Universität Erfurt

Qian Zhao: Doktorandin

Universität Erfurt
Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Postfach 900221
99105 Erfurt

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Research of Identity and Value Changes in the Internet Domain During the Rapid Sociotechnical Modernization in China

It is hard to deny the fundamental message that technology, economy, and society are entangled. In the last three decades, we have been confronted by the forces of globalization and diffusion of modern information technology (IT). Both have accelerated the transformation of Chinese social-economic domains and the private life sphere. Chinese society has undergone more rapid and radical changes since the economic reforms in 1978. From 1990s, IT innovations and applications have been growing at an astonishingly fast pace in China. Social values are experiencing tremendous change, especially among a young generation, which is of utter importance to this study. My focus is on the identity and value changes of the Chinese young people.

By examining the reality of Chinese society now, the influence of technology innovations should be emphasized both in their social and individual layers. In the last decades, rapid technological innovation has become an increasingly important factor as an influential mediation in shaping individual’s new identity, human relationship, and social structures. China, as a latecomer in technology, the innovations are faster applied in practice. This induced the very fast realization of IT-innovations’ usage among almost all walks of life. People have equal and easy right to get access to the worldwide information and express personal opinions more freely than before. Without time and space limits, people can create different online identities spontaneously in the process of communicating with others. With the development of online communities and mobile terminal individualization, individuals become part of cyber net. Internet technology realizes these connections. Traditional identities and values have experienced great challenges when young people get to know the information worldwide and the cyber net has considerable impact on the formation of new identities in youth. In order to better analyze this phenomenon, the theory and concepts from Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) will be applied in this category of interaction of technology and the individual.

Information technology also defines the ‘Weltbeziehungen’, which are an important topic in the research context of Max-Weber-Kolleg Erfurt. Technology, which directly mediates and transforms social practices, is not only a fundamental feature of the world but also an essential mediator of ‘Weltbeziehungen’. To be specific, it is important to consider the question of the role of technological artefacts in mediating people’s interrelations with the world. Internet technologies largely facility the dialogues and communication within different countries and cultures as well as realize understanding in a pluralistic society. This also contributes to the formation of new values in the intercultural context.
As a perspective of the relation argument of social changes and individual value changes, my research would like to borrow Ulrich Beck’s individualization theory (Beck and Grand 2010). Yet, it is also very important to note that the Chinese society cannot simply fit into the Western model because China is neither a culturally embedded democracy nor a welfare state (Beck, 2010:421). In this sense, Beck’s individualization perspective can better display the interaction of society-individual relations. Regarding with the Chinese reality nowadays, and this is my working hypothesis, internet innovations play an essential role in inducing and forming value changes in China’s youth by mediating and accelerating the process of individualization path of the young generation.

This study requires interdisciplinarity especially with the fields of economics, technology, and sociology. This approach follows the tradition of Max Weber’s research program such as studies on intercultural communications.

A central idea in this research plan is, through empirical observations and the study of modern China youth (especially related with internet, social and economic domains), analyzing the way information technology influences and shapes the identities and values of young people in China.




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