Understanding the Construction of Emotions in Time and Space: The Dynamics of Political Activism in Hong Kong, 2003-2014

  • Yun Tong Tang

Student thesis: Phd


Recent studies of social movements in Hong Kong have shown increasing interest in emotions. However, they have yet to move beyond a movement-centric or an organization-based analysis, a problem persistent in the extant literature of Hong Kong political studies where a temporal lens to trace the evolvement of social movements over time and a spatial sensitivity to put local grievances and struggles in political spaces at different scalar levels are lacking. This thesis investigates the processual factors shaping socio-political conflicts in Hong Kong by examining the construction of emotions in time and space. It studies four major campaigns taking place between 2003 and 2014 with an original data set comprising textual data and interview data. A novel theoretical framework—the strategic temporal-spatial approach—is developed to assemble three core elements of mobilization: the social construction of emotions, the geography of political actions at multiple scales, and the interplay of social processes at different timescales. As the analysis unfolds, emotions have been constructed and moulded by the intersections, and sometimes conflicts, among socio-economic, political, cultural, and biographical processes in which multiple political players are involved. Located in political spaces at the local, national, regional, and global levels, these players react and respond to one another, both strategically and emotionally. Thus, the emotions of local players in Hong Kong are often manoeuvred by the Beijing national government who has endeavoured to curb popular mobilizations, influenced by the political economy in the Greater China region and East Asia, and shaped by global events such as the Colour Revolution and the Arab Spring. Emotions fashioned in these processes have played both a direct facilitative role in spurring the rise of political conflicts and an assisting role in discursive claim-makings and spatial actions. From 2003 to 2012, an expanded scope of emotions in expressing grievances towards the state was forged to boost activism. Since 2012, the emotional space has shrunk due to a predomination of anger and frustration. While some of these findings are specific to contemporary Hong Kong, a number of lessons are useful to the study of social movements more generally. The first is that we need an interactive and dynamic view to understand emotions in political contention. The second is that this interactive perspective has to appreciate multiple temporal processes and spaces at different scales so that the time and space of political actions at both macro- and micro-levels could be better delineated.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Mcmylor (Supervisor) & Kevin Gillan (Supervisor)


  • Hong Kong
  • emotions
  • space
  • temporality
  • social movements

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