A platform for underclass youth: Hanmai rap videos, social class, and surveillance on Chinese social media
Keywords:social media, underclass, user-generated content, platform, Chinese Internet
With increasing influence on everyday social interactions and cultural practices, social media platforms do not just represent but also profoundly reproduce various forms of social inequalities. This essay investigates what role social media have played in the emergence of an underclass habitus among Chinese youth. By focusing on the rise and fall of a participatory hanmai culture on Kuaishou, an underclass-centric social media platform in China, the study identifies social media platforms as key actors in restructuring power relations. Chinese social media platforms, particularly Kuaishou, produce contemporary relationships of power by simultaneously incorporating algorithm design, profit-seeking strategies, underclass users’ expressions, and state surveillance. The overall effect is to mediate, regulate and buttress social inequalities in the process of sustaining Chinese class stratification. This analysis necessarily problematizes and debunks the myth of technological neutrality claimed by social media platforms. The result is that Chinese underclass youth (individual and unexpected acts of human agency aside) are routinely subjected to and reproduced through the logic of both capitalist accumulation and state authoritarianism via their participation on these social media platforms.
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