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Hardcover | $38.00 Short | £31.95 | 296 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 21 figures | April 2015 | ISBN: 9780262029056
eBook | $27.00 Short | May 2015 | ISBN: 9780262328142
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Waves and Forms

Electronic Music Devices and Computer Encodings in China


Technical objects constrain what users do with them. They are not neutral entities but embody information, choices, values, assumptions, or even mistakes embedded by designers. What happens when a technology is designed in one culture and used in another? What happens, for example, when a Chinese user is confronted by Roman-alphabet-embedded interfaces? In this book, Basile Zimmermann examines the relationship between technical objects and culture in contemporary China, drawing on concepts from science and technology studies (STS). He presents a new theoretical framework for “culture” based on the notions of waves and forms, which provides a powerful descriptive toolkit for technology and culture.

The materials Zimmermann uses to develop and illustrate his theoretical arguments come from three groups of case studies about the use of technical devices in today’s China. The first and most extensive group consists of observations of electronic music devices in Beijing; the second is a study of a Chinese networking site, “Happy Network”; and the third is a collection of personal, small-scale observations on the way Chinese characters behave when located in alphabet-encoded devices such as mobile phones, web pages, or printed documents. Zimmermann discusses well-known frameworks from STS and combines them with propositions and topics from Chinese studies. Each of the case studies advances his theoretical argument. Zimmermann’s account shows how cultural differences can be integrated into STS research, and how sinologists can turn their attention from ancient texts and traditional art to everyday things in present-day China.

About the Author

Basile Zimmermann is Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Geneva.


“In Waves and Forms, Zimmermann combines a thorough knowledge of contemporary electronic pop music, important ideas from the sociology of science, and deep mastery of the language and culture of contemporary Chinese youth, to analyze the situation of Beijing disc jockeys who are trying to use sound equipment they have no experience with on the basis of manuals in English, a language they don’t know. You won’t stop reading this exciting analysis until you find out how it all works out!”
Howard S. Becker, author of What about Mozart? What about Murder? Reasoning from Cases
“In this remarkable book, Basile Zimmermann brings together his enviable competences in Chinese studies, musical synthesis, and sociological and philosophical thought. One does not have to agree with everything he says to recognize this as an extraordinarily ambitious and successful feat of scholarship and an immensely courageous attempt to understand the basic constituents of our world.”
Harry Collins FBA, Distinguished Research Professor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
“China scholars have much to learn from the insights this study reveals about contemporary Chinese society and culture. Globalization takes on an exciting new aspect in this groundbreaking work.”
Paul Clark, University of Auckland, New Zealand; author of Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens