Construction of Class Identity on Social Media

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Abstract

Given the popularization of the internet and the rise in the number of netizens, many scholars have studied the relationship between the internet and identity from multiple perspectives using diverse methods. However, most studies have concentrated on the internet’s influence on interpersonal communication and identity—ethnic, national, and youth identity. Yet few studies have examined the relationship between the internet and identification with a specific social class. In today’s China, the well-educated middle class with steady jobs and above-average income constitutes the mainstream users of social media and elite-dominated specialized internet platforms. Contemporary China’s middle class was formed during the mid- to late 1990s. Simultaneously, the internet entered the daily lives of Chinese people. In such disciplinary and sociohistorical contexts, this study focuses on how the members of the middle class in today’s China construct self- and collective identities through social media. The data for this study were collected through two methods: semi-structured interviews with fifty respondents and nonparticipant observations on two major social media platforms (i.e., the microblogging platforms Weibo and WeChat). Expanding on extant studies on class and media studies, the findings of this study provide a new perspective on the formation of the middle class in today’s China and supplement discussions on the relationship between media use and identity construction.