WeChat therefore we are: Everyday multicultures, translocality and Chinese social media in inner Melbourne
Based on an ongoing longitudinal ethnography of a group of young women from China studying at universities in Melbourne, this paper explores these students’ everyday experiences of living with cultural diversity, with a focus on how social media super-app WeChat shapes these experiences. As a study destination, Australia is often sold by education agents in China as a secure choice, supposedly lacking in racism due to its long-established multicultural society. This paper, however, presents a case study that centres conflict rather than ‘happy hybridity’ (Lo 2000). From February through April 2016, the community of Chinese students studying and living in Melbourne’s northern CBD and Carlton area was rocked by a prolonged spate of mobile phone thefts that popular WeChat news accounts persistently framed as ethnically targeted attacks on Chinese people by ‘African gangs,’ ignored by Australian police. This paper considers my research participants’ complex range of responses to these incidents, alongside the highly sensationalized and openly racialized reportage of them on the WeChat news accounts that are these students’ principal source of local news. Demonstrating the damaging potential of such reportage, I make a critique of the problematic media ethics inherent in the commercial model on which this form of news delivery operates. I also aim to productively complicate the everyday multiculturalism framework with an example that deals not with a locally embedded, super-diverse youth culture, but rather with a situation where young student-migrants socialized into a monocultural society encounter the complexities of everyday multiculturalism. When cities become trans-nationalized (Smith 2001) or translocalized (Conradson & McKay 2007) as well as super-diversified vis-à-vis ethnicity, culture, class, and multiple other axes of identity, how can we best approach the ethical challenges raised for everyday living?
Fran Martin is Associate Professor and Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her best-known research focuses on television, film, literature, Internet culture and other forms of cultural production in the contemporary transnational Chinese cultural sphere, with a specialization in representations and cultures of gender and queer sexuality. She is currently working on a 5-year ARC Future Fellowship project that uses longitudinal ethnography to research the social and subjective experiences of young women from China studying and living in Australia (the project website may be viewed at: http://mobileselves.org/). Her recent publications include Telemodernities: Television and Transforming Lives in Asia (with Tania Lewis and Wanning Sun Duke U.P., Sept. 2016).