Technomobility in China

Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones

277 pages

March, 2015

ISBN: 9781479866083



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Cara Wallis is Assistant Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University.

All books by Cara Wallis

Winner of the 2014 Bonnie Ritter Book Award

Winner of the 2013 James W. Carey Media Research Award

As unprecedented waves of young, rural women journey to cities in China, not only to work, but also to “see the world” and gain some autonomy, they regularly face significant institutional obstacles as well as deep-seated anti-rural prejudices. Based on immersive fieldwork, Cara Wallis provides an intimate portrait of the social, cultural, and economic implications of mobile communication for a group of young women engaged in unskilled service work in Beijing, where they live and work for indefinite periods of time.
While simultaneously situating her work within the fields of feminist studies, technology studies, and communication theory, Wallis explores the way in which the cell phone has been integrated into the transforming social structures and practices of contemporary China, and the ways in which mobile technology enables rural young women—a population that has been traditionally marginalized and deemed as “backward” and “other”—to participate in and create culture, allowing them to perform a modern, rural-urban identity. In this theoretically rich and empirically grounded analysis, Wallis provides original insight into the co-construction of technology and subjectivity as well as the multiple forces that shape contemporary China.


  • “An ethnographically rich and empathetic portrayal of the intricacies of life among young female migrants navigating the experience of ‘immobile mobility’. Bringing together the best of cultural studies, communication and feminist scholarship, Wallis’ theoretically sophisticated ethnography is a welcome and valuable addition to our understanding of communication, mobility and contemporary China.”

    —Heather A. Horst, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and co-author of The Cell Phone

  • “Cara Wallis is the perfect observer to help us understand mobile phone use among young Chinese working class women, dagongmei, who live and work in the major cities far away from their rural homes. Through rigorous field work, excellent access, and a sensitive ear, she offers unique insight into how mobile phones both liberate and subjugate these young women. This supple and theoretically grounded work demands our attention.”

    —Rich Ling, author of The Mobile Connection: The Cell Phone's Impact on Society

  • "Cara Wallis has contributed a significant and unique piece of scholarship that enriches, sharpens, and humanizes our understanding of the techno-social and cultural transformations of our era and the concomitant grand narratives of China’s rise and its attainment of globalized modernity. The work is not only highly sophisticated in its theoretical conceptualization, but also extremely rich in its empirical description. The analysis is careful, nuanced and always well-contextualized. This is a superb, insightful, and self-reflexive piece of scholarship."

    —Yuezhi Zhao, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Political Economy of Global Communication, Simon Fraser Unive

  • "An interesting, well-researched, and well-supported study."

    —A. Heaphy , Choice

  • "Without question, Technomobility fills significant gaps in elite-oriented and Western-dominated scholarship on studies of mobile technologies and urban youth mobile culture."

    Mobile Media and Communication

  • "In Technomobility in China, Wallis brings the story of young female migrant labourers to public attention.  Their aspirations and the different strategies they use to ‘get by’ in the city cuts through the stereotype that they are passive vessels waiting for instruction.  The thick descriptions accompanying Wallis’ arguments of the ideological, social and economic barriers that tend to limit the success of migrant workers’ efforts drive this point home: these barriers are neither necessary nor deterministic.  Perhaps, just as Wallis gave back to the community while conducting her ethnography, her book will contribute to the improvement of the social and political conditions migrant labourers face.”

    Pacific Affairs

  • “Wallis’ decision to study mobile phone use among the world’s largest migrant population possesses a natural affinity, which seems destined from the outset to deliver noteworthy findings.  The resultant volume is made all the more remarkable owing to the surprising discovery that her participants – young rural migrant women working in Beijing’s service sector – are in fact defined by their experience of numerous forms of immobility.” 

    Social Anthropology