WeChat Ethnography: New Practices and Limits of an Emerging Research Method

Pascale Bugnon

Yali Chen

Collecting online data through social media has become a widely used methodology in ethnographic research in the past decade. Scholars have addressed both the prospects and drawbacks, limitations and moral concerns in conducting online research (Côté, 2013; Fiesler & Proferes, 2018, among others). Compared to “traditional” ethnography, online ethnography offers greater flexibility in terms of time and the variety of information that can be obtained. Additionally, it ensures that researchers are constantly engaged and interactive during their fieldwork. In fact, social media has become an ethnographic field in its own right, where scholars spend significant time gathering, observing, engaging and interacting with diverse actors (Svensson, 2017). As a result, the notion of “being in the field” has completely been transformed. However, researchers in online ethnography face increased complexity and uncertainty with regards to confidentiality, anonymity, informed consent, privacy, and the risk of harm. In particular, research ethics remain a significant challenge, as no official guidelines have been established for conducting online ethnography. Since we cannot just focus on Western social media platforms, we have to pay attention to other cultural contexts and social media platforms. It is obvious that the social, cultural and political contexts affect the ethical issues.

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Discovering common perception of Beijing 2022 Big Air Venue through photos from WeChat Channel & Weibo: A computer-assisted approach

Huishu Deng, Heritage, Culture and City Group, College of Humanities, EPFL

The photos taken by visitors to the site, defined as user-generated photos, have been used as a direct medium to study how the general public perceives and attaches to a particular place, as the action of taking a photo is triggered not only by the immediate environment, but also by many aspects of place attachment: attention, perceptions, preferences, memories, opinions, etc. (Tieskens, 2018). The anthropologist John Collier (1967) was the first to use photography as a tool to study human perception. Since then, handing out cameras to participants or self-directed photography (Dakin 2003; Markwell 2000) have become widely accepted techniques for assessing perceived/preferred public space. In recent years, the proliferation of photo-sharing on social media such as WeChat and Weibo has opened up the possibility of collecting large numbers of user-generated photos. It is also a way to engage a wider range of visitors over a longer period. Moreover, with the application of advanced computer vision technologies, such as automatic image classification and visual content recognition, it is possible to extract and analyze information from thousands of photos (Vu et al. 2018; Zhang et al. 2020).

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Utilizing WeChat as a Research Instrument: The Interplay Amongst Censorship Policies, Self-Censorship Behaviors, and Anti-Censorship Tactics on the WeChat Platform

Ningjie Zhu, Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies, University of Bonn

During the past three years of the pandemic, there has been a decline in physical mobility, accompanied by a rise in political apprehension. The circumstances that unfolded in China during the pandemic have increasingly been characterized as an enigmatic entity, as observed by scholars and within popular discourse (Chen et al., 2023), thus spurring a growing need for alternative approaches to the study of China. On the other hand, ICT technologies have also ushered in new opportunities for exploring novel approaches and means to understand the Chinese reality, with social media representing one facet of this endeavor (McDonald, 2016; Wang and Liu, 2021). China offers a promising environment for engaging in online ethnographic research owing to its substantial population of “netizens”. Yet, in this context, several challenges and risks emerge, notably the pervasive internet censorship that complicates the qualitative data collection and analysis on social media, transforming it into a delicate hide-and-seek endeavor between the censors and the general public.

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WeChat and the Chinese Queer Diaspora

Cai CHEN, Laboratory of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds (LAMC), Université libre de Bruxelles

WeChat, functioning both as a digital media platform and an infrastructure (Plantin & de Seta, 2019), transcends national borders and has gained widespread usage among Chinese diasporas (Sun & Yu, 2022), including the queer[1] community. Chinese queer individuals, whether sojourners (e.g., international students) or settled residents in Western countries (e.g., immigrants or long-term residents), may have different migration motives and pathways, but they share a common intrinsic migration aspiration. That is, the yearning for sexual freedom (as discussed in Kam, 2020; Ponce & Chen, 2023 among others). Despite the relatively liberal and tolerant societal environment in Western countries, the Chinese queer diaspora in countries like France has been confronted not only with the marginalisation as a racial minority within predominantly white societies—like their heterosexual counterparts (see Chuang, 2021; Wang et al., 2023)—but also with the multi-layered discrimination as queer migrants of colour (see C. Chen, 2023b). As social norms and cultural values migrate with individuals, Chinese queer migrants find themselves in a dual predicament. On the one hand, they embrace the freedom to be “truly themselves” within the liberal French society, and on the other hand, many continue to conceal their homosexuality from their families in China or their immediate social networks within the Chinese diaspora community (C. Chen, 2023a). This dual minority status places Chinese queer migrants in a unique position, and WeChat plays a pivotal role in their “in-between” social lives.

