Hybrid mediation opportunity structure in the age of datafication: Adaptive and resilient feminist data activism in China

All Abstracts > Hybrid mediation opportunity structure in the age of datafication: Adaptive and resilient feminist data activism in China

Hybrid mediation opportunity structure in the age of datafication: Adaptive and resilient feminist data activism in China

Author | Affiliation:
Yu Sun | Zhejiang University
Siyuan Yin | Simon Fraser University

Presenting at:
Panel 2C | China’s techno-social realities and futures


The transnational flow of the MeToo movement has opened a new page of Chinese feminist activism which has mobilized numerous ordinary citizens to speak out against sexual harassment and sexual violence. Although the MeToo movement has had positive influence on Chinese society, sexual harassment remains a pervasive phenomenon in China. In the post-MeToo Era, victims are still very much silenced by gendered cultural norms and sexual assault accusers lack institutional and legal support. To promote wider and deeper social reflections on sexual violence and gender injustice, activists organized data initiatives to further politicize the issue, enhance its collective visibility, and exert greater influence on policy and legislation. They deployed data software tools to engage with social media data documenting sexual violence cases to build counter data narratives, signalling the emergence of data-based feminist activism in China, namely feminist data activism. 

Drawing upon Wong and Wright’s (2019) concept of hybrid mediation opportunity structure, this paper investigates the hybrid mediation process of a feminist data campaign. Our analysis aims to explore the interplay between feminist activism and its embedded structural environment in the age of datafication, at the three levels of the mediation opportunity structure: the network, discursive, and media opportunity structure. Taking an ‘engaged’ approach both to research issues that matter and make research matter (Milan, 2010), we practiced data-activist research and became involved with the activist community to jointly design the feminist data initiative. Conducting participant observation and interviews, we first unravel the networked opportunity structure by focusing on activists’ resistance through data and technology. Second, we examine the discursive opportunity structure by analysing activists’ engagement with contentious data to create counter data narratives and datafied evidence that links with ordinary people’s experiences of sexual violence. Third, we analyse activists’ strategies in seeking outward opportunities to diffuse their counter data narratives into the mainstream public sphere, gaining public attention and legitimacy. Finally, we discuss and reflect upon the opportunities the hybrid forms of mediation generate for activists to respond to misogyny and crackdown, increasing the collective visibility of sexual violence in the authoritarian and patriarchal context of China.

Our analysis reveals hybrid interdependence among the networked, discursive, and media opportunities under datafied conditions, demonstrating the adaptive and resilient nature of feminist data activism under governmental crackdown. By assessing the mediation process of feminist data activism in China, this study enriches the current social movement literature in relation to political opportunity structure in the age of datafication. Further, by exploring grassroots data activism in the specific sociopolitical, cultural, and historical context of China, it contributes to de-Westernizing social movements and data activism studies.

About the authors

Yu Sun is currently a postdoc research fellow at College of Media and International Culture at Zhejiang University, China. Her research interests involve: Chinese digital media, political talk, online deliberation, digital public sphere, digital platform and infrastructure, data activism & data publics, communicative inequality and resistance, feminist activism and environmental movements. Email: celinasunyu@gmail.com

Siyuan Yin is an assistant professor of Migration and Communication in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Siyuan engages in interdisciplinary scholarship spanning the fields of cultural and media studies, feminist studies, social movements, and political economy. Siyuan’s current project examines mediated activism and cultural production among women and migrant workers in the local and transnational contexts.

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