Journal Publications ( E - Equal contributions )

Wu, A.X. (2017). Brainwashing paranoia and lay media theories in China: The phenomenological dimension of media use (and the self) in digital environments. Media, Culture & Society. OnlineFirst
| Preprint version slightly differs from final publication

Drawing on the phenomenological tradition, this article focuses on the “lay media theories” that ordinary people rely on to orient their media use. Existing scholarship on certain perceptions users hold about media and their behavioral consequences tends to assume that these perceptions by default rest on a sense of self that is pre-existing and immune to media. My empirical research troubles this theoretical assumption. Analyzing interviews and ethnography in China, I investigate the media practices of certain individuals under the influence of “brainwashing paranoia.” Through their engagements with the information abundance on the Chinese Internet, these individuals had, over time, revamped rather than enhanced their established political beliefs. I argue that, in today’s high-choice environments, users’ lay media theories, especially their conceptions about media in relation to the self, should be taken into account as one major sociocultural factor that moderates or mediates the age-old tendency for selective exposure.

♦ reception study, censorship, interviews, phenomenology, self, Internet, selective exposure, lay theory

Taneja, H.E, Wu, A.X.E, & Edgerly, S. (2017). Rethinking the generational gap in online news use: An infrastructural perspective. New Media & Society. OnlineFirst
| Preprint version slightly differs from final publication

Our study investigates the role of infrastructures in shaping online news usage by contrasting use patterns of two social groups—millennials and boomers—that are specifically located in news infrastructures. Typically based on self-reported data, popular press and academics tend to highlight the generational gap in news usage and link it to divergence in values and preferences of the two age cohorts. In contrast, we conduct relational analyses of shared usage obtained from passively metered usage data across a vast range of online news outlets for millennials and boomers. We compare each cohort’s usage networks comprising various types of news websites. Our analyses reveal a smaller-than-commonly-assumed generational gap in online news usage, with characteristics that manifest the multifarious effects of the infrastructures of the media environment, alongside those of preferences.

♦ millennials; boomers; infrastructure; online news; news preferences; social media; legacy media; political polarization

Wu, A.X.E & Taneja, H.E (2016). Reimagining Internet geographies: A user-centric ethnological mapping of the World Wide Web. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 21(3), 230-246. (Open Access)
| Invited essay at The Conversation: "Reimagining the Internet as a mosaic of regional cultures"; 中文 translated and published by Groundbreaking.

We propose a new user-centric imagery of the WWW that foregrounds local usage and its shaping forces, in contrast to existing imageries that prioritize Internet infrastructure. We construct ethnological maps of WWW usage through a network analysis of shared global traffic between 1000 most popular websites at 3 time points and develop granular measures for exploring global participation in online communication. Our results reveal the significant growth and thickening of online regional cultures associated with the global South. We draw attention to how local cultural identity, affirmative state intervention and economic contexts shape regional cultures on the global WWW.

♦ cross-cultural comparison; Internet studies; media choice; network analysis; regional cultures; web use

Wu, A.X. (2015). Historicizing Internet use in China and the problem of the user figure. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 37(4), 2-4. (Open Access)
| Preprint version slightly differs from final publication

To those writing user-centric histories, China provides an opportunity to look at the profound implications of the underlying conceptions of the user figure and thus highlights the importance of the historian's critical awareness. Although rigorous scholarly histories on the subject are still in their infancy, historical narratives about the Chinese Internet prevail in popular media, institutional reports, and scholarly works. However, these narratives are generally organized around two visions of the Chinese Internet and its users. In this article, the author digs deeper into these preestablished conceptions and illustrates how they do not account for historical understandings of Internet use and sociocultural changes.

Wu, A.X. (2014). Ideological polarization over a China-as-superpower mindset: An exploratory charting of belief systems among Chinese Internet users, 2008-2011. International Journal of Communication, 8, 2243-2272. (Open Access)
| Summary in Chinese / 中文 by CNPolitics

This study explores ideological polarization among Chinese Internet users by examining both the structure of local belief systems and temporal changes of opinions. It implements research tools investigating voters’ cognition and behavior in democratic societies, including those concerning Internet use and political polarization. To probe this sensitive terrain, it employs network and relational class analysis to a unique historical data set: online records of the Chinese Political Compass self-assessment (2008–2011). Results demonstrate that the overarching ideological division of the Chinese Internet is split between nationalism and cultural liberalism. Groups of “ideologues” and “agnostics” that differentially contributed to overall rapid polarization are also identified. The study further speculates how, in nondemocratic societies, Internet use may influence people’s political views through different mechanisms.

