This thread originates in an earlier thread started by John McCreery and titled "What keeps us from digging deeper?". John asked about my paper on personal media and social leadership in a Malaysian suburb

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John McCreery asks about my paper on personal media and social leadership in a Malaysian suburb:

That said, when I read " [are personal media] making any significant difference to local leadership practices," I find myself wondering what those practices were pre-personal media. Here my ignorance is profound, my imagination stimulated by ethnographic models that include patronage networks linking village leaders to regional and national authorities. Is what we are talking about primarily an acceleration of communication in traditional networks or formation of new ties that transcend or displace traditional networks?

This is a very difficult question to ask in the local setting of USJ, the Kuala Lumpur suburb where I did the research, because it's a fairly new suburb in which most people and technologies arrived during the same historical period, i.e. from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. So there is no local before-and-after personal media. What the examples of leaders do show, however, is the sorts of things that they can and cannot do with new personal media such as personal blogs or skype. For instance, from Jan 2003 personal blogging gave the local leader Jeff Ooi a voice on the national stage, and eventually his reputation as Malaysia's top political blogger helped him win the 2008 general election as an opposition candidate. Yet when using his personal media within the field of local residential politics he must ensure that he abides by the collectivist logic of the field and its 'community' media, including a web forum not unlike our beloved OAC forum. As Marika Lueders (2008) has argued, we cannot understand personal media in isolation from either group media or mass media.
This is a very difficult question to ask in the local setting of USJ, the Kuala Lumpur suburb where I did the research, because it's a fairly new suburb in which most people and technologies arrived during the same historical period, i.e. from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. So there is no local before-and-after personal media.

Wasn't thinking so much of the local setting as the relationship of what you are finding to what is said about local and other leadership in the ethnographic literature on Malaysian and other Chinese or, more broadly, patron-client relations. So that, for example, when you write that, "when using his personal media within the field of local residential politics he must ensure that he abides by the collectivist logic of the field and its 'community' media," I wonder about how that "collectivist" logic works. Is it a continuation, perhaps idealized or attenuated, of values, attitudes, etc., associated with a "traditional" neighborhood or itself a new, distinctively suburban phenomenon? How does the new personal media-enabled leadership differ from that of a traditional village headman? Just poking around, really, but trying to situate your observations vis-a-vis the stuff I recall from courses on Ethnography of Southeast Asia several decades ago.
Hi John, another set of challenging questions, thanks!

Unfortunately I haven't got any answers handy, so I'll try to improvise. My hunch is that this collectivism is a distinctly suburban phenomenon with strong similarities to that found in other new middle-class suburbs that are geographically remote from Kuala Lumpur, as suggested by the studies I've seen of suburbs in Melbourne, Toronto and Tel Aviv (see refs in Postill 2008). In all these cases we find suburban settlers pursuing middle-class, nuclear family dreams under conditions that are not as ideal as they first envisaged.

The Kuala Lumpur brand of suburban (cyber)activism comes with distinctive Malaysian Chinese characteristics (e.g. patron-client relations tied to the Malaysian Chinese Association, part of the ruling coalition), but it is nonetheless instantly recognisable as middle-aged and suburban as opposed to young and urban, as is the case for instance with the Catalan anti-globalisation activists studied by Jeff Juris (2008). It would be very interesting to trace back in time the values, attitutes, etc, that these settlers bring to their 1990s-2000s practices, and how they may have recombined some of them and developed new ones, but it's something I don't think I'll have time to do on this project.

References

Juris, J.S. 2008. Networking Futures: the Movements against Corporate Globalization. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Postill, J. 2008 Localising the internet beyond communities and networks, New Media and Society 10 (3), 413-431
John Postill said:
My hunch is that this collectivism is a distinctly suburban phenomenon with strong similarities to that found in other new middle-class suburbs that are geographically remote from Kuala Lumpur, as suggested by the studies I've seen of suburbs in Melbourne, Toronto and Tel Aviv (see refs in Postill 2008). In all these cases we find suburban settlers pursuing middle-class, nuclear family dreams under conditions that are not as ideal as they first envisaged.

