Aiming at crime prevention, the Snow Bright and Safe Countryside projects, launched by the Chinese government cooperating with telecommunication operators at the beginning of 2020, have promoted the installation of surveillance cameras in Chinese rural households. Many migrant worker parents who left their children behind installed cameras in rural homes not only for safety but also for family communication. Research on how family surveillance cameras construct parenthood in rural Chinese families is still limited. Therefore, this study aims to explore the construction of parenthood among migrant parents through discourse analysis of Chinese advertisements and news on surveillance camera technology use in rural households. Through the lens of (re)constructing time and space by surveillance capitalism, we look at the hidden discourses and power relations in the distant monitoring of family life.
After analysing advertisements and news about home surveillance cameras on Chinese platforms such as Baidu, Douyin, Taobao, Bilibili, we found that surveillance advertisements build demand for real-time video intercom and playback sharing, ideally not missing a single moment of child development, amplifying middle-class parents’ controlling philosophy and family position. In the surveillance news, left-behind children in lower-class families are seen and guarded, compensating for children’s loneliness and isolation. Privacy is hidden or conceded in these advertisements and news. In a mobile society, many people’s work and home are separated in time and space. The commodification of time and space is crucial to understand everyday life driven by capitalism. We argue that surveillance technology in the familial sphere gives contemporary parents a sense of control over time and space. It functions both as a commodity or communication tool and as a field of parenting practices. Digital contents generated through surveillance cameras about parent-child interactions are in turn used as news narratives of social interaction, furthering surveillance capitalism.
Keywords: left-behind children, family surveillance camera, surveillance capitalism