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Photo of Marina Svensson

Marina Svensson


Photo of Marina Svensson

The Networked China Researcher: Challenges and Possibilities in the Social Media Age


  • Marina Svensson

Summary, in English

The Internet, apart from being a fascinating field of study in its own right, has opened up new possibilities for scholars to get news, gather data, connect with informants, and in general stay updated on rapidly changing developments in Chinese society. Social media have added yet another dimension as it enables researchers to catch up with events and public debates as they unfold and get valuable insights into the daily life and views among scholars, opinion leaders, and informants. The technological affordances of social media, such as time-space compression, real time updates, and interconnectivity, facilitate engagement with the field and informants regardless of one’s physical presence. In fact, social media has become an ethnographic place/field in its own right where the researcher spends considerable time gathering information, observing, engaging and interacting with both scholars and informants. Our understanding of the “field” and what “being in the field” actually means have thus changed with the advent of the Internet and social media, as have our ethnographic methods. For me this “digital leap” has been an equally, if not more, transformative experience as that I experienced when I went from more classical Sinology and text-based research to ethnography, participatory observation, and interview-based research in the early 2000s.

In this paper I will discuss how digital technologies, in particular social media platforms, have changed the ways many of us conduct research, gather information, and interact with informants, and the possibilities and challenges, including the new ethical issues that arise as a result of our digital connectivity. It is also worth remembering that the researcher herself/himself leave many digital footprints on the Internet and social media. Our informants are not only able to read about us online, finding information about both our professional and private lives, and befriend us on social media, but they can also publish information about us and our research. These new developments opens up for more visible and easily accessible research(-ers), which can make research more participatory and democratic in nature. Researchers however need to be aware of and learn how to navigate this new visibility as it not only has consequences for researcher-researched relationships but also pose challenges and possible dangers in an authoritarian research context. This paper aims to address the lack of a systematic discussion in the literature on how digital technologies change research practices in and on China.


  • Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Media and Communications
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Asian Studies

Conference name

Digital Dispruption in Asia: Methods and Issues

Conference date

2016-05-24 - 2016-05-25

Conference place

Leiden, Netherlands




  • Digital China