Making, connecting, and complicating home : South Korean transient migrants’ media use and everyday lives in Austin




Lee, Shin Hea

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This dissertation explores the role of new media in transient migrants’ everyday lives in terms of their senses of home and belonging. Transient migrants, while under-researched in favor of focusing on permanent migration, are important global subjects to study due to increasing mobility and its unpredictable contingency nowadays. At the same time, the development of new media technology enables migrants to participate in digital cultures of both home and host countries via diverse media such as mobile apps and Internet links. This study moves from text-oriented traditional audience research to study contemporary audiences who are dispersed and fragmented in their unique geographical and cultural environment. By interviewing 40 South Korean middle-class temporary visa-status migrants who have lived in Austin, Texas, for more than two years, my research links an emerging polymedia environment and transnational digital culture (cord-cutting practice and algorithmic/platform culture) to interrogate mobility and migration in the globalization era. Through applying the theoretical framework of ‘ontological security’ and ‘mediatization,’ I argue that the use of homeland media in the transnational space helps transient migrants to make, connect to, and complicate home. More specifically, the study finds similarities and differences among different visa categories—workers in specialty occupations (H1B, L1, OPT), academic students (F1), and their dependents (F2, L2, H4)—and analyzes not only their identity and belonging issues but also the gendered structure of visa categorization. As a result, the dissertation argues that the polymedia environment brought by new media technology in transient migration allows temporary migrants to feel a sense of home through providing ambient co-presence and sustaining ontological security in the midst of their unpredictable and precarious journey. By cutting the cord and dwelling in home country television contents and home country new media platforms and algorithm, transient migrants ironically revealed banal transnationalism and mediatization since those practices imperceptibly prolonged the temporary migration by alleviating some of the longings for homeland, breaking the nostalgic version of homeland, and building a strong diasporic community. Still, I suggest that mediatization and transnationalism are complex matters which require a consideration of multi-positionality within the transient migrants and a “non-media-centric” approach.


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