♦ belief system; Internet; nationalism; polarization; political culture; public opinion; semantic network

Taneja, H.E & Wu, A.X.E (2014). Does the Great Firewall really isolate the Chinese? Integrating access blockage with cultural factors to explain web user behavior. The Information Society, 30(5), 297-309. (Equal authorship)
| Preprint version may differ from final publication
| ICA Outstanding Article Award 2015: ICA Newsletter
| Media coverage: The Washington Post
| Full Chinese / 中文 version in Communication & Society / 傳播與社會學刊 (Open access)

The dominant understanding of Internet censorship posits that blocking access to foreign-based websites creates isolated communities of Internet users. We question this discourse for its assumption that if given access people would use all websites. We develop a conceptual framework that integrates access blockage with social structures to explain Web users’ choices, and argue that users visit websites they find culturally proximate and that access blockage matters only when such sites are blocked. We examine the case of China, where online blockage is notoriously comprehensive, and compare Chinese Web usage patterns with those elsewhere. Analyzing audience traffic among the 1000 most visited websites, we find that websites cluster according to language and geography. Chinese websites constitute one cluster, which resembles other such geolinguistic clusters in terms of both its composition and its degree of isolation. Our sociological investigation reveals a greater role of cultural proximity than access blockage in explaining online behaviors.

♦ access blockage, audience duplication, censorship, cultural proximity, culturally defined markets, Internet, filtering, globalization, media choice

Wu, A.X. (2014). The shared pasts of solitary readers in China: Connecting web use and changing political understanding through reading histories. Media, Culture & Society, 36(8), 1168-1185.
| Preprint version may differ from final publication

This article complicates our understanding of the cultural and political impact of the internet in non-liberal societies by foregrounding people’s socially constituted reading practices across print and cyberspace. It places internet use in the context of both social and personal reading histories, as well as in the evolving cultural field across media. I examine the reading practices of 26 Chinese individuals, who developed alternative political understandings through their internet use. Their alternative views, I found, emerged not just through their engagement with the web but as a result of a longer history. Their distinct web use patterns have roots in their pre-internet reading practices. A specific reading disposition for ‘self-development’ may have led to their continuing divergence to niche reading materials as the domestic cultural field diversified. This reading disposition, I argue, prepares people to later engage with the internet in ways that facilitate changes in their political understandings.

♦ books, China, internet, political change, politicization, prosopography, reading history, subject-formation

Wu, A.X. (2012). Hail the independent thinker: The emergence of public debate culture on the Chinese Internet. International Journal of Communication, 6, 2220-2244. (Open Access)

Investigating the Internet’s political consequences in China, current scholarship focuses predominantly on some individuals’ ready contention against state apparatuses and unjustifiably ignores how Internet use may bring about cultural changes with political implications among a larger population. This study examines the emerging Chinese online debate culture from early 2006 to mid–2011. Taking the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse, it is based on online ethnography and discourse analysis. It presents a trajectory of the “independent thinking”–centered normative discourses on debate in Chinese cyberspace and how varied social actors interacted with these discourses. The findings suggest that the indigenous public debate culture that has arisen from Internet communication in China entailed certain behavioral and attitudinal changes supportive of democratic governing.

♦ online debate, online deliberation, symbolic interactionism, sociology of knowledge approach to discourse, cultural change

Wu, A.X. (2012). Broadening the scope of cultural preferences: Movie talk and Chinese pirate film consumption from the mid-1980s to 2005. International Journal of Communication, 6, 501-529. (Open Access)

How do structural market conditions affect people’s media consumption over time? This article examines the evolution of Chinese pirate film consumption from the mid-1980s to 2005 as a structurational process, highlights its different mechanisms (as compared to those of legitimate cultural markets), and teases out an unconventional path to broadening the scope of societal tastes in culture. The research reveals that, in a structural context consisting of a giant piracy market, lacking advertising or aggregated consumer information, consumers developed “movie talk” from the grassroots. The media environment comprised solely of movie talk guides people’s consumption of films toward a heterogeneous choice pattern. The noncentralized, unquantifiable, and performative features of movie talk that may contribute to such an effect are discussed herein.

♦ piracy, cinema, cultural consumption, cultural imperialism, internet, taste, media choice, media history

Wu, A.X. (2006). Journalistic coverage of domestic violence in China (报道家庭暴力:新闻专业主义给中国媒体的借鉴与思考). Collection of Women's Studies (妇女研究论丛), 70(1), 63-66.


Moinak Biswas. Body and spirits of independence (独立的种种身体与精神). The Independent Critic (独立评论), 2012 (2): 74-77. (With W.-K. Wong & H.-W. Chang)

Ashish Rajadhyaksha. The 'Bollywoodization' of the Indian cinema: Cultural nationalism in a global arena (印度电影的宝莱坞化:全球舞台上的文化国族主义). In Ashish Rajadhyaksha (Ed.), You Don't Belong: Pasts and Futures of Indian Cinema (你不属于:印度电影的过去和未来) (pp. 147-171). Shanghai Renmin Press, China, 2011.