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(Dis)connecting the Pearl River Delta: Case study of a borderland telecommunications infrastructure in South China, 1978-2002
Unformatted Document Text:  24 Second, in terms of the mode of inquiry, the reliance on official and mass media publications is necessary but insufficient for the revelation of the internal operations of the telecom ecology. Different types of data must be triangulated to see the entire picture – interviews, focus groups, surveys, and participant observations – by way of direct, personal interactions with telecom storytellers, from key regional actors to customers at the grassroots, including new immigrants, whose voices are seldom heard through formal channels. Multiple data sources not only facilitate a better depiction of the telecommunications infrastructure, consisting of its action contexts (global, national, provincial, and regional) and storytellers (local governments, telecom providers, local residents, and mass media), but also a better understanding of the connective tissues among the players at multiple levels of analysis. Based on archive research and fieldwork, four generic types of disconnections are proposed including temporal-spatial breaks, stratificational gaps, institutional blockades, and social psychological dismissals. This discussion paves the way for a more systematic comprehension of connectedness-disconnectedness relations in the regional ecology of telecommunications. Notably, although telecom development at different localities in the Pearl River Delta shares a lot of similarities – exponential growth, escalating stratification, intentional or unintentional blockades, and increasing sense of dismissal among marginal groups – there is still significant variation among the cities due to different patterns of interaction among telecom actors. 67 This reflects a central theme in the Communication Infrastructure approach that meso and micro players in a social structure retain relative autonomy, no matter it is regional actions vis-à-vis national and global trends, or individual choices vis-à-vis institutional and organizational forces. It is this relative autonomy that renders the Pearl River Delta a most intriguing case for the study of (dis)connectedness relations, which is important for the understanding of communication technologies in megalopolises around the world. Finally, among the lessons drawn from this preliminary exploration, two shall be emphasized to benefit future research. One is that more attention should be paid to the unit of analysis, which is a main issue of discussion in embedded case study (Yin, 1994; Stake, 1995). In this paper, the major unit under investigation is the region of Pearl River Delta. However, most yearbooks and reports are organized at the city, 67 See above note 38 for different telecom operations under the auspices of local state.

Authors: Qiu, Jack.
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24
Second, in terms of the mode of inquiry, the reliance on official and mass media
publications is necessary but insufficient for the revelation of the internal operations
of the telecom ecology. Different types of data must be triangulated to see the
entire picture – interviews, focus groups, surveys, and participant observations – by
way of direct, personal interactions with telecom storytellers, from key regional
actors to customers at the grassroots, including new immigrants, whose voices are
seldom heard through formal channels. Multiple data sources not only facilitate a
better depiction of the telecommunications infrastructure, consisting of its action
contexts (global, national, provincial, and regional) and storytellers (local
governments, telecom providers, local residents, and mass media), but also a better
understanding of the connective tissues among the players at multiple levels of
analysis. Based on archive research and fieldwork, four generic types of
disconnections are proposed including temporal-spatial breaks, stratificational gaps,
institutional blockades, and social psychological dismissals. This discussion paves
the way for a more systematic comprehension of connectedness-disconnectedness
relations in the regional ecology of telecommunications.
Notably, although telecom development at different localities in the Pearl River Delta
shares a lot of similarities – exponential growth, escalating stratification, intentional
or unintentional blockades, and increasing sense of dismissal among marginal groups
– there is still significant variation among the cities due to different patterns of
interaction among telecom actors.
67
This reflects a central theme in the
Communication Infrastructure approach that meso and micro players in a social
structure retain relative autonomy, no matter it is regional actions vis-à-vis national
and global trends, or individual choices vis-à-vis institutional and organizational
forces. It is this relative autonomy that renders the Pearl River Delta a most
intriguing case for the study of (dis)connectedness relations, which is important for
the understanding of communication technologies in megalopolises around the world.
Finally, among the lessons drawn from this preliminary exploration, two shall be
emphasized to benefit future research. One is that more attention should be paid to
the unit of analysis, which is a main issue of discussion in embedded case study (Yin,
1994; Stake, 1995). In this paper, the major unit under investigation is the region
of Pearl River Delta. However, most yearbooks and reports are organized at the city,
67
See above note 38 for different telecom operations under the auspices of local state.


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