Here are projects that have been conducted by researchers and collaborators within REINFORM network:

Role of ICts in lives of foreign brides in singapore

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Migration through marriage has long tradition in many spheres in the world. In Singapore, this phenomenon has been quite popular, especially marriages between Asian foreign brides and Singaporean men. This project investigates the role of ICTs, especially mobile phones, in the lives of migrant wives and how mobiles can facilitate them to achieve empowerment, challenge essentialist assumptions, prejudice and social dominance.

Prior research has been criticized due to monolithic and essential conceptions on gender and identity, such as viewing women as intrinsically submissive and more nurturing than men, or situating immigrants in opposition to an authentic “native” identity. Studies showed that women often articulate various strategies to cope with social prejudice; and individuals in marginalized social locations, to construct and reconfigure their identities, negotiate the demands of dominant cultural norms and expectations while asserting their own marginalized identities. Interestingly, identifying a marginalized identity can be a strategy to challenge social dominance and redefine the essential assumptions on gender and identity. 

In this research, we aim to examine perceptions of South East Asian foreign bribes in Singapore about gender roles, their negotiations of gender powers and identities, and to what extent ICTs can play a part in allowing them establish strategies to gain autonomy and a positive gender role and social identity. Rather than taking a static viewpoint as essentialism or totally empowerment, we rely on hybrid and dialectic perspectives to identify multiple dynamic identities and voices that require constant negotiation and reconfiguration. In-depth interviews and ethnographic observation methods have been our main methods to get insights into the lives of the marginalized community in a developed land. Our RQs are: (1) What are the gender representations of foreign brides in Singapore?; (2) What are their strategies to negotiate a positive gender role and identity?; (3) To what extent ICTs help them in developing the strategies?

Preliminary findings in the project was presented in the 8th international International Conference of Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2016) in Ann Arbor Michigan in a paper, namely "Mobile phones and Gender Empowerment: Enactment of ‘Restricted Agency’".

Use of mobile phones by new generation of Dagongmei in China

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This study undertakes an investigation premised on two broad research areas - gender from an intersectional perspective, and gender geographies of power. First, we understand gender as a socio-psychological process and a product of the intersection of gender and other social identities such as class, race and ethnicity (eg. Cole & Stewart, 1996; Stewart & Mcdemott, 2004; Yoder & Aniakudo, 1997), this study will investigate how mobile communication which plays a significant role in reconstructing time and space (Ling & Campbell, 2010), further introduces the influence from marginalized migrant workers’ location in the power hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, and even nationality across terrains to the process of gender construction and negotiation. 

Secondly, rather than treating marginalized migrant workers as passive technology receivers, this study will put an emphasis on exploring how they display personal agency by employing strategies in mobile communication to cope with the discrimination and pressure stemming from their relatively lower location in power hierarchies, and to continuously shape and alter their new understanding of being a man/woman in the meantime. The context of migration explores the tensions the migrant faces in relationships of power hierarchies with home and host countries.

A cross-cultural comparative study will be conducted by us with the purpose of exploring the dynamic dialogue between gender identity, migratory experience and mobile phone use in different social-cultural contexts, with power hierarchies as a central theme. The potential research participants of this study will be low-income and low-skilled female migrant workers who move from a relatively underdeveloped rural area to Dalian city for better employment. Dagongmei, which refers to the young rural-urban Chinese female migrant workers, has become a buzzword in studies situated in internal migration of China (Pun, 2005). These young women acted as the pioneers in this largest internal labour flows in human history since China’s embrace of neoliberal capitalism in late 1970s, moving from villages to join the labour market in market towns, cities and metropolis (Fan, 2003; Gaetano & Jacka, 2004; Jacka, 2005). Recently, increasing attention has been drawn to the new generation of Dagongmei who were born into a less-constraint economic circumstances in late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, when China’s market reforms deepened and China’s economy became further integrated into the world economy (Yu & Yi, 2008). These young women, who tend to bear a relatively high valuation of their individualism compared to their early cohorts, experience the increasingly intensive negotiation of gender power dynamics between the traditional patriarchal norms and their own definition of being women, within the domain of family and work (Gaetano, 2008; Ma & Cheng, 2005; Zhang, 2007). More significantly, due to the deep integration of mobile communication into their daily social interactions, their gender power negotiation, to varying degrees, has been extended from face-to-face communication to mobile communication (Wallis, 2013). We find that the dynamic and dialectical role of mobile phones in their gender power negotiation since they can strategically use mobile phones to attain autonomy and even to raise a challenge to male authority, whilst their use of mobile phone can expose them further to gendered social constraints (Pei & Chib, 2016).

