New media offers crucial platform for urban community governance

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2022-09-28

With the rapid development of new media technologies in recent years, various forms of community-level new media have continuously emerged, which brings new opportunities in encouraging urban residents to participate in and innovate urban community governance.

Plural co-governance mode

The new media sponsored by primary-level governments mainly releases information about political affairs and life services, such as information about education, medical treatment, employment and job seeking opportunities, community welfare, culture, entertainment, leisure, and shopping. In a variety of forms, this content is often related to social hot-spot issues and the community’s actual day-to-day situations. At the initial stage, when many community-level new media outlets were created, platforms such as websites, forums, Weibo, WeChat public accounts, WeChat groups, QQ groups and so forth, were established according to a grid-based mode. Residents thus consult about issues and receive notifications through these platforms.

Sociologist Zheng Hangsheng once pointed out that regarding the current community governance model in China, residents’ committees generally face a common dilemma. The root of this dilemma is that the plural co-governance mode, in which multiple subjects jointly participate in governance, still needs to be further improved. Within the space of the community, the Party organizations, residential committees, homeowners’ committees, property management companies, and residents can all negotiate, interact, and cooperate with each other regarding public affairs by means of new media. In this way, a pattern of co-governance is formed in which different players are embedded.

In primary-level communities, far from the national political center, the public space based on new media provides the possibility for residents to exert an influence on decision-making for public affairs, which is also an indispensable way to practice primary-level democracy. A large number of new media platforms with wide coverage provide residents with institutionalized and normalized channels for expression. In this era when “everyone has a microphone,” residents are not only consumers, but also producers of news and information related with their communities. Their enthusiasm in using community-level media is unparalleled by other forms of media.

Mild social transformation

In addition, due to the “face culture” prevalent among the Chinese people, the booming community-level new media provides residents with a private sphere to solve public problems, so that public discussions within the community develop in a moderate and rational direction. Mainstream media mostly discusses public issues from a macro perspective, which makes it difficult to reveal public issues at the community level, let alone to track such issues with follow-ups until they have been solved over time. New media on the community level, however, with its relatively small reach, can undertake the responsibility of informing residents of happenings and matters around them. Once the discussion focuses on a particular topic, it is more likely to gain the attention of the government at the primary level. It means that public issues within communities can be tracked throughout the whole process, from the beginning when these issues arise, until the end when they are completely resolved.

With new media as the intermediary, the time needed for the government to give feedback to residents is also shortened, and it is also possible to rectify and adjust the governance solutions in time, according to formalities, to prevent mistakes in decision-making and avoid passive post-event supervision.

The supervisory function of community-level new media is actually a relatively mild social transformation. This bottom-up transformation is a buffer against social contradictions, which basically utilizes the role that rational dialogue plays in restricting political power from micro perspectives, so that fierce social conflicts can be avoided.

Enhancing sense of identity

Currently, the reality of a “strangers’ society” is prevalent among Chinese urban residents, and interpersonal social correlations have gradually dwindled, which dissolves and weakens the basis for public attributes among traditional communities. The American scholar of communication Sandra Ball-Rokeach once conducted large-scale empirical studies about the sense of belonging within communities, and it has been proven that anecdotal news and story-telling systems play a role in fostering a sense of identity and sense of belonging among members, and in maintaining the sustainable existence of communities.

Public discussions through community-level new media mainly involve various topics, including politics, the economy, culture, environmental security, education, medical care, ethics, and other aspects. Most of these topics have nothing to do with public power, and most are related to the daily lives of residents and the community in which they live together. These discussions have played a positive role in shaping group identity. Virtual spaces built based on regional communities seem to have weakened the “locality” of communities, but the community of interests bound by the spaces and an interpersonal relationship network in real life actually makes residents more closely connected with each other.


Yu Miao is an associate professor from the School of Humanities and Foreign Languages at Qingdao University of Technology.

Editor:Yu Hui

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