restricted access #kachinlifestories: A Project about "Nothing"


What is #kachinlifestories? From late 2013 users were gradually alerted to posts tagged #kachinlifestories when performing a search using the hashtag #kachin in popular social media network systems such as Instagram and Facebook. By early 2016 users could find about 20,000 entries tagged #kachinlifestories on Instagram. A quick scroll of these entries revealed rather ordinary images of unexciting events and forgettable recollections; nothing even close to the ethnographic products of professional researchers. Yet the regularity with which these entries are posted, a gradual increase in number of different contributors, and the steady accumulation in volume of entries over time combined to tell of a collaborative project at work, or as I prefer to render it, a phenomenon in motion. Indeed, #kachinlifestories is a public project designed for the Kachin people and materialized by ordinary Kachin individuals through their own individual volitions. But the chief deliverable, a crowd-generated life stories knowledge base driven by autoethnographic practices, is distinctly different from that expected of a usual project. This essay outlines some features of this public knowledge base being conglomerated on an open-access SNS platform, Instagram.