Creating Community, Rejecting Community: Migrant Women in Beijing
Rural-to urban migrant women in Beijing often seem to feel like Groucho Marx – they would much prefer to not be part of this ‘club’ of migrant women that accepts people like them as members. They often create very tightly-knit, small communities among themselves, which include co-workers and sometimes women coming from the same village. However, they belong to these communities by necessity, rather than by choice, and in fact aspire to be completely integrated in the urban life and leave behind them any connection with their rural roots and their status as second-class citizens. At the same time, they maintain strong ties with their families and friends back home, who represent a ‘community of choice’ that can provide support and understanding, at least in the first years away from home. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play an important role for migrant women, in creating a sense of belonging to their new life and to their new urban network, and in supporting ties with their family and their friends back home. ICT use evolves through time, and supports different types of activities and different types of networks, facilitating to a certain extent the process of urbanization. This paper draws from field work done in Beijing in the summer 2007 and summer 2009 to explore the issue of community of choice versus community of convenience, and how they are supported by ICTs, and considers the evolving use of ICT, from mobile phones to the Internet, from access, to use, to effective use, in a context of community building.
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