ICT Use among North Korean Defectors in South Korea

The proposed research aims to understand how North Korean defectors adopt and use ICTs in the course of their resettlement in South Korea. The study focuses on their experiences with ICT hardware and services such as mobile phones, computers, smartphone apps, the internet services including portals, news and social media. Every year hundreds of North Koreans cross the Tumen River, which runs through the North Korea-China border, to depart from their homeland in the search for a better life elsewhere they can live with basic freedom and security. Many of them stray in China, Russia and other Southeast Asian countries while some manage to enter the other side of the Korean peninsula which has the same language and ethnicity but was transformed into a drastically foreign society in the course of the over sixty-year-long division since the Korean War. As in the case of other migrants, ICTs, particularly mobile phones, play a significant role in assisting their journey and resettlement in a new community. In fact, for those who landed in South Korea, ICTs contribute to a rather dramatic transition as they migrate from the most digitally-oppressed society to one of the most digitally-oriented countries in the world.

The study will attempt to cover various issues surrounding North Korean defectors’ experiences with ICTs including their previous exposure to ICTs in North Korea, how ICTs were used during their journey after leaving the homeland, how ICTs assist their connection with families and relatives in the homeland and other countries. Nevertheless, due to the unique political complexity between North and South Korea and high sensitivity of the target subjects, the primary focus of the current study lies in their experiences after arrival in South Korea, more specifically after completing the Hana-won education.

Based on the data from in-depth interviews with 20 female North Korean defectors residing in South Korea, it inquires how they restrictedly accessed mobile phones in North Korea and how smuggled Chinese mobile phones were used to clandestinely communicate with the outside world as well as to arrange their crossings and to back up their journeys. It also studies individual survival strategies of North Korean defectors in the process of being socioeconomically integrated into the South Korean society.

In doing so, the study examines the extent to which mobile phones and other ICT services assist the process such as finding local information, seeking employment, meeting new people or finding friends, learning new language and culture and so forth. It also delves into the ways they handle obstacles and problematic situations such as economic hardship, invisible or sometimes imagined discrimination, confusing identity, illness, psychological distress and depression. Focusing on female defectors who consist of over 70 percents of the total North Koreans residing in South Korea, the study also looks into their unique migration experiences as women and mothers in topics including human trafficking and forced marriage in China as well as childcare and family support, marriage and dating in South Korea.

Syrian refugees and mobile-mediated self-empowerment. Case Study Germany

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While in current German media debates the use and possession of smartphones among refugees was often used to fuel resentments, explicit and implicit processes of mobile media appropriation become evident in subjective reports and in the few existing scientific studies. Smartphones serve as mobile migration assistants with complex and individualist use types. Their applications regarding navigation, translation, communication with home- and arrival-country and provision of information etc. are indispensable and essential to transnational migration processes.

This project surveys the role of mobile and social media as instruments of self-empowerment for refugees on their way to and in Berlin. In this project at the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (Humboldt University Berlin), in a first phase 17 qualitative interviews were conducted with male and female refugee from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, aged 16 to 38, about their media use, in order to elaborate on the specific media use during the flight. Both media use in the country of origin, and the use since arriving to Germany were discussed. Also, the use of so-called ‘integration apps’ is highlighted.

In a second phase, a quantitative survey was developed, based on the interviews’ outcomes, focusing on awareness and usage of a range of apps. This survey was distributed to 97 participants in reception and emergency shelters for refugees in Berlin. The data evaluation examined in what ways refugees use smartphones during their flight and after their arrival in Germany to create autonomous structures that provide help in overcoming concrete problems, such as language barriers or orientation when confronted with state or local authorities. The further aim is to develop an understanding of post-migrant media use and to improve the digital sphere of action for refugees in Germany.

The project is funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Migrants, Refugees and Integration.