From Farm to Farmville: Circulation, Adoption, and Use of ICT between Urban and Rural China

Elisa Oreglia. From Farm to Farmville: Circulation, Adoption, and Use of ICT between Urban and Rural China. Ph.D. dissertation. Advisor: Jenna Burrell. University of California, Berkeley. 2013.


In the mid-2000s, China began a set of policies to ‘informatize’ the countryside, i.e. to bring Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to rural residents in order to improve their economic conditions. These policies posit the countryside as a world of ‘less,’ compared to urban areas, and they are framed in terms of what people who are at the margins of China’s modernization (migrant workers, rural residents, older people, and farmers) need in order to improve their lives, how ICT can benefit them, and how they can access more and better information despite their low educational and income levels. In contrast to this widespread view of marginalized users as passive recipients of technologies that will help them improve their material conditions, this dissertation looks at the diffusion and appropriation of ICT such as mobile phones and computers among rural residents and migrant workers in their own terms: not as foils for elite views of why they would/should go online, but rather as people who discover the opportunities offered by the Internet that are of interest to them, and try to use these opportunities as best as they can. By following the paths through which ICT travel in urban and rural China and the social relations that are maintained, renewed, and reinvented along the way, I argue that people at the margins have to ‘invent’ themselves as users, and find a connection between themselves and ICT. Migrant workers play a key role in bringing ICT to the countryside, where family networks, shop keepers, and community life foster the circulation of information about ICT and their use. With the help of these intermediaries, even people who are typically dismissed by urban elites as non-users because of their age or educational level, and who live far away from the resource-rich areas where such devices are common, can still be connected to them through their personal ties as well as through appropriate and mediated use of new ICT. As a counter-narrative to the prevailing discourse on ICT and rural users, this dissertation argues that the combination of new technologies and personal networks are a powerful but often overlooked vector along which some aspects of urban growth are shared with the countryside, and that ICT have so far helped to strengthen the familial and personal networks commonly present in rural villages and often lamented as being broken by the dual forces of migration and urbanization.


Last updated:

September 20, 2016