Accepted Paper:

Rethinking kinship on social media  


Xinyuan Wang (University College London (UCL))

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper examines the role social media plays in kinship among displaced Chinese rural migrants. Acknowledging the ways in which people deal with changes in life through social media, this paper further argues that social media has become the place where new social norms about kins emerged.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on findings of a 15-month ethnographic research project into the use of social media among Chinese rural migrants in a Chinese factory town. China now has 260 million rural migrants - the biggest migration in human history. One of the major problems these displaced migrants face is that they have been uprooted from rural communities which are based on kinship and guanxi (social relations) networks which used to offer essential support for individuals. The ethnography surprisingly shows that, for most rural migrants, especially the young generation, social media is not used for connecting with left-behind kinship, but to rebuild a new kind of social relationship online, which in return, challenges the very understanding and expectation of kinship.

This paper first examines the motivations and situation of Chinese rural-to-urban migration in order to understand the use of social media in terms of maintaining and establishing social relationships. After that, a detailed analysis of people's actual social media use is provided to give a close look of how social media, on the one hand, has visualized a new kind of kinship which has not been experienced in the traditional hierarchical paternalistic society and has allowed personal privacy for the very first time; and on the other hand, how it has selectively transplanted some aspects, such as the practice of folk religion and ancestor worship to an online environment.

Panel P059
Kinship: taking stock in the light of social media