Affective space, affective politics : Understanding Political Emotion in Cyber China
The original dream of the Internet as an open, universally accessible medium enjoyed by everyone led this technology intimately interweave with the culture of freedom and democracy, which has a special significance towards a country like China. The emergence and application of participatory media further boost academia’s passion in analyzing the scenario of digital politics. The rise of participatory culture requires us to show more concern about the effort each ordinary netizen contributes in generating and shaping the current situation as well as the experience they undergo such an ecology. The term ‘experience’ here should not only refer to external behaviors, but also to psychological states such as feelings and emotions that people go through when engaging in certain activities, and this is where this work comes in.
Essentially speaking, one can never fully grasp the picture of Chinese politics without understanding the dynamics of emotion due to its ‘ontology’ based in Confucian political philosophy and Maoist theories. Thanks to the affective turn in political and sociological studies, recent discussions between politics and emotion has been set free from the restriction of ‘the rational man model’ and the limitation of a patronized viewpoint towards emotions , arguing that emotions are not as episodic disrupts of politics but essential to politics. The emotionally saturated feature of cyberspace have further accelerated the ‘affective’ or even ‘seductive’ trend of digital politics : emotions have been witnessed not only as performative factors embedded in texts, images, and videos, but also as dynamics circulating vividly in various types of political interaction and activities taking place under the digital era.
In a broader sense, this work highlights the very important relationship between emotion and digital politics, and narrows down its focus in the case of China. Specifically speaking, four research questions are further delivered : I) What kind of emotion is displayed from political activities in cyber China, ii) How is the emotion presented and performed during those activities, iii) What factors, for example, the characters of the digital platform where those interactions are placed, the very specified Chinese digital culture, and the socio-cultural, political and economic dynamics of modern China , might contribute to the generation, formation and shaping of the emotion, iv) How might the emotion influence the political culture in cyber China? In order to empirically address those questions, I further focus my analysis on four cases representing different topics under the big theme ‘politics’, and locates my examination in three public, non-governmental Chinese cyber forums. Here I regard online postings as ‘frozen moments among the continuous stream’ of online political interactions and activities, thus will collect certain amount of them for further analysis.
For methodological considerations, rather than offering an expansive, panoramic, and systematic description of what documentary source contains, an intensive and detailed discourse analysis will be conducted. The relationship between emotion and discourse has been scrutinized in previous scholarship, arguing that discourses have the capacity to perform different emotions, meanwhile emotions are integral parts of everyday discourse to describe and account for things. However, there hasn’t been a clear methodological approach which incorporates politics, emotion, and discourse together. On the one hand, for political discourse analysis, most of its frameworks aim at examining how political arguments are established logically and reasonably , thus leaves little space for emotions to be involved. The discursive psychology, on the other hand, examines empirically how emotions are invoked, produced, and performed within discourses, but the knowledge it offers majorly focuses on the linguistic level, therefore is limited in presenting the interaction between emotions and the underlying social and political forces. As an exploratory research, this research intends to investigate a methodological framework which incorporates the heritage of political discourse analysis, discursive psychology, and critical discourse analysis together in order to better analyze political emotions under the digital era. Later on, certain amount of semi-structured, Skype-based, in-depth interviews with ordinary participators will be expected to take place in order to better put those emotions back into their social, cultural, and political contexts.