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At home from afar: the mobile lives of the transnational Filipino family

posted on 2017-02-23, 23:58 authored by Cabalquinto, Earvin Charles
High levels of human labour export are engendering changes in the organisation and dynamics of the Filipino family and Philippine society. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are lauded by the government as “Bagong Bayani”, or modern day heroes, because of their remittances, which amount to billions and keep the national economy afloat. OFWs seek work opportunities across continents to support their left-behind loved ones. Such fragmentation of the Filipino family leads to the formation of a new household arrangement: the transnational family. Running parallel to this steady international labour migration is the proliferation of digital mobile devices and convergent communication platforms. Mobile media, including smartphones, tablets and apps, and networked modes of communication, such as social networks, messaging applications and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), are used and integrated into family dynamics. These technologies and platforms enable and maintain linkages between the OFWs, their left-behind families and/or the larger community in the home country. Using a ritual framework of communication to articulate the fellowship that exists among transnational families, this thesis investigates the ways in which OFWs in Melbourne, Australia, and their left-behind family members in the Philippines exploit the affordances of broadband-enabled mobile media to forge ties and maintain relationships. Semi-structured in-depth interviews and visual methods have been employed to examine the implications of mobile media use for the perception, organisation, mobilisation, and experience of family at a distance in the twenty-first century. Twenty-one OFWs and their left-behind family members were interviewed for this research project. The thesis findings identify the binding role performed by mobile media use in the lives of the transnational Filipino family. The personalisation and customisation of the affordances of mobile media: (1) enact gendered and familial roles through mediated, mobile and ritualistic activities in everyday life; (2) enable imagined co-presence and intimacy at a distance through “traces of mediated mobilities” as a result of “mobile mediated interactions” in various contexts, ranging from the everyday, connection to the homeland, celebrations, and crisis management, and; (3) foster and strengthen familial or local community ties through hybridised, domestic, mobile, and liminal spaces of interaction, or “zones of fellowship”. However, while mobile media use helps to sustain relationships, it also generates “mobility-based ambivalences” for family members as they negotiate geographic and temporal boundaries. Such nuances in the socio-technical appropriation of mobile communication technologies are also impacted by the uneven technological infrastructures in the host and home country, gendered and familial roles, socio-economic and socio-cultural conditions, and the parameters of technology.


Principal supervisor

Brett Hutchins

Additional supervisor 1

Jinna Tay

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Media, Film and Journalism


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts