The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Picturing Migration and Motherhood in Urban China

Friday, January 18, 2013: 9:00 AM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Mimi V. Chapman, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Meihua Zhu, PhD, Professor, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai, China
Shiyou Wu, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: Picturing Migration and Motherhoodis a transnational collaboration between  American and Chinese social work professors using PhotoVoice, a participatory action research method, to explore the experiences of mothers in Shanghai, China migrating from the Chinese country-side into urban areas for work.  The researchers sought to understand how challenges that are common to all mothers manifest themselves in the particular environment of urban, migrant villages.  Rural to urban migration is relatively new in China and changes constantly as the Central government changes policies related to this population.  A participatory method was used to collect up-to-the minute information about these mothers’ experiences. This work is informed by Chinese social workers working in the village where the mothers live and feeds directly into intervention planning, development, and service provision.   

Prior to the mid-1980s, the hukou system of resident registration prevented in-country migration by Chinese citizens.   The hukou system has changed to accommodate the need for labor meaning that individuals are no longer dissuaded from leaving their rural home towns (Wang, 2008).  However, through migration these individuals literally lose their identity and access to a social safety net. Our Chinese partners are creating interventions for the migrant population in Shanghai; yet, the data available on the migrants’ experiences have been limited.  Because social work intervention and research is new in China, we collaborated using participatory data collection methods rarely used in the Chinese context. 

Methods:  China does not have a strong tradition of research that allows participants to voice needs or shape programs.  Using PhotoVoice mothers were given cameras and asked to take pictures that illustrated their life their village.  In two group sessions, 17 mothers shared over 100 photographs.  Audiotapes of the dialogues were transcribed in Mandarin and translated into English.  The transcripts were analyzed for themes using qualitative content analysis with a conventional approach.  The mothers selected particular photographs to display to community members and decision makers in the village.  A forum was held in which mothers, social workers, community, and government leaders met to discuss concerns and create solutions.

Results:Education, child discipline, health care, and resilience are themes that emerged from the dialogue.  Engagement in the process was high. The resulting forum produced specific ideas and solutions that are being enacted.

Conclusions and Implications:  Migrant mothers have much to share about their experiences.  They are willing to engage in a participatory process, are open in voicing both the positive and difficult aspects of their lives, and able to engage with decision-makers in discussion.  The PhotoVoice methodology is a powerful method for cross-cultural collaboration and advocacy.  Cross-national research collaborations in social work can advance the social work role in China as the profession grows.

Rural-urban migration and policy responses in China : challenges and options / Dewen Wang; International Labour Offi ce; ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Asian Regional Programming on Governance of Labour Migration. - Bangkok: ILO, 200821 p. (Working paper ; no.15)