In my individual autoethnography for the Digital Asia (BCM320) class, I studied my media consumption on Facebook. Overall, I looked into my habit of reading translated C-netizens’ comments as a way to gain insights into China’s media industry as well as its culture.
As mentioned in the autoethnography, I came up with the idea of conducting such research thanks to the live-tweeting session of Guardian (2018). Despite the difference in languages, Guardian went viral in Vietnam last year. It is ostensible that the online diffusion of fan discussions, which overcome any language barriers, embraces the virality of popular Chinese films on Vietnamese social media through translated Chinese topics and comments of the films and their casts into Vietnamese. While such a fan practice has long been known as a feature of K-pop fandoms, it is new to witness the proliferation of it amongst fans of Chinese media products.
Initially, I was unsure about my focus on the study. As my individual autoethnography overlaps with the screening and live-tweeting activities in BCM320, I feared that my analysis would turn into another reflection on film experience. I found myself struggling to balance the “autobiographical” and “ethnographical” elements in my writing of autoethnography (Ellis et al. 2010). My autoethnographic blog post seems to become as either a pure “thick description” of Chinese gay-themed films on Twitter (tweets as my field notes) or pure “epiphanies” narration of cultural fan translation practices on Facebook.
“Thick description is…the process of paying attention to contextual detail in observing and interpreting social meaning when conducting qualitative research.Mills et al. 2010
I guess my problem lies in the confusion of my field site(s). I faced great difficulty in deciding whether Facebook or Twitter was my field site. While field site often refers to the one and only “stage on which the social processes under study take place” (Burrell 2009, p. 182), such a traditional definition of field site has changed to adapt to the burgeoning and fluid nature of the digital environment. According to Airoldi (2018, p. 662), the digital field can be heuristically considered as a twofold one. An online field site might consist of a stable “contextual” field of bounded online communities intertwined with a “meta-field” aggregating scattered communicative contents. In my autoethnography, Facebook is my “contextual” field, while Twitter is my “meta-field”. Facebook is where I mainly adopt the identity of a participant by following pages and their rules to experience social interactions between news consumers and their translation practices and media rituals. I then used Twitter as a place to test my hypotheses grounded in my Facebook experience and scrutinised the power of paratexts in shaping the cultural knowledge of outsiders, including the Sinosphere and Asian media outsiders.
Another reason for my initial hesitation in carrying out such research lies in my presentation of data. I wrote my autoethnography in English, talked about Chinese culture, and had my primary field site in the Vietnamese language. I was concerned that the three languages might discourage the audience from engaging in my autoethnography, especially for an unfamiliar topic to many cultural outsiders like cultural translation practices. In order to increase audience engagement, I utilised the technique of “showing” to create “spatialising narratives” (Couldry et al. 2014) through embedded tweets (field notes), images and hyperlinks. Together with “telling”, these two sub-practices of digital communication bring “readers into the scene”, initiating deliberation in the audience regarding not only Chinese media culture but also the role of paratext in augmenting cultural knowledge of outsiders (Ellis et al. 2010, p. 3).
Also, I compared C-biz translated threads with K-pop translated hot topics to make my autoethnographic writing more accessible. Considering that K-pop and its fan culture are familiar to a broad public, my readers could understand the translation practices of C-biz fans, which is similar to the K-pop fan practices. Using K-pop as a referent point further helped me draw on concepts of netizen, fan studies, linguistic usage, consumer practices and cultural translation, since the literature on Chinese media, in general, and translation practices of C-biz fans, in particular, is scant.
Airoldi, M 2018, “Ethnography and the digital fields of social media”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, vol. 21, no. 6, pp. 661-673.
Burrell, J 2009, “The field site as a network: A strategy for locating ethnographic research”, Field Methods, vol. 21, no. 2, pp.181–199.
Couldry, N, MacDonald, R, Stephansen, H, Clark, W, Dickens, L & Fotopoulou, A 2014, “Constructing a digital storycircle: Digital infrastructure and mutual recognition”, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 501-517.
Ellis, C, Adams, TE, Bochner, AP 2010, “Autoethnography: An Overview”, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-13.
Mills, AJ, Durepos, G & Wiebe, E 2010, “Thick Description”, Encyclopedia of Case Study Research, SAGE research method.