Digital Ties, Disrupted Togetherness: Locating Uneven Communicative Mobilities in Transnational Family Life

  • Earvin Charles Cabalquinto Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia


Ubiquitous digital communication technologies play a crucial role in shaping the nature of family life at a distance. Paradoxically, mobile device use has not only brought dispersed family members together, it also sometimes stirs communicative tensions in transnational households. These tensions are often produced by uneven access to a wide range of re-sources in mediated communication. Employing the mobilities lens, this paper examines the role of smartphones and networked communications platforms in binding ties and relationships among twenty-one overseas Filipino workers in Melbourne, Australia, and their left-behind family members in the Philippines. Based on data drawn from in-depth interviews and photo elicitation, the research study uncovers the performance, embodiment, and negotiation of transnational relationships through mobile device use. Significantly, it also demonstrates the impact of structural and infrastructural forces in enabling differential mediated mobilities. In illuminating asymmetrical mobile communication, I propose six categories: access, socio-technical competency, quality of connectivity, rhythms, affective experience, and communicative space. Ultimately, this paper offers a critical lens on investigating mobile practices in the conduct of transnational family life.


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