Title: Is WeChat Becoming an Infrastructure: An Actor-Network Theory Analysis of WeChat in Contemporary China
School of Interactive Computing
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Date: Thursday, January 31st, 2019
Time: 11:00am – 1:00pm (EDT)
Location: TSRB 223
Dr. Betsy DiSalvo (Advisor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology),
Dr. Beki Grinter (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Carl DiSalvo (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Ken Anderson (Next Generation and Standards, Intel Corporation)
WeChat is the fifth most popular social network in the world with 1.05 billion monthly active users. Released in 2011, WeChat started as a mobile instant messenger but soon grew into an all-encompassing social platform that allows users to fulfill their goals in all aspects of life, such as subscribing news, playing games, paying utility bills, booking flight tickets, calling taxis, and much more. What qualities make WeChat a necessity for living in contemporary China is at the center of my concern. My major research questions focus on how people use WeChat, when they use WeChat, why they choose WeChat, and how they perceive WeChat as part of their lives. Many scholars in various disciplines such as Human-Computer Interaction and Science and Technology Studies have researched how technology influences people and co-constructs with society (e.g., social construction of technology). My work builds upon these fields with a study of WeChat.
More specifically, my project on WeChat focuses on understanding the symbiotic relationship among WeChat, related Chinese governmental policies, and Chinese society. Relying on qualitative research methods such as interviewing and observation, I dug deep into revealing the connections among different actors related to WeChat and its practices. I researched WeChat from emoji-based communication to parent-child long-distance communication, from youths’ buying and selling experiences to a prosperous online gray market. I learned how WeChat associates with its users and the larger Chinese society. To gain more insight about how WeChat may affect and be affected by governmental public policies, I propose to study how a new law, taxing online e-commerce practices, will possibly influence the gray market on WeChat. I propose to analyze WeChat using Actor-Network Theory and intend to draw the conclusion that WeChat is becoming an infrastructure according to Susan Leigh Star’s definition. My research on WeChat will not only provide valuable implications for understanding and designing instant messengers and social platforms, but also illuminate and challenge our existing understandings of information infrastructure in an internet-connected world.