Society for the Anthropology of Work
General Anthropology Division
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Mobile communication technologies allow the overlying of geographic and physical spaces, electronic positions, and relational presence and enable modes of communication that demand less attention, effort, and cost, which gives rise to the new organization of everyday production and reproduction activities. With the popularity of children’s mobile communication devices (e.g. children smartwatches) in China, mobile communication is increasingly embedded in coordination and organization in Chinese families. How uses of mobile communication technologies interplay with the negotiation of childcare arrangements in Chinese families in a climate of middle-class intensive mothering is the focus of this study.
Drawing on qualitative materials collected through ethnographic research methods, I examine the roles of mobile communication technologies—particularly smartphones and children’s smartwatches—in middle-class mothering for preteen children in Guangzhou city in China. In China, mothers, the primary caregivers of children, have mostly been engaged in formal employment outside the family and faced with work-home tension since the Mao Era (1949-1976). Working mothers’ work-home tension has been further intensified by the rise of middle-class intensive mothering culture that promotes mothers’ longtime engagement in childrearing, especially in children’s education. Another specificity of Chinese mothering is the common engagement of grandparents in childrearing, which, however, has been a target of public criticism in the trend of intensive mothering. Upon this background, mobile communication devices are introduced into families as convenient tools for childrearing. However, my study finds that besides bringing convenience to middle-class working mothers, the technology also comes with new tasks of mothering.