Transnational families and digital technologies: Parenting at a distance among Chinese families

Chen, Hong. 2020. Transnational families and digital technologies: Parenting at a distance among Chinese families. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis aims to address how Chinese transnational family members involved in the ‘caregiving triangle’ – migrant parents, left-behind children and guardians (Suarez-Orozco et al., 2002) – navigate new media environments to negotiate their family roles and maintain kinship ties. Acknowledging the structural ‘asymmetrical reciprocity’ (Baldassar & Merla, 2014) of transnational families – which derives from the intersection of internal factors (including family obligation, expectations and norms) and external transnational socioeconomic contexts – this study examines the power dynamics and care circulation through mediated communication among family members across borders. To this end, this study employs a three-year multi-sited ethnography, including participant observation, in-depth interviews and online ethnography of Chinese labour migrants in Britain (mainly clandestine and low-skilled workers) and their family members, conducted between 2015 and 2018. The findings highlight the varied forms of agency and challenges experienced by migrant and non-migrant family members embedded in different social-technical contexts. Notable among these are: the transnational family structure; migration status and generation; Chinese patriarchal ideology; and the socio-economic discrepancies between Britain and (rural) China, which contribute to the shaping of mediated transnational communication. The adoption of communication technology in transnational family life has minimized the geographical and temporal constraints that divide these dispersed family members and enhanced the ‘reciprocity’ between them (including childrearing collaboration between migrant parents and guardians and strengthened intergenerational solidarity between migrant parents and children). However, it has also exacerbated the ‘asymmetry’ of transnational families, such as increased gendered parenting burdens and parental surveillance over left-behind children. This study argues that this mediated ‘asymmetrical reciprocity’ is subject to constant negotiation, as a consequence of unconfined translocal family settings along with the affordances of communication technologies.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Transnational family, transnational parenting, Chinese transnationalism, clandestine migration, gender, mediated communication, affordance, polymedia

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 September 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2021 12:55

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:18


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