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Left-Behind Children as Agents: Mobile Media, Transnational Communication and the Mediated Family Gaze

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Mobile Media and Social Intimacies in Asia

Abstract

Based on 38 in-depth interviews of left-behind children from Fuqing, a major illicit migrant-sending area in China, this chapter investigates how these children perceive the use of mobile media during transnational communications with their migrant parents. Additionally, it interrogates the ways in which these children employ mobile media to negotiate intergenerational relationships. I develop an argument about the ‘mediated family gaze’ to describe the familial power dynamics and emotional circulation in a techno-mediated context. The emergence of the ‘mediated family gaze’ in transnational family life has minimized the geographical and temporal constraints that divide these dispersed family members. That said, it has, also triggered some children’s protestations since it has justified some migrants’ prolonged absence. This study highlights the varied forms of agency enacted by left-behind children through the deployment of ‘mediated family gaze’ of changing their care deficit situation but also of fulfilling their filial duty. Compared with other versions of the gaze, characterized by the ‘power asymmetry’ between ‘the gaze’ and the ‘gazed-upon’, I argue that ‘mediated family gaze’ is more reciprocal and subject to negotiation as a consequence of the unconfined translocal familial settings along with the affordances of mobile media. Given the emergence of diversified family arrangements in contemporary mobile societies, the relevance of ‘mediated family gaze’ goes beyond transnational settings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    An affiliate application of WeChat that calculates the steps one walked everyday and publishes the result as a ranking list in public.

  2. 2.

    Xiao Yu’s migrant parents were saving money to open a small take-away restaurant, thereby curtailing the amount of remittances for a long period of time. The remittances, according to Xiao Yu, are ‘sufficient to avoid starving to death, however far from being well fed’. At that time, it was her boyfriend who helped her go through the financial hardship. Hence, parents’ physical and financial absence may largely destabilize their authority over children.

  3. 3.

    London is divided into 9 zones. Central London is located in zone 1, and the following zones (2, 3, 4 and so on) form concentric rings around it. Residence in zone 3 is comparatively affordable for many migrant workers whilst still reasonably near to London’s China Town (zone 1) where they work.

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Correspondence to Hong Chen .

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Chen, H. (2020). Left-Behind Children as Agents: Mobile Media, Transnational Communication and the Mediated Family Gaze. In: Cabañes, J.V.A., Uy-Tioco, C.S. (eds) Mobile Media and Social Intimacies in Asia. Mobile Communication in Asia: Local Insights, Global Implications. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1790-6_9

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