The one thought that I would like to add here is that there is no inherent contradiction between "a distinctly suburban phenomenon" and leaders who draw on values and styles with roots in local tradition. In a totally different context, what I discovered while working on my book Japanese Consumer Behavior: From Worker Bees to Wary Shoppers and trying to look at changes in Japanese society through the eyes of Japanese market researchers is that Japan is, after all, an OECD country. The topics that engaged the interest of the market researchers were familiar: the organization man, the coming out of women as consumers and participants in the work force, the impact on relationships, the impact on kids, what to do with yourself when retirement may extend for decades. The particular form that these problems assumed in Japan (especially the Tokyo metropolitan area) was shaped by local material circumstances, e.g., extraordinarily long commuting times that meant that Japanese fathers were, in fact, nearly totally absent from the lives of their children. The specific portrayals and responses to these problems did, however, have, at least in part, a distinctively Japanese flavor.

The point toward which this ramble is moving is that both global-theoretical and local ethno-historical perspectives may be relevant to fuller understanding. You, of course, understand that.
PS: Even when I had written the what is below I was behind the conversation and that night Ning happened to be down and I have not been here much since then. I do not expect you to get back to me on the same theme but still...

John P. and John M.

I fell of the thread and managed to read John P.'s article only now. I see that you moved on the other conversations. John P. I read it pretty quickly (to the degree that I wonder why is it called the “weakness of… “. I understand the second part.) Anyway. I liked it but I am sure would have appriciated if I had spent more time on it.I will only mention a couple of ideas your article invoked in me. I became much more interested in the political action and connections in general and I guess this enforces your point with the use of these media. Significance of "weak ties" reminded me Brad Shore's "marginal play". He explains three types of it in Culture and Mind, marginal play is for him “spilling over of play in games or sport beyond the normal regulatory boundaries that constitute them as play frames”. Inspiration comes from Bateson. This applies to life, it is not about sports although he illustrates it that way. (I write about “national brokerage”, it is a social field which is populated by different actor at different times or at the same time. It was a way of bringing the mundane elements into the nation building process. Perhaps these are symptoms of desire to think about social interaction and politics in an energized manner).
Hülya
Hülya Demirdirek said:
< Significance of "weak ties" reminded me Brad Shore's "marginal play". He explains three types of it in Culture and Mind, marginal play is for him “spilling over of play in games or sport beyond the normal regulatory boundaries that constitute them as play frames”. Inspiration comes from Bateson.

Nice metaphoric leap. Should, however, be approached with caution. In social network analysis, the strong versus weak ties distinction is not equivalent to what Max Gluckman called thick (multi-stranded) versus thin (single-stranded) relations. Strong ties are those found in strongly connected network components where every node is connected with every other; weak ties connect nodes that are not connected in this way. Imagine on the one hand a classic little community where everyone knows everyone else; on the other a city where you may happen to know someone who knows the mayor even though you and the mayor move in separate social circles. The usual theoretical point is that strongly connected individuals are likely to share the same information, which is highly efficient if pursuing a common objective. Strongly connected groups provide lots of social support. In contrast weak ties are better when looking for new information or a way to get in touch with someone who isn't part of your group. Suppose that you're looking for a job. Everyone in your group is in the same boat that you are. Someone with whom you have only a passing acquaintance may point you in directions of which no one in your group is aware. On a whole network level, weak ties are the key to creating "small worlds" where millions of nodes may be only a few steps away from each other.
Thanks for these latest contributions which will come in handy as I'm currently revising the paper for resubmission. I'll have to revisit that Gluckman distinction more carefully. Did Mitchell, Epstein and/or other Manchester scholars use this distinction as well?

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