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Keeping the family together through new media
Date: 22/11/2011 - 17:05
Imagine a life in which you have to live away from your children, maybe for several years. Ask yourself how you could keep the ties close between you, watch them growing up, and continue to be a daily part of their lives.
This is the reality for many migrant workers in Britain today , but ground-breaking research about to be published by a University of Leicester expert in media shows how new media are transforming the way parents and children separated by migration can continue to care for one another.
In her book, Migration and New Media – Transnational Families and Polymedia, Mirca Madianou, with co-author Daniel Miller, reveals how new media has come to be at the heart of family relationships. Mirca Madianou’s research looks at the long-term separation between migrant mothers and their children from the Philippines where migration is critical to the economy. She has talked to both migrant mothers and their left-behind children who keep in touch through new media such as Skype, social networking sites, mobile phones and email and her study builds up an understanding of how relationships are maintained through new media and how they are changing.
Before the advent of the mobile phone migrant families could only communicate through occasional letters and very infrequent (and expensive) phone calls. Mothers often felt they had become remote from their families and in some cases, might return home to the Philippines to find that their children had not been cared for as they expected.
Digital media change all that. A migrant mother can now call and text her left-behind children several times a day, peruse social networking sites and leave the webcam on for 12 hours achieving a sense of co-presence. Skype, in particular, with the use of webcams, has revolutionised communications between mothers and children, especially small children who might have been no more than babies when their mothers left.
Mirca Madianou commented: ‘Digital media do not necessarily solve relationship problems. Our interviews with left-behind children revealed that the constant communication made possible through digital media often amplifies family conflicts and is resented by older children who experience it as a form of monitoring’. ‘However, what we found is that new media are beginning to transform the whole experience of migration as the promise of constant communication affects decisions relating to migration and settlement in the UK’.
Dr. Madianou is currently undertaking new research on the potential of digital media for human development and economic growth in the developing world.
Mirca Madianou, of the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, is also the author of Mediating the Nation. Her research behind Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia was carried out with three-year funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Her work has featured in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thinking Allowed’ earlier in the year.
Co-author of Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia, Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at the Department of Anthropology, University College, London.
Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia is published by Routledge on 17th November 2011.
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