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Digital ethnographer as a (perhaps) forgotten guest: the case of a teacher-student chat during Covid-19 lockdown in China

Michela Bonato, Università Ca’Foscari Venezia

Social media have been described as a space of possible democratization where the absence of vertical power distribution systems allows the sharing of information and knowledge (re)making (Bruns 2015). This perspective may appear rather utopian when contextualized in the digital ecology of Chinese social space, which is characterized by an intrusion of the party-state in terms of technology, legislation, and media production to achieve internet sovereignty on national branding as a geopolitical leverage (Budnitsky and Jia 2018). Therefore, any attempt at digital ethnography should consider that the Chinese digital setting is a space of compromise, resistance, censorship, and consequent self-censorship. Drawing from this premise, this case study investigates a teacher-student university chat in the WeChat domain, first classified as a learning space and gradually transformed into a normative space of control and distribution of best practices and rules during the pandemic wave that hit China in 2022.

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The emergence of “Muslim heritage” in China. Reflections on the Dynamics of an Unformulated Category. Appendix: “Lists of Muslim Heritage in China at the National Level” (1961-2019)

Pascale Bugnon

1. Introduction

The People’s Republic of China has been involved in the institutional and legal production of cultural heritage since 1961, when it enacted the first legislative text on the protection of historical monuments, accompanied by a list of sites of cultural heritage value. If this first inventory was mainly concerned with sites related to the Communist revolution and archaeology, this model has gradually been expanded to include historical and cultural sites that have a local and “ethnic” [民族] component. This new paradigm has led to a sharp increase in cultural investment, revaluing not only the elements of the various imperial pasts, but also what are officially called “ethnic minorities” [少 数民族]. In this unprecedented context, a number of monuments attract attention: those belonging to the “Muslim heritage” [伊斯兰文化遗产]. Without being institutionally recognised under this name[1], this heritage raises many questions, especially about the underlying political, economic and social issues. In this article, I propose some lines of thought on the establishment of these cultural policies, which have led to the emergence of an unformulated category.

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Évaluation des compétences à l’oral et acquisition des tons par des apprenants européens

Zhong Mei

Le 10 septembre 2022, l’Institut Confucius de l’Université de Genève a organisé sa 13ème formation de didactique du chinois langue étrangère. Celle-ci a porté sur les thèmes de l’évaluation des compétences orales et de l’acquisition des tons par les apprenants européens. L’intervenante, la professeure TSENG Chin-Chin (曾金金), provient de l’Université Normale Nationale de Taiwan (台湾师范大学).

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Protection environnementale et enseignement du chinois : des idées et des outils pour une pédagogie active

Hou Donghai

Les enjeux environnementaux sont une thématique essentielle aujourd’hui. Une nouvelle réalité, de nouveaux modes de vie, de nouveaux métiers : ces changements sont au cœur de la vie quotidienne de nos élèves et nos étudiant-es. Le 17 septembre 2022, l’Institut Confucius de l’Université de Genève a organisé sa 14ème formation de didactique du chinois langue étrangère. Mme Fanny Valembois, du Bureau des acclimatations à Rennes, spécialiste en accompagnement de la transition écologique des organisations culturelles, est intervenue sur le thème « Protection environnementale et enseignement du chinois : des idées et des outils pour une pédagogie active ».

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L’émergence du « patrimoine musulman » en Chine. Quelques réflexions sur les enjeux d’une catégorie non formulée. Suivi de « Listes du patrimoine musulman en Chine au niveau national » (1961-2013)

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Pascale Bugnon

  1. Introduction

Depuis 1961, la République populaire de Chine s’est engagée dans la production institutionnelle et juridique relative au patrimoine culturel en mettant en place le premier texte législatif de sauvegarde des monuments historiques, accompagné d’une liste de sites à valeur patrimoniale. Si ce premier inventaire prenait en compte essentiellement les sites liés à la révolution communiste et à l’archéologie, peu à peu, ce modèle a été étoffé par l’inclusion des sites historiques et culturels où la composante locale et « ethnique » [民族] entre en considération. Ce nouveau paradigme s’est traduit par un accroissement fort dans l’investissement culturel, revalorisant non seulement les éléments des différents passés impériaux mais aussi ce qui est appelé, dans les termes officiels, les « minorités ethniques » [少数民族]. Dans ce contexte patrimonial inédit, une série de monuments bâtis retiennent l’attention : ceux appartenant au « patrimoine musulman » [伊斯兰文化遗产]. Sans être institutionnellement reconnue sous cette appellation[1], ce patrimoine pose de nombreuses questions notamment sur les enjeux politiques, économiques et sociaux sous-jacents. A travers cet article, je propose quelques pistes de réflexion sur l’établissement de ces politiques culturelles qui conduisirent à l’émergence d’une catégorie non formulée. Continue reading

LMOOC et apprentissage des langues : de la massivité à l’individualisation par e-Tandem ?

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Jue Wang Szilas, PLIDAM, Inalco ; Institut Confucius, Université de Genève

Christelle Hoppe, PLIDAM, Inalco ; Université de Nantes

Cet article explore le potentiel d’un dispositif eTandem aligné sur deux LMOOC (Language MOOC) destiné à renforcer l’expérience des apprenants par un dispositif plus réduit et une approche multimodale, afin de favoriser le développement des compétences communicatives, interculturelles et les plurilinguismes. Le contexte et des limites des deux LMOOC, ainsi que les défis que notre proposition tente de relever, sont discutés au travers de l’usage d’un scénario pédagogique en format SPOC (Small Private Online Course)[1]. Continue reading