No Escape: WeChat and Reinforcing Power Hierarchy in Chinese Workplaces

Wed, Aug 21, 2019   9:30 AM ‐ 11:00 AM

The Department of Media + Information presents:

No Escape: WeChat and Reinforcing Power Hierarchy in Chinese Workplaces
A talk by Xiaoli Tian, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong

Wednesday, August 21 • 11:30AM-1:00PM • Room 408 ComArtSci

How does the wide use of social media influence workplace hierarchy and power dynamics? Based on 56 in-depth interviews with WeChat users in Chinese workplaces, those of a lower hierarchal position are compelled to constantly express their loyalty or appreciation and thus publicly submit to their superordinates by clicking “like” or commenting on their WeChat posts. They are also forced to provide immediate and polite responses to their superordinates in WeChat group chats after work hours or to non-work-related issues. As a result, social media has transformed work into a panoptic environment in which there is no escape in time or space. The elimination of physical interaction spaces, the recordability of past WeChat conversations, and the n-adic nature of online disclosures reinforce workplace control and the power hierarchy. Employees find it challenging not to comply because of negative consequences to their own (already limited) status, should their superior notice their non-conformity. In response, employees retreat into cynical performances of submission.
Consequently, the use of digital media intensifies displays of workplace power and control, where workers are expected to be always available with increasing expectations for compliance.

BIO: Xiaoli Tian is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She received her Ph.D. from Department of Sociology, The University of Chicago. She has written extensively on various forms of online interactions, including emails, blogs, online literature websites in China, social media, etc. Her writings have been published in American Journal of Sociology; Qualitative Sociology; Information, Communication and Society; Symbolic Interaction; Journal of Contemporary Ethnography; Media, Culture and Society; Studies in Media and Communications; Modern China; Chinese Sociological Review; Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, among others.