Virtual "ie" household : transnational family interactions in Japan and the United States
Inoue, Chiho Sunakawa
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This dissertation explores the impact of technology on social life. Focusing on webcam-mediated audio-visual conversations between Japanese families in the United States and their extended family members in Japan, I examine how technology participates in creating an interactional space for the families to manage intra- and intergenerational relationships. Combining ethnography with turn-by-turn analyses of naturally occurring webcam interactions, I specifically investigate how cultural, discursive, and family practices are transformed in innovative ways and how families adapt to the emerging mediated space. Looking at how interactional activities are coordinated across spaces, I show that webcam interactions constitute a new type of shared living space in which multigenerational family relationships are created and managed. I call this emerging space the virtual ie (‘house’ and ‘stem-family system’). In this virtually conjoined space, children, parents, and grandparents are visually familiarized with each other’s households and socialized to each other’s virtual presence. Even though the ie is no longer a juridical unit of co-residence, my goal is to discuss the significance of the ie in understanding how transnational Japanese families can dwell in a shared living space created by webcam interactions. My analyses demonstrate how webcam encounters create a stage for participants to perform various identities in interactions. Learning to talk and participate in such webcam interactions, children are socialized to their ie belongings and identities. Additionally, even though far-flung children do not provide physical and daily care for their parents in Japan, they actively take care of elder parents’ media environments. I demonstrate that what I call media care practices add another context for adult children living abroad to carry out their filial responsibilities. I also show that the management of webcam visual fields creates a type of social field that reflects local understandings of social positioning in ie structures. How participants decide to display themselves to others by manipulating the webcam’s visual fields provides a new way to demonstrate various social relationships and responsibilities over long distances. From this perspective, a virtual ie is not merely a reflection of an ideological understanding of Japanese families, but an interactional achievement facilitated by webcams.