Communicative <3 Intimacies: Influencers and Perceived Interconnectedness

Image: Crystal Abidin

Wednesday 3rd August, 2016

Crystal Abidin

In 2015/16 we ran our conference funding for Early Career Researchers scheme for the second time. In this series of posts, some of the winners report from the conferences they attended with our support.

Towards the end of my PhD candidature, I started seeking out conference opportunities to fill the transient lull post-thesis submission and pre-first job. Having newly emerged from the long fixation on my 500-page thesis, I was thrilled to embark on new projects that I could finally pursue out of sheer passion or morbid interest. Two such projects led me to submit to the International Communications Association (ICA) Conference for the very first time.

Despite recently completing a PhD jointly enrolled in Anthropology & Sociology and Media & Communications, I have never participated in a Communications conference, let alone present at the flagship ICA series. Between 2011 and 2015, the ICA was held four times in the USA and once in the UK. Being based between Perth and Singapore, I wasn’t able to afford the international travel and conference fees until the ICA came to Asia this year. With thanks to The Sociological Review Conference Grant, I traveled to Fukuoka, Japan this June 9th-13th to present two papers.

The first (co-authored) paper, Si Gin Na (“Brat”): Social Media & Juvenile Insolence in Singapore, was accepted to “The New Media and Citizenship in Asia” ICA pre-conference co-hosted by Communications departments at the University of Michigan, City University Hong Kong, Nanyang Technological University, Fudan University, and Yonsei University. The session ran for a full-day, featuring 19 papers focused on mobile technologies, media literacies, and internet culture in Asia.

The Si Gin Na (a colloquial Singaporean Chinese Hokkien term for “brat”) paper explored the role of social media in performing, reflecting, and representing juvenile deviance in the highly wired but stringently policed society of contemporary Singapore through internet ethnography and a literary-culturalist standpoint.

In true blue internet researcher legitimacy, my co-author, Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun (Nanyang Technological University) and I first met on Facebook after being introduced by a mutual friend. We met once when I visited Singapore in late 2015, discovered multiple convergences in our research on popular culture, internet vernaculars, and the music industry, and decided to embark on this project together. After great feedback from our co-panelists and audience members, we are presently preparing our paper for submission to a journal.

The second (single-authored) paper, Communicative <3 Intimacies: Influencers and Perceived Interconnectedness, was accepted to the main ICA conference. The paper investigated how microcelebrity Influencers in Singapore appropriate and mobilize intimacies in new vernacular ways such as commercial, interactive, reciprocal, and disclosive intimacies. Drawing on cornerstone work in Communications by Horton & Wohl (1956) on “para-social relations”, I developed an updated model of such interactions in the digital age which I termed “perceived interconnectedness”. The model describes how microcelebrity such as Influencers interact with their followers in digital and physical spaces to give the impression of intimacies. Shortly after being accepted to the ICA, this paper was published in Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, & Technology here. My presentation was well-received and I am in the midst of preparing two offshoot papers, this time focusing on how Influencers manage “internet hate” and how “super-fans” are made.

Networking and potential publication projects aside, my time in Fukuoka was a beautiful respite from the hustle and bustle of PhD life. In the spirit of academic tourism and productive leisure, I spent my early evenings roaming through the streets and sharing meals with academic pals both new and old, and my art project #thetravelingpingu got an exciting update. I would like to express my gratitude to The Sociological Review for their generosity. In the current climate of widespread funding cuts to higher education and increasing employment precarity, these opportunities are a crucial boost to one’s networks, confidence, and faith in the research that we do. 

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