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Negotiating the Internet as a New Social Space Kuah-Pearce Khun Eng Department of Sociology University of Hong Kong.

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Presentation on theme: "Negotiating the Internet as a New Social Space Kuah-Pearce Khun Eng Department of Sociology University of Hong Kong."— Presentation transcript:

1 Negotiating the Internet as a New Social Space Kuah-Pearce Khun Eng Department of Sociology University of Hong Kong

2 Primary Objective The primary objective of this symposium is to discuss how the internet has become an indispensable part of our way of life and increasing we become reliant on it for a whole repertoire of tasks that it is able to perform for us as individuals and as units (be it social, political or economic) How knowledge of the internet serves as an important social, political and economic capital How Chinese women use and abuse the internet How the cybernetwork creates a new social albeit virtual space for the Chinese women Increasingly Chinese women are using the internet as a new tool for social networking as well as other forms of networking

3 Understanding Chinese women and their network structures To understand this latest development, it is imperative for us to take a journey back into the past and see how Chinese women built up their social capital and how they established different types of networks to facilitate their needs. While the possession of cultural capital and social networks have helped women to overcome difficulties, the inability to translate cultural capital and the lack of social networks have ghettoised and marginalised these women.

4 Understanding social and network capital In conceptualising the use of social capital and network capital, we need to revisit the discourse on social capital has been written and argued variously by different scholars starting with Bourdieu, Lin Nan, Coleman Essentially, the concept of social capital is used variously to help us understand the working of social relationships among individuals and social groups. Hence it is defined as a set of social obligations and is closely connected to the possession of a network of relations between members of a group and embedded in social networks that can be accessed and used by members to further their own needs In their study of the Chinese migrants to Canada, Wong and Salaff argue for the development of network capital where personal networks are seen as a form of capital capable of generating economic returns.

5 Within the Chinese society, scholars such as King and Yang argue that guanxi network is the basis of social relationship among individuals within a social group as well as across social groups. Although many scholars like to point out the uniqueness of the guanxi network within the Chinese society, others have argued that guanxi networks is no different from other types of socia networks within other migrant communities.

6 Varieties of Chinese Womens Networks Among Chinese women, it is possible to establish several types of networks: 1. A Network of Talent: Chinese Women in traditional Chinese Society 2. Transnational Chinese migrant women network 3. Chinese women entrepreneurial network 4. Survival network: Chinese women at the margins 5. Chinese cybernetwork – a recent development

7 Women and the Digital Age in the 21 st Century The digital age has opened up numerous possibilities for women: 1. to create new digitalised virtual networks for themselves in ways that were unconceivable in the past 2. To free themselves from traditional structures and establish new social forms, however temporal they maybe 3. To express their personal and individual identities and to engage in acts that are in contradiction to their established norms and socialised being 4. To create new social space for these women

8 Conceptualising Social Space In traditional discourses on the study of social space, Castells (1976) conceived space in its dialectical relation to social structure. He argued that: the transformation of space must be analysed as specification of transformation in the social structure. In other words, one must see how the fundamental processes constitutive of social structure are articulated and specified spatially.

9 Likewise, Meteju and Vecernik (1981) advocates the use of space in this manner: the socio-spatial structure reflects the dialectics of nature and forms of organisation of society. In the course of development, space acquires specific meanings and contents and reflects constituent features of the social structure

10 Internet as a new social space In examining the digital space as a new social space, it is imperative for us to understand the dialectics of cyberspace and its relationship on its users and end- users in order for us to establish new discourses in understanding this new virtual social space. It is also significant to understand its impact on social relationship, the social processes and the social structure Inevitably those affected and influenced by cybernetic activities would respond to existing social relationship, social processes and social structures in a very different manner from those unaffected by it. And the fact is that more people are affected by it than we could imagine. It is also interesting to note how the actors and actresses negotiate their social relationship, the social processes and social structures through the cyberspace.

11 Research Framework and Focus In order establish a viable framework for the understanding of this phenomenon, we need to establish several prongs approach to this study. Apart from surfing the Internet to gather information and to analyse the myraid of information that are available in the net, ethnographic research together with ethnographic interviews of real people are imperative to understand the virtual-ness of the internet. In short, what I am arguing is the need to balance the real and virtual in order for us to deepen our understanding of what the net could do for us and how we could easily abuse it for a variety of less glamourous reasons.

12 Present research focus I adopted a two-pronged research methodology in attempting to understand how important the internet has become a new social space for Chinese women in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore First, we served the nets for a general overview of what we found to be of interests to these women. We explore blogs, chatroom messages to uncover what interests these women most. We also surf numerous specialised websites to see how Chinese women in these three regions take on to them By uncovering the cyberspace and monitoring how the various websites, chatrooms and blogs are being utilised by the women, we could draw a trend of what interests Chinese women in these three regions most

13 The second step is to conduct a standard questionnaire survey on Chinese women in the three cities. The sample size for each city is 100 and evenly spread out among the various age groups

14 Our survey In our questionnaire survey, we focus on 4 main themes: 1. The use of the internet – in terms of frequency of use, length of use, whether the informants have online access at home or in cybercafe, etc 2. Internet as a resource tool – News and current affairs Job search Beauty and fashion Education Friendship and marriage Sex and casual relationship 3. Cyberculture and networking – for interpersonal relationship 4. Overall usefulness of the internet

15 Findings It should come as no surprise that the most active age group when it comes to using the internet, surfing for all sorts of information and for communication purposes (both with friends and strangers) is the younger age group – in the age range of 18 – 25. In terms of frequency, many of them have surfed the net for more than 3 years Those singles with university education are mostly likely to have access to the internet more readily than other groups(41% in Shanghai and over 60% in HK)– with internet connection at home.

16 Purpose of getting onto the Net The Net as a Resource tool In our finding, we found that all women rank the following in importance: 1) news and current affairs 2) job search/education 3) beauty and fashion -Two thirds of single women go to the net for information regarding beauty and beautification – they want to be attractive

17 Net for interpersonal relationship We asked a series of questions aim at draw out how the women used the internet for establishing new and old forms of social relationship. One finding shows that when it comes to wanting to meet the opposite and strike out a relationship, there are equal number of single and married women who rank the use the net as an important avenue for this purpose.

18 In terms of interaction, over 60% of single women have a chatroom account while 15% of married women have one. Single women have a higher proportion of netfriends and over 2/3 have met their netfriends. About 10% of married women have netfriends and the same percentage have met their netfriends.

19 In this sense, I postulate that the net has become an important and unorthodox social space for women who are trapped in loveless relationship to find love elsewhere and to satisfy their sexual needs. Likewise, for single women, it represents a much broader social space for them to search for their ideal partners across the oceans, outside the familiar social boundaries. It also reduces embarrassment of being seen as a desperate spinster left on the shelf.

20 Conclusion The net as a virtual space has become an important social space for these women to source and network themselves. Those who have the ability and resources to use the net could harness it as an important source of social capital for their personal gains. In so doing, they are able to break out of existing social processes and social structures, thereby restructuring them as they move along in the digital age.

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