The stories that tell us: smartphones and discursive reconstitution of transnational intimacy among migrant mothers

Barui K Waruwu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The growing phenomenon of transnational families where the mothers work abroad has reinvigorated the debate on the fluidity of contemporary families. Family is no longer defined as household-bound, and family obligations are constantly negotiated. Research shows migrant mothers utilize communication technologies, most recently smartphones, to (re)constitute family intimacy and maternal identity from afar through everyday family practices. However, most research has focused on the material reconfiguration of family practices, essentially sidelining the discursive workings of intimacy and identity via mobile media. To address this gap, this ethnographic study draws on the narrative theories, particularly the small stories approach, to examine the narratives of Indonesian mothers in Hong Kong as embedded in their smartphone communication. The participant observation and narrative interviews with 25 migrant mothers revealed that maternal storytelling on smartphones is routine, eclectic, and personalized. These enable migrant mothers to craft and tell family stories to (1) rationalize distance and (2) bolster family resilience. This article concludes by reflecting upon the authorial privilege in constructing family narratives on mobile media. The implications on our understanding of the contextualizing power of narrative and power dynamics underlying mediated family communication are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-486
Number of pages16
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • migrant mothers
  • narrative analysis
  • polymedia
  • small stories
  • smartphones
  • transnational family


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