Platforms as Cultural Infrastructures: Identity-Making Practices of WeChat and KakaoTalk in the Diaspora
As “all-in-one” apps, WeChat and KakaoTalk dominate the national markets of China and South Korea by assuming infrastructural roles. Chinese and Koreans find these apps unavoidable in their everyday lives as they integrate and mediate everyday socioeconomic activities. Yet, what do these apps mean for diasporic users? How do diasporic users regard these platforms in transnational contexts, especially about their cultural identities? Conducting cross-cultural focused group interviews with diasporic Chinese and Korean community members who live in the United States, we suggest the concept of “cultural infrastructure” to articulate the cultural penetration of these platforms. We argue that these apps are cultural infrastructures that are fundamentally tied to and inevitable for diasporic users’ identity-making practices, affording them digital tools to maintain the imaginations of their communities, and reinforcing their sense of belonging. By grafting themselves onto existing cultural norms and creating new ones, it is the personal connections, cultural referents and symbols, and cultural practices associated with WeChat and KakaoTalk that make these apps meaningful for diasporic users.