Spiritual Pollution: The Social Circulation of Digital Folklore on Chinese Internet Platforms by Dr Gabriele de Seta
Date : 16 Mar 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Dr Eric Kerr, Asia Research Institute, and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore


Over the past decade, computing devices and digital media platforms have entered the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese Internet users. From a privileged and expensive form of information access, shang wang (going online) has become an ordinary experience for an increasingly large percentage of the PRC's population. This momentuous change has been widely discussed under larger the narratives of ICT development or informational democratization, but the everyday lives of Chinese digital media users have been rarely approached anthropologically. This talk presents the results of an ongoing ethnographic research project following the variegated everyday media practices of Chinese digital media users, and focuses in particular on different forms of vernacular creativity. From slang terms to animated GIFs, from selfies to WeChat stickers, and from audiovisual remixes to live-streamed performances, a large part of digital media content results from the everyday creative practices of users, and different forms of “doing” are behind the sociotechnical construction of vernacular repertoires of digital folklore that are sometimes playfully termed jingshen wuran, or ‘spiritual pollution’, recuperating a propaganda term from the 1980s. Drawing on years of participation in different digital media platforms and a long-term curatorial data collection, I will outline how the Chinese Internet reshapes the classical idea of anthropological fieldsite, discuss how to study the socially-mediated circulation of vernacular content in its own terms, and offer a few provisional conclusions on how local users experience, inhabit and shape the peculiar media ecologies of today's China.


Gabriele de Seta holds a PhD in Sociology from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. His research work, grounded on ethnographic engagement across multiple sites, focuses on digital media practices and vernacular creativity in Chinese-speaking areas. He is also interested in experimental music, Internet art, and collaborative intersections between anthropology and art practice. More information is available on his website http://paranom.asia.


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY