Social Science Seminar - Liquid Guanxi: Chinese Social Networks in an Age of Digitalization
Online Via Zoom

The enabling and constraining properties of guanxi networking culture, its networking mechanisms, and network-level consequences in personal networks in modern China has been extensively studied in a large and growing literature since Fei Xiaotong’s celebrated From the Soil. Although guanxi continues to be the glue that lubricates transactions in China’s economic, labor market, military, political, scientific, and school systems in China, researchers of guanxi have overlooked the rise of social networking sites (SNSs) in everyday networking in China, which is now home to the largest and fastest population of SNS users worldwide and nearly universal adoption in everyday networking. This dissertation empirically investigates how the widespread uptake of SNSs is transforming the cultural and psychic principles of interpersonal networking in guanxi, Chinese networks. This dissertation argues that the digitalization of interactions on SNSs is rendering guanxi networks in China more liquid and theorizes the expressions of this liquidity across three networking mechanisms (tie-creation, tie-maintenance, and tie-activation) and two networking conditions (proximity and information openness) in guanxi. This dissertation consists of seven standalone papers that examine each of these facets. This dissertation theorizes the liquefying transformations to guanxi culture as refractions of a changing Chinese modernity based in the arrangements of a new social space emerging within SNSs: a digital agora, where public and private spheres come together in an intermediary space that marshals within the individual a compulsion and ability to be communal without abrogating the comforts of the private; a synergy essential to social survival in China. Among the first systematic studies to examine how SNSs fundamentally transform the ways that people in China think about and carry out their networking on an everyday level, this dissertation contributes to the study of guanxi, social networks, and Chinese modernity in general by articulating a sociological account of the changing nature of Chinese social relations in an age of digitalization.

Online Via Zoom
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Anson Au is a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. His research examines social and economic networks, professions and organizations, and East Asian affairs. Au’s work has been published in journals such as Information, Communication, & Society, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, The Sociological Quarterly, among others. He has previously held visiting positions at the Seoul National University, Yonsei University, National Sun Yat-Sen University, the University of Malaya, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.



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Speakers / Performers:
Mr Anson Au
PhD Candidate, Dept of Sociology, University of Toronto