Arjen Nauta | Governing Through Reality TV in China: The Case of Hunan Satellite TV

Arjen Nauta | University of Amsterdam, Department of Media Studies | Supervisors: Prof. Jeroen de Kloet and Prof. José van Dijck | January 2015 – February 2019 | apm.nauta[at] / a.p.m.nauta[at]

Governing Through Reality TV in China: The Case of Hunan Satellite TV
ChinaCreative, funded by the ERC (Consolidator grant), led by prof. Jeroen de Kloet

My research seeks to address the surge of reality television in China in the 21st century within strategies of governance. First, I analyze the political economy in which television makers operate. Then, based on one year of ethnographic research at HSTV in Changsha, I show how political and economic factors influence the daily labor of production. For example, what does the rapid expansion of digital media technologies mean for production? And what about censorship? Which constraints are placed on television makers and how do they deal with them? Secondly, I focus on the product (reality shows) and examine how reality TV diffuses and amplifies the government of everyday life, utilizing the cultural power of television to assess and guide the ethics, behaviors, aspirations, and routines of ordinary people. And thirdly, I seek to understand the tactics of consumption; how do individuals act in environments defined by governmental or institutional strategies? This research therefore hopes to shed light not only on processes of governance in contemporary China, but to show as well how media practitioners are not just political agents who superimpose official propaganda; they are imbedded in the governance of a media ecology shaped by a multitude of interlacing forces.



Veerle Ros | The Subjective Frame: a Cognitive Approach to Authenticity in Documentary Film

Veerle Ros | University of Groningen, Faculty of Arts | Promotor(es); supervisor(s):  Prof. dr Liesbeth Korthals Altes, Dr Miklós Kiss and Dr Susan Aasman | March 2017 – March 2021 | v.ros[at]

The Subjective Frame: a Cognitive Approach to Authenticity in Documentary Film

Project description:

The idea that photographic and filmic images contain traces of historical or actual reality has long been thought of as central to documentary’s defining quality as a ‘document’ of historical reality. This paradigm proved untenable in the face of arguments concerning the inherently constructed nature of representations, given additional momentum amidst the current digitization of visual media. Recent documentaries abandon this referential claim altogether by utilizing innovative techniques such as re-enactment, animation, and digital image manipulation. While this has led to an understanding of documentary as something more diverse, subjective and performative than previously assumed, a side-effect is that the boundaries between documentary and fiction film appear to become ever more nebulous. Nevertheless, the cognitive distinction between fiction and non-fiction remains of crucial importance to human communication.

This project aims to construct a functional model of the cognitive processes by which viewers of documentaries distinguish fact from fiction in engagements with contemporary, genre-defying forms of documentary, such as animated documentaries and video memoirs. These provide challenging border cases that force us to critically reflect on the different mechanisms viewers utilize to assess the (non-)fictionality of a medial representation. The working hypothesis is that such assessments depend on the cognitive principle of framing, with viewers drawing on a wide array of textual, contextual, and intertextual cues to construe a film as fiction or nonfiction. The proposed model takes into account not only these three levels of textuality, but also examines the largely roles that embodied simulation and perceptual specificity play in reality status evaluations. Thus, the research seeks to bridge the gaps between existing text-, context- and reception-oriented approaches to documentary film and the embodied cognition of a hypothetical viewer.



Qian Huang | Digital Vigilantism in China: Mediated Visibility in the Context of Social Change and Social Harm

Qian Huang | Erasmus University Rotterdam, Media and Communication Department | Dr Daniel Trottier and Prof. dr Susanne Janssen | 1 March 2017 to 1 March 2021 | huang[at]

Digital Vigilantism in China: Mediated Visibility in the Context of Social Change and Social Harm
Part of the NWO project: Digital Vigilantism: Mapping the terrain and assessing societal impacts

