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Prefigurative Politics in Chinese Young People’s Online Social Participation

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Abstract

It is widely argued that young people’s civic and political participation has transformed from formal politics to an individualized, local, and action oriented form. The advancement of digital media along with this transformation has made online space a major venue where young people can practice new forms of politics. Recent studies have documented a broad range of civic and political activities which are collectively shaped by the changing sociopolitical situation, the dynamic digital media landscape, and young people’s flexible usage of digital media. This chapter contributes to this body of literature by exploring the everyday civic and political activities of Chinese urban youth on social media. It draws on the qualitative data collected from the observation of the social media homepages of 31 young Chinese and interviews asking about their social media activities. Using the concepts of prefigurative politics, I analyzed their strategy of civic and political engagement in bring about social change. I also developed an understanding of their adoption of this strategy in current Chinese society.
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
eric.fu@unimelb.edu.au
... Current research about young people's social media use tends to focus in two main areas: young people's use of social media in political movements and everyday politics (Fu 2019;Banaji and Buckingham 2013;Harris, Wyn, and Younes 2010) and use of social media for social interaction, self-expression, and identity formation. In the latter area, research tends to either focus on specific identity-based youth groups, such as street involved youth (Selfridge and Mitchell 2020;Storrod and Densley 2017), Muslim youth (Johns 2014), and international students (Martin and Rizvi 2014), or on spectacular or risky use of social media (Van Ouytsel et al. 2017;Wang and Edwards 2016). ...
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Current research on young people's social media use tends to revolve around notable and spectacular forms of usage, and usage by specific identity-based groups on specific sites. The everyday social media use of 'ordinary' young people and its theoretical significance for youth sociology is less often considered. This paper presents findings derived from longitudinal data collected from 446 young Australians about their social media use. Using Couldry's (2012. Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press) media-related practices as a dual methodological and conceptual lens, we examine how their social media practices are embedded in the broader social practices of Australian young people. In so doing, we seek to understand how media are used by young people as a tool or resource to navigate their everyday lives in changing social contexts, and suggest that this process is directly contributing to their active creation of a new experience of adulthood. We ultimately contend that the media-related practices that we identify demonstrate how young people experience and negotiate the power of social media in shaping their everyday practices, which affords an opportunity to account for media's role in constituting the shifting social ontology experienced by young people. ARTICLE HISTORY
... This individualised form of social engagement can be understood as the practice of pre-figurative politics (Fu, 2019;Jeffrey & Dyson, 2016) which involves young people prefiguring the future in the present moment or simply choosing to be the change they want to see for society. This form of participation, powered by the realistic idealist disposition, is underpinned by a political identity shaped by their reflection on past experiences of social participation on the one hand, and rooted in young people's proactive initiatives in utilising personal power and resources in specific participatory circumstances and doing what is feasible in effecting social change on the other. ...
Chapter
This chapter examines Chinese young people’s online activities as a form of political participation through which their different political subjectivities are formed and flexibly enacted. By examining their everyday online political participation, I identified three dispositions apparent in their online participatory activities in different circumstances: “angry youth”, “powerless cynics”, and “realistic idealists”. Reflecting their accounts of these participatory activities, these dispositions as manifestations of subjectivities are shaped by the contingent participatory circumstances of the young people and are connected to their previous history of participation. Their online political participation serves as a vehicle for the formation of their subjectivity in the distinctively Chinese context. This chapter will discuss the key strategies employed by young people in their online political participation, strategies which illustrate their tactical engagement with social structures and power relations to effect social change. They also illustrate their understanding of politics in terms of social change initiatives embedded in people’s everyday activities rather than in merely confrontational practices. I argue that the online political participation of young Chinese people is a channel through which individuals can make sense of the material and social conditions of citizenship in China. The Internet as a medium extends the realm of participants’ social engagement, affording an accessible venue for young people’s social participation. It facilitates their negotiation and formation of subjectivity, an essential element of citizenship that informs the (changing) understanding of their positions in and relationships with their society (Lehmann, 2004).
... This individualised form of social engagement can be understood as the practice of prefigurative politics (Fu, 2019;Jeffrey and Dyson, 2016) which involves young people prefiguring the future in the present moment or simply choosing to be the change they want to see for society. This form of participation, powered by the realistic idealist disposition, is underpinned by a political identity shaped by their reflection on past experiences of social participation on the one hand, and rooted in young people's proactive initiatives in utilising personal power and resources in specific participatory circumstances and doing what is feasible in effecting social change on the other. ...
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Full-text available
This article examines the formation of Chinese young people’s political subjectivity through exploring their everyday online political participation. Drawing on qualitative data collected from 31 Chinese young people, it identifies three dispositions apparent in their online participatory activities in different circumstances: ‘angry youth’, ‘powerless cynics’, and ‘realistic idealists’. Reflecting their accounts of these participatory activities, these dispositions as manifestations of subjectivities are shaped by the contingent participatory circumstances of the young people and are connected to their previous history of participation. Their online political participation serves as a vehicle for the formation of their subjectivity in the distinctively Chinese context. In this way, the internet facilitates the formation of the subjectivities of young people by providing a space for them to interact with other collective subjectivities, enabling a new form of engagement within which the formation of new subjectivities can develop.
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