Exploring the relationship between women’s empowerment and the internet in China: potentials and constraints

Han, X. 2016. Exploring the relationship between women’s empowerment and the internet in China: potentials and constraints. PhD thesis University of Westminster Journalism and Mass Communication https://doi.org/10.34737/9x255

TitleExploring the relationship between women’s empowerment and the internet in China: potentials and constraints
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsHan, X.

This thesis reports on an exploratory study of the relationship between the Internet and women’s empowerment in China. The theoretical framework of the study combines feminist theorisations of power – the core concept of empowerment – with insights from sociological perspectives on power and gender, as well as collective action theory. This allows for the conceptualisation of women’s empowerment as a dynamic process that is shaped by a set of communicative practices.

Focusing on female Chinese bloggers and women’s groups of different organisational types, this study aims to explore the respective ways in which these two types of women actors use the Internet with a view to examining whether, and the extent to which it enables them to generate a sense of empowerment. The empirical data mainly derives from interviews with female bloggers and with staff members from different women’s groups, as well as from a features analysis and social network
analysis of the sampled blogs and official websites of studied groups.

Overall, the findings suggest that the opportunities offered by the Internet for women’s empowerment through awareness-raising, social interactions, and the organising of collective action, are limited. For female bloggers, their activities do not translate the new communicative practices afforded by the Internet into concrete action to bring about changes in their everyday life. On the contrary, blogs become an alternative platform to discipline their behaviours and to reinforce patriarchal gendered norms. Moreover, the research finds that the promise of empowerment is further undermined by the pervasive commercialisation of the Internet and state control. For women’s groups, contextual factors prevent them from fully realising the potential of the Internet for increasing their organisational visibility, promoting public awareness about gender issues, building a sense of the collective, campaigning, or networking. The major barriers in these processes are state control, a lack of resources, online censorship, and at times, competition from commercial sites. In this respect, the Internet does not play a significant role in forming a collective to challenge existing
unjust power relations.

PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.34737/9x255

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