from an urban community school in Nepal who was looking for me. “Dean Sir told me to see you, Mr. Online,” he said. I told him what he had just seen was how ‘Educational Leadership’ courses would be delivered. “Everything’s a little mad here”, he reported to the Dean later.

Given the global context where digital technologies are impacting education in terms of what, where, how and why students learn and who they learn from, and our South Asian context where conventional learning spaces remain almost unchallenged, it is important to see how digital development is fostering new ways of knowing education and society. Not undermining the digital societies in Asia, this paper makes a case for digitalization of education delivery in Nepal and analyses the impact it has made on the social life of (would-be) online teachers and learners from an anthropological perspective.  Making perceptive and cynical observations of himself, his colleagues, and online students, using anecdotes to make for precise and near objective commentary, the author paints a portrait of a new education paradigm – reflecting on digital revolution sneaking into our age-old yet contemporary learning spaces (oh, sorry, trying to substitute our conventional face2face classroom dynamics!). But are we ready? Or will we so easily give in and let the digital revolution get into our way of doing things? Of course not! After all, where will we fit in, then? The fear among conventional higher education teachers of the gradual trespassing of digital revolution into academia is so strong that they try to bypass it, rather than embracing it and reaping the benefits it offers. The discussion shows that digital transformation in education is gradually being accepted. This paper suggests that pedagogical innovation requires an innovation in the learning space and prepare teachers and students for digitally enhanced practices. After all, if we don’t locate new learning spaces in the digital world and tell our story, someone else will.

Bo Ærenlund Sørensen, DPhil student, University of Oxford

The Chinese party-state's use of model worker narratives to legitimize reform and maintain order, 1977-1992
This paper investigates how and why the Chinese party-state used the figure of the model worker as a means of explaining its reform policies in the period 1977-1992. Through digitally-aided analysis, primarily of newspaper articles, it is shown that the party-state did not, as has often been claimed, primarily present economic growth as legitimation for the economic reforms. Instead, the party-state sought to alter public values, norms, and expectations—particularly those of Chinese workers—so as to bring these in line with economic reform. Digitally-aided analyses allows us to investigate how this development unfolded in much greater detail than before, thereby allowing us to see how the topics of norms and morality was central to the process. Finally, I argue that the notion of “porous personhood” allows us a better understanding of PRC media policies in general, and in particular a better understanding of the model worker narratives.

Robert Li,
PhD Candidate, Chinese Studies, University of Edinburgh

Understanding Chinese online public opinion: is it valuable for public policy reference?
The Internet has developed rapidly in China for many years since it entered China in the late 1980s (Hu, 2008). With the assistance of major online news portals, more and more Chinese people can join the online news discussion to post their opinions and comments related to online news reports. Past researches focus on the media propaganda conducted by the state (Brady, 2008), the potential of media commercialization and digitalization to challenge the authoritarian rule in China (Lynch, 1999, Stockmann, 2012), the government censorship to online information (Nip and Fu, 2016) and the online public sphere development (Yang, 2009). However, very few scholars aim at answering whether online public opinion, represented by online news comments, has value for public policy reference. As a place where the public can post their opinions as long as they have the Internet access, the online news discussion is a platform where the government officials can observe at least some of opinions expressed by netizens. Which factors can influence the content and attitude of the online news discussions? What is the production procedure of those comments posted on the online news discussions platform? Is the online news discussion another form of propaganda or a chance for the government to observe public opinion and even take into consideration? With a case study focusing on the online news discussion of the Tianjin Explosion Incident, the research aims at answering these questions by conducting content analysis, discourse analysis and applying GIS to online news discussion data. Besides those mentioned, I also plan to conduct interviews to explore government officials’ and media practitioners’ opinions related to those research questions.

Zexu Guan,
PhD Candidate, Centre for the Arts in Society, Leiden University, Netherlands

Professionalization of Digital Laborers: Wanghong Economy and the Audience Labor Theory
Through ethnography and interviews, this article examines the rise of beauty bloggers on Weibo in China through the lens of digital labor. Recent accounts of social media have developed a critical political economy analysis of social media, employing Tiziana Terranova’s notion of free labor. This body of analysis, which sees audience as the workers bearing the exploitation of capitalism, has been criticized for applying labor theory of value from nineteenth century to the digital context mechanically, when the regular users of social media use social media as fun and empowering activity. Also, it considers all the users of social media as a whole, sharing the same interest and role in the digital environment. This article focuses on the beauty bloggers on Weibo in China, who actually make profits through being wanghong(online celebrity), aiming to present the complexity of digital laborers. It does that by analyzing the long process of how beauty bloggers are differentiated from normal users on social media, and examining the changing relationship among beauty bloggers, their followers and Weibo. This article wishes to elaborate the complicated dynamism among the professional content producers, normal users of social media, and the social media platform while revisiting the audience labor theory.

Xenia Zeiler,
Professor, University of Helsinki

Researching Digital Culture in India: Video Games and Gaming
Digital games today are one of the most influential media genres that pervade much of society regardless of age, gender and social status – in Asia as much as in the ‘West’. In times of “deep mediatization” (Couldry and Hepp 2016), actors obtain information and ideas from many sources, including games which provide increasingly complex, interactive virtual worlds. Video games actively contribute to construct perceptions of norms, values, identities, and in short, society. Game narratives thus impact on meaning making, in general, and on the construction of society, in particular. Game development and production often is a complex and highly reflected process, among other things (e.g. business interests) grounded in the understanding of game developers and many influential actors in society (e.g. politicians) that game narratives may design and transform society.

Currently and within the larger video game boom in India, we find an innovative development: a wave of pioneering games from especially so-called indie (independent) companies make extensive use of Indian cultural heritage (e.g. historical/religious references, music, dance, architecture, dress styles elements). With this, India has charted a highly interesting and distinctive path in the experimentation with the potential of video games which currently is done by game developers globally. This paper aims at presenting an overview of the developments in India and at locating them in the wider fields of cultural and social (digital enhanced) transformation in Asia. It also discusses methodical questions, by relating game research in India to the approach of “gamevironments” (Radde-Antweiler, Waltemathe, Zeiler 2014).

Jillet Sarah Sam,
Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India

Folklore in a Digitalizing Asia: Connective Ethnographies through Intertextuality
In a digitalizing Asia, folklore travels in trajectories that stem from cultural practices (such as collaborative co-productions between users and low/non-users) and meaning-making (the peculiar salience of text in oral cultures) around digital media that are prevalent in the region. Much of the current literature on digital folklore shares a common methodological approach – analyzing folklore within individual networks or platforms - that obscures the mobility of folklore. Few studies consider how folklore flows across multiple networks and platforms or between digital and physical fora. This literature also considers as rather separate inter-related aspects such as the creation of folklore, the creation of digital repositories of existing folklore by experts or experts working with communities, and its performance in digital contexts.

This paper makes the case for adopting ethnographic intertextuality (Peterson 2005) as a sociological tool in generating connective ethnographies (Hine 2015) of folklore in a digitalizing Asia. It draws on the ethnographic analysis of a caste origin narrative (of the Thiyya caste from Kerala) as it went digital in the first half of the current decade. It is argued that intertextuality provides a framework through which interrelated aspects of folklore may be addressed as it traverses digital and physical fora. Further, by considering the interpretative and performative aspects of folklore and the significance that communities assign to folklore as it travels, ethnographic intertextuality can unpack power relations within communities (digital, physical or augmented) which influence the selective narrations that they co-produce.