Pusheen says hi from my new office where I am Senior Research Fellow in Internet Studies at Curtin University. Feel free to drop by and offer me more Pusheen if you are ever in Perth.
In the next few years, I will be primarily working on my DECRA alongside other smaller projects. Here are the two projects I will be focusing on this year:
Social Media Influencers as Conduits of Knowledge in Australia and Asia
This project is an individual grant hosted at Curtin University, and is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) (Australia), July 2019–June 2022. I serve as Chief Investigator and will be working with a Postdoctoral Fellow.
The project aims to evaluate how social media Influencers can become conduits to communicate information among young people between Australia and East Asia. As icons on the internet who are experts in holding attention and amplifying content, Influencers have expanded from being mere commercial enterprises to being conduits of public service information by reaching wide, diverse, and sometimes marginalized youth audiences with important socio-cultural messages. This study will glean lessons from leading Influencer ecologies in East Asia (Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo), to understand how we can use internet-native communication formats to improve inter-cultural knowledge and relations in Australia. This study will offer a framework for examining the Influencer industry in Australia based on expert economies in East Asia. Its analysis of young people’s internet cultures will generate new knowledge on how information circulates and is received in innovative communication formats between young Australians and young East Asians. The study informs how young people in Australia can improve their inter-cultural communication skills, how community groups can improve inter-cultural integration, and how businesses and policy makers partner with Influencers to amplify information. Project page>>
Decoding the Weaponizing of Pop Culture on WhatsApp in Singapore and Malaysia
This project is a collaboration between researchers from five universities across Australia, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom, and is funded by the Facebook Integrity Foundational Research Award (USA), January–December 2019. I serve as Chief Investigator alongside co-Chief Investigator Mr Niki Cheong (University of Nottingham UK) and co-investigators Dr Natalie Pang (National University of Singapore), Dr Amelia Johns (University of Technology Sydney), Assoc Prof Joanne Lim (University of Nottingham Malaysia).
Although ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’ have become international buzzwords since the US Presidential Elections 2016, several Southeast Asian nations have long confronted a tight control of their (inter)national media, draconian censorship regulations, and sedition/defamation acts. The rhetoric of ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’, and their older counterparts ‘propaganda’ and ‘media manipulation’, are regularly enacted by incumbent governments to control political opposition and grassroots dissent. However, a saving grace in these nations are the private-grouped, platform-encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp that accord users an extent of privacy and freedom from state surveillance. Further, information shared in the form of internet popular culture – such as memes, folklore, chain mail, and viral artefacts, in the form of text, images, gifs, and videos – allows for a layer of plausible deniability wherein users can disperse and dispel organised efforts as mere humour, in an act of subversive frivolity. Using traditional and digital ethnographic observation, personal interviews, questionnaires, and content analyses, this project focuses on Singapore and Malaysia to understand how internet popular culture is being weaponised on WhatsApp by the state, political parties, grassroots groups, and corporations. Project site>>
This year, I will also be writing up industry reports, articles, and monographs from two recently concluded projects/grants:
Social media Influencers in Swedish and Scandinavian fashion retail
This project is an individual grant hosted at the Media, Management, and Transformation Centre at Jönköping University, and is funded by Handelsrådets (Sweden), July 2017–June 2019. I served as Chief Investigator.
Influencers have been known to extensively impact consumption patterns, and retail businesses are increasingly roping in Influencers in order to engage with their young consumers. As prolific social media users who are opinion-shapers and key leaders, Influencers are internet personalities who first began as everyday users before garnering followers, fame, and fortune over time. Using the backdrop of their lifestyles as a canvas for advertorials, Influencers function as ambassadors to different brands and sell advertising space on their digital estates. This project is an exploratory study to learn about how social media Influencers in the Swedish and Scandinavia context interact with followers and impact consumer behaviour. It employs ethnographic fieldwork comprising participant observation, personal interviews, and web archaeology. Project page>>
Evaluating the Tangible and Intangible Heritage of Shopping Centres in Singapore
This project is a collaboration between researchers from four universities in Australia and Singapore, and is funded by the National Heritage Board (Singapore), March 2017–March 2019. I served as co-investigator alongside Chief Investigator Asst Prof Liew Kai Khiun (Nanyang Technological University) and co-investigators Dr Lai Chee Kien (Singapore University of Technology and Design) and Dr Natalie Pang (National University of Singapore).
With more than 200 malls across the island, Singapore has 1.08 sqm of retail space per capita, or an estimated one mall for every 53,000 people. Despite its ubiquity, there has been scant scholarly and public attention paid to shopping malls as potential sites of heritage in Singapore, perhaps because they are a postcolonial phenomenon as compared to religious and civic landmarks. Being highly transient buildings, most malls undergo frequent redevelopments to keep up with rapidly changing trends. As consumer outlets, they are often given lower regard as identity markers. After the novelty of their initial opening fades, the more enduring shopping centres in Singapore are often remembered for their iconic landmarks, distinctive retail and businesses, and the lifestyle trends that have emerged around specific malls. However, as malls are either physically demolished or revamped to respond to changing market conditions, much of such characteristics disappear as well. As entire generations are brought up in shopping malls, they have become sites of cultural memories and heritage. It is therefore timely that a more sustained research and documentary process be effected to raise awareness of these places as prospective sites of both tangible and intangible heritage. Project site>>
I loved and treasure my time doing research in/on the Nordic in the last two years, and am ever so grateful for my wonderful colleagues and friends at Jönköping International Business School. The last two weeks were lined up with many heart-wrenching catch-ups and farewells, but I got to squeeze in many precious hugs and cuddles with my favourite tiny humans and friends in various cities. Thank you to everyone who has welcomed me and helped me settle into a new continent in the past years, and to all the academics and industry folks who have been very generous with your resources and networks when I was starting my fieldwork. I will always remember your Nordic hospitality. I will also miss the ease with which I was able to transport myself by bus or train to a neighbouring city to collaborate with fabulous colleagues or attend events, now that I am back on an island far away from the Rest Of The World. Nevertheless, I am so happy to be home in my own house and bed and bathroom and wifi and yougettheidea, and I hope we get to meet again in person someday (flygskam notwithstanding!)