Dual Anxieties of Technology and Labour: An Ethnographic Analysis of a University’s WeChat Groups in China

Ying Zhou, Yu Xiang


This article analyses the impact of social media technologies on the work practices of university staff and attempts to uncover the dual anxieties they face. The research is based on investigation into WeChat groups comprising a sample of 90 university academic and administrative staff. I consider the reasons behind the additional workload of all staff, which is driven by the erosion of the boundaries between the public and private spheres on social media platforms. Participant observation of WeChat groups and interviews with academics and administrators reveal that the emphasis on collaboration on social media and chronic connectivity at work blurs the boundaries between work and private life. Underlying the increased workload and emotional engagement through WeChat groups is a faculty evaluation system that is shaped by market-driven key performance indicators (KPIs) and the centralization of university authority structures. The precarious work conditions that result has increased anxiety about work and private life in the academic community. However, the coercive working environment does not offer academic labourers much opportunity to resist.

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