Temporal Dimensions of Transient Migration Studies: The Case of Korean Visa Migrants’ Media Practices in the US

Claire Shinhea Lee


The rapid decline in transportation and telecommunications costs and the rapid development of new media technologies are encouraging drastic changes in the nature of migration. Rather than models of one-way mobility, settlement, and integration, migration studies have recognized the transnational mobility and the temporal fluidity of different types of migrant subjects, from high-skilled workers to low-skilled contract laborers and from refugees (asylum seekers) to marriage migrants (Robertson, 2014). Following this trend, the “mobility turn” have influenced the field by considering migration from a movement perspective and critiquing the static categories of analysis, for instance nation or ethnicity (Griffiths et al., 2013).This paradigm of focus on mobilities means reconsidering “spatial mobility, its patterns and manifestations” and within migration studies it generally indicates a transnational approach (Faist, 2013, p. 1,638). Moreover, scholars argue that we need to go beyond the prevailing economic approach (i.e. labor migrants as economic bodies) to include social behavior and mundane feelings of migration (Kôu et al., 2009).

It is in this context which I initiated my original project of Mediatized Transient Migrants (Lee, 2019), which explored the role of media in both the migratory processes and the transnational everyday lives of temporary skilled migrants'. Information communication technologies (ICTs) have played a crucial role in the lives of migrants by connecting migrants to their homeland, to the diasporic community, and to the host society. While migrants’ transnational networking through media is not a new thing, in recent years the scale and forms of digital networking have altered a variety of migration dynamics (Leurs and Prabhakar, 2018). For instance, mobile (smart) phones have made available informal social networks that serve as significant sources of emotional, informational, and instrumental support for migrants (Chib and Aricat, 2017). Many scholars have conceptualized this new pattern of migrant communication infrastructure as “connected copresence” (Diminescu, 2008), “ordinary copresence” (Nedelcu and Wyss, 2016), or “ambient copresence” (Madianou, 2016).

In this project, I chose Korean middle-class visa-status migrants living in Austin,TX, as an empirical case study for several reasons. The first reason is the relatively large size of the Korean migrant population with little research on their media use, and the second is due to the characteristics of the

Korean community—common language, customs, values, and historic experiences as a group—which provide a good base for studying the nexus of homeland and hostland relations. Lastly, the remarkably high levels of internet use and rapidly developing media market of contemporary Korea make the sample case worth studying. Moreover, the study tried to complicate the traditional boundaries around categories of permanent and temporary migration and introduce the complex positionality of “middling” migration.

After completing my project, I realized how much this project was about “time” as much as about “space” and that temporality is crucial in understanding skilled visa-status migrants. As I developed the original study to a longitudinal one by conducting follow-up interviews, I found that during the last five years, among the 36 migrants I interviewed, ten of them returned to Korea, four married, three had babies, and 13 of them changed their immigration status. In this context, this chapter seeks to build introductory understandings of the temporal dimensions within the migration and media field through a specific case study of Korean middle-class temporary visa migrants.

Media and Migration: Digital Migration Studies and a Non-Media-Centric Approach

While migration scholars rarely had made the importance of media explicit in their work, media studies also had dealt with migration experience in a more restricted way such as remaining in the “effects” tradition: how coverage of immigration issues affects voting behavior or how host-country representations stimulate the desire to migrate (King & Wood, 2001). With current transnational mobility intertwined with the expanding scale, circulation, and impact of media consumption (Appadurai, 1996), studies have recognized the importance of the medias role in both the migratory processes and the transnational everyday lives of these migrants in three main ways: 1) media as an important source of information for potential migrants, 2) media representation of migrants in hostcountry media and the influence to migrants, and 3) migrants’ use of homeland media and its role in the cultural identity and politics of diasporic communities (King & Wood, 2001, p. 1—2).

More recently, along with the social focus on migration issues and rapid development in ICTs, various disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, geography, and media and communication studies have become involved in the field of migration studies. In this context, some scholars are making an effort to systemize the field as “digital migration studies”: an emerging research focus that seeks to understand relationships between migration and digital connectivity (Leurs and Prabhakar, 2018). There exist three paradigms of digital migration studies. The first paradigm mainly puts its interest on migrants who exist in cyberspace. Just like the early internet researchers who were interested in how people experiment and negotiate their online identities from their physical offline bodies in terms of gender, racial, and national identity, these scholars examined how migrant users imagine belonging to the cyber diasporic communities and the complications of doing virtual ethnography (Gajjala, 2004; Markham, 1998).

The second paradigm, often viewed as non-digital-media-centric, investigates migrants’ physical places and everyday practices along with digital media consumption. Research in this categorization considers the broader social, spatial, and temporal context for media use and approaches contemporary migrant experiences in regard to power dynamics and the global-local complex (Georgiou, 2006, Madianou and Miller, 2012; Miller and Slater, 2000; Zijlstra and van Liempt, 2017). For example, Georgiou (2006) explored the role of media in the diasporic identity construction of Greek-Cypriot migrants in New York and London through interviews and participant observations and Madianou and Miller (2012) examined Filipino migrant mothers’ distant mothering of their left-behind children in the Philippines through ICTs. More recently, Zijlstra and van Liempt (2017) studied the use of smartphones among Afghan, Iranian, and Syrian migrants during their border-crossings in Europe through trajectory ethnography. Lastly, in the third paradigm, migrants are increasingly datafied by new computational tools and techniques that extract data from users (Diminescu, 2008; Kok and Kogers, 2017).

While the three key paradigms have their own strengths, the first and the third paradigms tend to center digital technologies as the main object of the study and easily separate technology from other material, historical, and emotional factors. However, the second paradigm, which often utilizes an ethnographic approach to capture media practices in everyday settings, can in particular be highly valuable to describe the temporal formations of contemporary migration. In this matter, the present study aligns itself with the second paradigm digital migration studies.

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