Digital vigilantism is a process where citizens who are facilitated by digital media and technology are collectively offended by other citizens’ activities and use visibility as a weapon to conduct mediated policing and control. In China, DV is featured by the so-called ‘human flesh search engine’ and other forms of citizen-led vigilante activities. Such DV activities reflect the current social and political situation in contemporary China; in turn, DV activities construct the social and political reality in China. This proposed PhD project aims to develop a theoretically nuanced and empirically grounded understanding of DV in China and the interplay between DV and Chinese society. With the situated theoretical framework, first-hand data and analysis, the research will offer a conceptually and empirically grounded understanding of DV practices in China. By answering the research question: “How is digital vigilantism manifest in the contemporary Chinese media landscape?”, the research will be able to provide a clear conceptualization, comprehensive understanding and analysis of digital vigilantism in contemporary China.

Qiong Gong | Social media usage and its impacts on young adults in China

Qiong Gong | Erasmus University Rotterdam, Department of Media and Communication | Promotor: Prof. dr Susanne Janssen and Dr Marc Verboord | Sep 2014– Sep 2018 | gong[at]

Social media usage and its impacts on young adults in China

My project ‘Social media usage and its impacts on young adults in China’ focus on the effects of social media use on the attitudes of young adults (18-40-year-old) towards politics, arts and culture and health related issues. The focus is on the case of China: a country with a state-controlled media system, in which during the past decades a highly diversified media ecology of social media platforms has emerged. We also compared young adults’ perceived credibility of information about politics, arts and culture, and health related issues on both traditional media and social media. We use original data from an online survey in mainland China among 1033 Chinese young adults to answer two main research questions. The first research question is: how do young adults combine traditional media and some specific social media and in doing so, how do they create their respective cross-media repertoires and how do distinct media patterns predict variables related to politics, arts and culture and health related, such as political interest, political trust, and political engagement online, interest of arts and culture, interest of health related issues? The second research question is: what are the differences between the impacts of traditional media and social media on young adults’ attitudes towards politics, arts and culture, and health related issues?


Rashid Gabdulhakov | Digital Vigilantism in Russia: Mediated Visibility in the Context of Social Change and Social Harm

Rashid Gabdulhakov | Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus School of History Culture and Communication (ESHCC) Department of Media and Communication Supervisors: Dr Daniel Trottier and Prof. Susanne Janssen | 1 March 2017 – 31 March 2021 | gabdulhakov[at]

Digital Vigilantism in Russia: Mediated Visibility in the Context of Social Change and Social Harm[1]

[1] This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
[project number 276-45-004]

Brief research description:

As part of an international project, this research examines digital vigilance in the context of the Russian Federation with the aim of a nuanced representation of the phenomenon, including emergence and decay of cases, motives behind participation and its impact on targets, as well as the role of the state agents in mediated citizen-led justice. Given that the state is a traditional power monopolist and in the case of Russia is a media superpower with tight control over the public sphere, the research enquires how digital vigilantism practices manifest through state-citizen and citizen-to-citizen relations. This multi method project relies on qualitative content analysis of traditional media coverage of cases as well as content analysis of media products generated by vigilantes themselves. The research additionally relies on semi-structured and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, including digital vigilantes and their targets, as well as policymakers, media professionals, NGO representative, academics, and law enforcement authorities. The core objective of this interdisciplinary research is to contribute to advancing theoretical boundaries of digital vigilantism as a platform for both social change and social harm.

In order to address a diverse set of nuances that inform digital vigilance in the Russian Federation, the following primary and supportive research questions will be addressed:

RQ: How are DV practices in Russia manifested through state-citizen and citizen-to-citizen relations?

  • SQ1: How is DV in Russia informed by historically-situated practices of outsourced, crowdsourced, and volunteered citizen-led justice, as well as denouncing, shaming, and moralizing of citizens by fellow citizens?
  • SQ2: How is DV framed and rendered meaningful by state-owned and independent Russian media?
  • SQ3: What are the drivers of emergence and decay of DV-themed initiatives in the Russian context?
  • SQ4: How are key aspects of DV (including shaming, moralizing, doxing, harassment, and embodied actions) utilized by DV participants?
  • SQ5: How is DV experienced by participants and targets in Russia?