BCM320 Digital ArteFact: Reading Top Comments: A Non-Canonical Way to Transcultural & Media Studies

As part of the Digital Asia (BCM320) subject, I have been developing a digital artefact (DA) addressing my individual autoethnographic experience and research into the Sinophone sphere. Initially inspired by the live-tweeting session of Guardian (2018; aka Zhen Hun) in BCM320, I gave a trial account of my independent autoethnographic investigation, which looks into the potential of translated Chinese netizens’ top comments in broadening cultural outsiders’ knowledge about the Sinophone world as well as the Chinese culture. Despite the media ritual of reading comments, as I became busier towards the end of the semester, I outlined a plan for the conducting of my research and related practices to ensure the progress of my DA. 

(You can find my digital artefact presentation at the end of this post or click the embedded link if you would like to read right away)

“Autoethnography…seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto)… to understand cultural experience (ethno)” – Ellis et al. 2010

As the social media platform is often characterised as the “messy web”, it requires a complex ethnographic process that entails a variety of digital practices (Postill & Pink, 2012). Thus, my research project seeks an “adaptive” route (Postill & Pink, 2012) by combining and developing some conventional and digital practices to adapt to the flexibility and fluidity of the virtual world. I first took the role of a “participant experiencer” (Garcia et al. 2009: 55) in doing “fieldwork” for the unobtrusive observation of how people produce and consume translated top comments. I then researched secondary sources about autoethnography, transnational cultural fandom, online comments, cultural translation and Chinese films to “make sense” of my findings and prepare for my later autobiographic process.

Apart from secondary research, I interviewed a former K-pop fan page administrator, who is also an active reader of many K-pop and Chinese translated top comments, to gain more insights into the cultural translation practices and fan reading behavior. I then experimented with the Quick Translator – a translating tool that many top V-trans comment pages use to translate Chinese comments – to have hands-on experience of the behind-the-scene of the production of comments. From the “sensework”, I critically reflected on my epiphanies through “textwork” (Van Hulst, Ybema & Yanow 2017, p. 224) – writing a reflection, an autoethnographic narrative and a research report – to explore the relationship between my personal, lived experience as a reader and wider social structures and forces (Cook 2014, p. 270).

Most often, autobiographers write about “epiphanies” – remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life

Ellis et al. 2010

In order to focus the routines, mobilities, socialities and reflexivity of the autoethnography, I decided to employ five overlapping sub-practices – catching up, sharing, exploring, interacting and archiving (Postill & Pink, 2012). Catching up refers to my thirty-minute regular presence on Facebook to socialize and receive updates for exploring, as I could follow up multiple threads and different pages to read translated comments and study them. Instead of focusing on a particular film thread, I looked into the content uploaded by those top comment V-trans pages, including both K-pop and C-biz pages, to compare and extend the scope of my study as my friends recommended, considering that these pages are not fan pages.

I also re-considered my choice of following one page (one site) or a group of field sites by looking for popular Chinese top comment V-trans pages on Facebook and reviews of people about them. The name of each page begins with a green leaf.

Regarding archiving, I used my phone as my autoethnography’s and interviewing’s recorder – with short vlogs and screenshots – in conjunction with my laptop to store the data I came across in the fieldwork and the sensework. Finally, I utilised “showing” (Couldry et al. 2014) by “telling” my narratives online, creating “spatialising narratives” (Couldry et al. 2014) to bring “readers into the scene” for further cultural knowledge augmenting (Ellis et al. 2010, p. 3).

I believe that my DA informs and augments audiences’ knowledge about the role of paratext in understanding a online communication in fandom and Chinese culture. The project also gives insights into the transnational cultural process between the central culture – the Sinophone world – and the peripheral – Vietnamese social media. Presenting my DA in the form of a website as my friends suggested, I hope to make my DA accessible to a wider public. As the website is dedicated to the DA only, the audience can map through my project on it more easily than on my messy blog. 

Some limitations of my DA lie in my lack of primary research. I should have experimented with the Quick Translator, which translators frequently use, instead of its limited online version. However, I could not do so due to my shortage of time to do more primary research (such as surveying or having a focus group with my friends who adopt the same habit of reading translated comments) and of resources to try the Quick Translator. I could neither download to use the application on my Macbook (IOS does not support it) nor on the university’s computer (computers require adminitrative monitoring to access files). 

Overall, I have creatively presented my digital artefact by using the website format. This report has explained the concept, methodology, back ground research, social utility and limitations of my DA, as well as its rapid iteration, constant reassessment and improvement based on peer feedback. Despite the DA’s shortcomings, I am thankful for all the help and support people have provided me throughout my project’s process.


Link to my Digital Artefact: https://bcm320projectaboutcomments.home.blog


References

Cook, P.S 2014, “‘To actually be sociological’: Autoethnography as an assessment and learning tool”, Journal of Sociology, vol. 50, no. 3, pp. 269-282.

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.

Garcia, AC, Standlee, AI, Beckoff, J & Cui, Y 2009, “Ethnographic Approaches to the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 58-84.

Postill, J 2011, Localizing the Internet: An Anthropological Account, Berghahn, Oxford and New York.

Postill, J & Pink, S 2012, “Social Media Ethnography: The digital researcher in a messy web”, Media International Australia, no. 145, pp. 123-134.

Van Hulst, M, Ybema, S & Yanow, D 2017, “Ethnography and organizational processes”, in A. Langley & H. Tsoukas (eds.), The sage handbook of process organization studies, SAGE Publications, London. 

Featured image: https://www.verywellmind.com/solomon-asch-biography-2795519


Appendices

I happened to have this group dialogue with my friends when they went out for a coffee in week 12 at university. I mentioned my independent autoethnography as I was unsure how I should present it. My friends shared their thoughts and I took note after the chat as I realised their ideas help me iterate ideas and decide the format of the final DA. I am very thankful for their help and feedback. With their input, I decided NOT to do a survey asking about the formatting and expansion of the project, considering that the response rate can be low like I experienced in BCM325.

Published by

Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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