Knowledge, Technology & Policy

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 73–81 | Cite as

Mobile Cultures of Migrant Workers in Southern China: Informal Literacies in the Negotiation of (New) Social Relations of the New Working Women

  • Angel LinEmail author
  • Avin Tong
Original Paper


In this paper, we analyze the data collected through in-depth interviews of migrant workers in Southern China about their mobile cultures. In particular, we focus on understanding the role that mobile cultures play in female workers’ negotiation of their social and romantic relations and leisure space and how these negotiations are directly or indirectly facilitated by development of informal literacies through their frequent short message service communicative practices. These will help us understand the lifestyle aspirations and life trajectories of the new young working women in China who are experiencing the most rapid socioeconomic changes in society and negotiating their ways of life amidst much tension between old and new values governing lifestyle aspirations, familial, and gender relations.


Mobile culture SMS communication Informal literacies Migrant workers 



The authors are indebted to Pui-lam Law, Jing Wang, Ke Yang, Xiaojing Liu, and Yinni Peng for their valuable work in collecting the interview data for this study. Special thanks also go to the anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments and suggestions.


  1. Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. 1998 Local literacies: reading and writing in one community. London: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. 1984 The forms of capital. In J.G. Richardson (ed.) Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education. New York: GreenwoodGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. 1991 Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity, edited by J.B. Thompson (ed), G. Raymond and M. Adamson (trans)Google Scholar
  4. Cartier, C., Castells, M. and Qiu, J. L. 2005 The information have-less: inequality, mobility, and translocal networks in Chinese cities. Studies in Comparative International Development 422: 9–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cook-Gumperz, J. 1986 Literacy and schooling: An unchanging equation? In J. Cook-Gumperz (ed.) The social construction of literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  6. Ellwood-Clayton, B. 2003 Virtual strangers: young love and texting in the Filipino Archipelago of cyberspace. In K. Nyiri (ed.) Communications in the 21st Century. Mobile democracy: Essays on society, self and politics. Hungary: PassagenGoogle Scholar
  7. Gaetano, A. and Jacka, T. (eds.) 2004 On the move: Women in rural-to-urban migration in contemporary China. New York: Columbia University PressGoogle Scholar
  8. Haig, M. 2002 Mobile marketing: The message revolution: A cracking insight into how to really get personal with your customers. Philadelphia: KoganGoogle Scholar
  9. Hamilton, M. 2006 Understanding the everyday: adult lives, literacies, and informal learning. In A. Mckeough, L. M. Philips, V. Timmons and J. L. Lupart (eds.) Understanding literacy development: A global view, pp137–152. Mahwah: ErlbaumGoogle Scholar
  10. Hoflich, J. R. 2003 Part of two frames: Mobile communication and the situational arrangement of communicative behaviour. In K. Nyiri (ed) Communications in the 21st Century. Mobile democracy: Essays on society, self and politics. Hungary: PassagenGoogle Scholar
  11. Law, P. and Peng, Y. (2004) Cellphone, the Internet and the SARS epidemic. Paper presented in the international workshop “Mobile Technologies and Health: Positive and Negative Aspects.” 7–8 June, 2004, Udine, Italy.Google Scholar
  12. Law, P. and Peng, Y. (2005) Cellphones and the social lives of migrant workers in Southern China. Paper presented at the Mobile Communication Conference, 20–21 October, Beijing.Google Scholar
  13. Law, P. and Peng, Y. 2007 Cellphones and the social lives of migrant workers in Southern China. In R. Pertierra (ed.) The social construction and usage of communication technologies: Asian and European experiences. Manila: The University of the Philippines Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lin, G. 1997 Red Capitalism in Southern China: growth and development of the Pearl River Delta. Vancouver: University of British Columbia PressGoogle Scholar
  15. Lin, A. (2005) Romance and sexual ideologies in SMS manuals circulating among migrant sorkers in southern China. Paper presented at the Mobile Communication Conference, 7–8 June 2005, City University of Hong Kong, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  16. Luke, A. (1995) When Literacy Might/Not Make a Difference: Textual Practice and Capital, paper for 1995 American Educational Research Association Annual Meetings, Symposium on Writing, Identity and Social Power in School and Community, San Francisco. 20 April.Google Scholar
  17. Luke, A. and Carrington, V. 2001 Globalization, literacy, curriculum practice. In R. Fisher, M. Lewis and G. Brooks (eds.) Language and literacy in action, pp. 231–250. London: Routledge/FalmerGoogle Scholar
  18. Ma, E. 2006 Jiu Ba Gong Chang: Nan Zhongguo Cheng Shi Wen Hua Yan Jiu (Chinese). Nanjing: Jiangsu ren min chu ban sheGoogle Scholar
  19. Ma, E. and Cheng, H. 2005 Naked bodies: experimenting with intimate relations among migrant workers in South China. International Journal of Cultural Studies 83: 307–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maybin, J. 2000 The New Literacy Studies: Context, Intertextuality and Discourse. In D. Barton, M. Hamilton and R. Ivanic (eds.) Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context, pp. 210–218. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Pun, N. 2005 Made in China: Women factory workers in a global workplace. Durham/Hong Kong: Duke University Press/Hong Kong University PressGoogle Scholar
  22. Robinson-Pant, A. 2001 Women’s literacy and health: Can an ethnographic researcher find the links. In B. Street (ed.) Literacy and development: ethnographic perspectives, pp.152–170. London: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Rockhill, K. 1993 Gender, language and the politics of literacy. In B. Street (ed.) Cross-cultural approaches to literacy, pp. 156–175. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Solinger, D. 1999 Contesting citizenship in urban China: peasant migrants, the state, and the logic of the market. Berkeley: University of California PressGoogle Scholar
  25. Street, B. (ed.) 1993 Cross-cultural approaches to literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  26. Walter, J. B. 1996 Computer-mediated communication: impersonal, interpersonal and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research 23:18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Zubair, S. 2001 Literacies, gender and power in rural Pakistan. In B. Street (ed.) Literacy and development: ethnographic perspectives, pp.188–204. London: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishCity University of Hong KongKowloonHong Kong
  2. 2.Chai WanHong Kong

Personalised recommendations