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Regulating Social Media in China

Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere

Bei Guo

Regulating Social Media in China: Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere is the first in-depth study to apply the Foucauldian notion of governmentality to China’s field of social media. This book provokes readers to contemplate the democratizing potential of social media in China. By deploying Foucault’s theory of governmentality as an explanatory framework, author Bei Guo explores the seemingly paradoxical relationship of the Chinese party-state to the expansion of social media platforms. Guo argues that the Chinese government has several interests in promoting community participation and engagement through the internet platform Weibo, including extending the presence of its own agencies on Weibo while simultaneously controlling the discourse in many important ways. This book provides an important corrective to overly sanguine accounts that social media promotes a Habermasian public sphere along liberal democratic lines. It demonstrates how China, as an authoritarian country, responds to its citizens’ voracious hunger for information and regulates this by carefully adopting both liberal and authoritarian techniques.

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Chapter 1. Introduction


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Online activism is a microcosm of China’s new citizen activism, and it is one of its most vibrant currents. In this sense, online activism marks the expansion of a grassroots, citizen democracy. It is an unofficial democracy because the initiatives, both in thinking and action, come from citizens. (Yang 2009, p. 223)

Aims of the Research

The advent of the internet has made the Chinese communication landscape more vibrant and complex. China had long been criticized for its strict information control and internet censorship. However, the Chinese authorities were quick to seize the advent of the internet to deliver the benefits of the information revolution which they saw as crucial to China’s modernization and the rise of China in the international community, despite the clear potential threats to longstanding information regulation. This dynamic is reflected in current scholarship, with some scholarly works focusing on the Chinese government’s continuing rigid censorship to maintain the status quo and ensure state security, particularly through the various measures taken by the government to reinforce internet control (MacKinnon 2008). Others show interest in online activism and smart strategies used to counter censorship ← 1 | 2 → against political participation (Yang 2009). The most contested question in the existing literature since the arrival of the internet relates to its role in Chinese state-society relations, and whether the internet and its related technologies represent a crucial step in the development of civil society. The internet,...

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