Guangzhou, 16 June
The sixth Chinese Internet Research Conference (CIRC http://www.circ.asia) convened on 13-14 June 2008 in Hong Kong, China. This year’s theme was: “Myth and Reality”. Maybe not a very innovative conference title, yet nonetheless it still seems to be necessary to weed out misunderstandings and exaggerated accounts of the hypothesized effects of the internet as a harbinger of social and political change in China.
The conference revealed a reserach community still struggling with the methodological and methodical challenges of moving to ‘cyber-soil’. Several survey studies had been conducted but they face serious challenges as far as validity is concerned.
A need for more critical approaches was espoused by Bu Wei. She had conducted a very impressive litterature review in order to find out, which methodologies and which research objects the previous research on Chinese internet applies. Among the important conclusions were that studies of accessibility (for handicapped people), gender etc. were underprioritized. Methodically there was an overweight of pre-scientific ‘guestimations’, yet as Bu’s study also showed there were several positive tendencies, as the later part of the sample included more studies based on sound social science methodology.
Exciting grounded theory based research was presented by Peter Marolt, whose PhD dissertation on geographical aspects of blogging will be forthcoming in about half a year.
A study of broad interest is Jens Damm’s analysis of the Chinese diaspora – an analysis of centuries of identity creation among Chinese emigrants of which the paper presented at the conference is only one of the chapters.
Jiang Min presented a paper on ‘authoritarian deliberation’ which resounded the discussions of ‘consultative authoritarianism’ this time moved into cyberspace. Definitely an interesting contribution to the discussion of public spaces, and a useful pointing out, that the internet enables a higher degree of public participation in political and social matters in China.
A lot of research attention is given to the ‘blogosphere’ where assertions of political dissent are quite widespread even though always downplaying direct critique and instead using more subtle ways of communicating disagreement. A number of prominent Chinese bloggers and internet media people participated in the panels which gave rise to a good debate and mutual learning between scholars and practitioners. For people interested in the Chinese blogosphere – but not proficient in Chinese – Roland Soong’s blog is a good place to get up-to-date (http://www.zonaeuropa.com).
The papers and presentation slides should be available on the conference website www.circ.asia.