Dich, Community Enclaves and Public Imaginaries

In a digital ethnography of a community of Asian-Americans who regularly posted on the blogging site Xanga, Dich observes the way these users construct an Asian American identity through their public participation on this site. The significant finding of her research is that users of the particular blogring she observed, Asian Diaspora, were writing both to other ‘community of strangers’ within the blogring (referred to as insiders) and to an imagined public readership, one that includes outsiders such as mainstream media. A key concept for Dich is imaginary: both the community imaginary (i.e. the community of strangers) and the public imaginary. For Dich, imaginary describes “writer’s enmeshed relationship with their space and audiences: They perceive themselves in their overlapping spaces and they write to these overlapping audiences, which underscores how identities are never contained in one space and for one audience” (94). In other words, users often go between these imaginaries, creating content that speaks to the plural contexts, imaginaries, and publics.

Dich also notes that the particular community she observed, the blogring on Asian Diaspora, was a somewhat closed, insular community enclave within a wider Asian American community. For instance, one user discusses the community as one that is more free, without the surveillance or standards of rigid family and cultural values. Describing the community, he writes it is ‘a community where you can be yourself and where you will find people who will love you for it. A chance to escape the mask you cover over your face to get through everyday real life. A place to be free” (95). Dich reflects that ‘free’ in this sense refers to the users experiences with his family “continuously challeng[ing] his sense of belonging” (95). Likewise, another users recounts the feeling that “they were not good enough or did not belong to their own ethnic spaces where proficiency over one’s language marked one as authentic or not” (96). “Some participants felt that they may not be able to be both Asian and American in their ethnic enclave, which was why Chris was able to express his ‘freedom’ as part of Asian Diaspora” (96). Another user ‘unserscored Xanga’s ability to provide a space where Asian Americans are bale to ‘express themselves’ in ways they are unable to do so elsewhere” (96).

Key passage:

If language proficiency is a signifier of belonging for Chris and Alex’s offline enclave, Asian Diaspora does not impose such standards. Rather, writers are bringing a variety of languages into this site, what some may call Chinglish (a fusion of Chinese and English), other ethnic versions of Chinglish, Standard English, or a different languages altogether, such as Japanese or Vietnamese. Therefore, linguistic differences, rather than standards, mark this enclave and negate notions of belonging based on monocultural beliefs surrounding authentic identities as related to/regulated by language practices. In short, by nature of this enclave and as afforded by the technology that brings culturally and geographically disparate people together, members are less likely to marginalize or reject others based on a predetermined language use, thus, creating what may be a more inclusive space of writing and identity production. (96)

Dich also focuses attention on how the users are able to maintain the online enclave that they have, keeping the community free of outsiders. “Xanga’s interface allows users to maintain various levels of privacy and exposure. Users can choose to block individuals and create filters for friends, or remain completely private and annoynmous. As with most social media networking sites, this privacy function is important because it helps users create semi-insular enclave and connects users with similar interest and experiences, such as ethnic and raced experience” (96-7). It is often the case that white, fetishizing users try to impose themselves inside the community—they are deemed ‘outsiders’ and a process begins to try to block or push them out. To do so, insiders in the community go between different social media sites (such as Facebook) or other backchannels to more freely discuss such outsiders.




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