Public Assembly via Affective Technologies: Like Buttons, Sentiment Analysis, and the Transmission of Positive Energy

Angela Wu, Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

12:00pm - 1:30pm | Virtual talk via Zoom

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Much scholarship on political governance in contemporary China has focused on self and subjectivity. Under this framework, technologies of digital capture are examined as means of individual surveillance and differential discipline, while the positive energy (zhengnengliang) discourse is regarded as fostering “therapeutic self-fashioning” in service of neoliberalization. In this talk, I approach digital technologies as shared infrastructures giving shape to public assembly, and in turn “positive energy” as a political imperative on macroscale cultural distribution. Based on fieldwork and archival research, I show how such macro-discourse became entwined with platform metrics and digital analytics. This, I argue, was a major mechanism behind the conservative turn of Chinese online cultures widely observed since the mid-2010s.

Angela Xiao Wu is an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Broadly her work investigates the connections between media technologies, knowledge production, and politics. Supported by ACLS/Henry Luce Foundation in China Studies and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, she is writing a book on Chinese media system that examines how public culture takes shape when systems thinking—along varying political and economic rationalities—informs its conception and governance.