Dr. Meng Li is an ethnographer and a cultural analyst. Combining interpersonal/family communication and media studies, her research has centered on issues of family change, social inequality, and rural-urban migration in China. She has studied, for example, family and relational communication in Chinese rural-urban migrant families, public discourses and media representations of family issues, and shifts in mobility cultures, infrastructures, and politics in China. She is currently investigating the diffusion of the family of origin (原生家庭) discourse from Western family therapy to Chinese popular culture.
Dr. Li’s scholarly work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Family Communication, Family Relations, Communication, Culture & Critique, Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, and Journalism, among others. In addition to publishing in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. Li has written for public audiences on issues of migration and mobility in both English and Chinese. She received two distinguished dissertation fellowships for her ethnographic research in China on rural migrant workers’ annual family reunions during the Chinese Lunar New Year. Her scholarly work has won multiple top paper awards from the National Communication Association (NCA), including, most recently, the Top Paper from the Family Communication Division in 2021.
Dr. Li regularly teaches communication theory and research and courses in the Department’s Relational Communication concentration, such as Relational Communication, Relationships in Context, Global Intimacies, Family and Inequality, and Relational Communication Capstone.
University of Iowa: Ph.D., Communication Studies 2014
University of Iowa: M.A., Communication Studies 2013
Communication University of China: B.A., Journalism 2008
Areas of Expertise (1)
Interpersonal Communication and Relationships, Family Communication, Media Studies, Gender and Family, Migration Studies, Infrastructure, Ritual, Ethnography, Qualitative Methodologies, China
Lighting Up the Darkness: The Emergence of the “Family of Origin” Discourse in ChinaJournal of Family Communication
Since the mid-2010s, the concept “family of origin” has achieved surprising popularity in China. Different from family of origin’s academic meaning and neutral connotation in English, its Chinese translation, yuansheng jiating (原生家庭), explicitly draws attention to how parents and family can do harm to children. Adopting a phronetic iterative approach, I analyzed 48 family of origin narrative videos and their comments on one of China’s largest video-sharing sites, Bilibili.com, using the Darkness Model of Family Communication as a heuristic tool. Results revealed an interlocking system of individual, dyadic, familial, and social levels of family darkness, collaboratively articulated by online narrators and commenters. I argue that the Chinese discourse of family of origin opens up a dialogic space where communication about family problems and critiques of patriarchal family culture can take place in the time of neo-familism in China.
“Are you me?”: Understanding the political potential of feminist identity spaces on Reddit during the COVID-19 pandemicCommunication, Culture & Critique
Corrina Laughlin, Meng Li
In this study we performed a critical discourse analysis of the r/workingmoms subreddit during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic (March–May 2020). Using this data we argue that Reddit’s platform can facilitate what we schematize as feminist “identity spaces.” We use the heuristic of “spaces” rather than “networks” or “online communities” and connect this theorization to our understanding of the discursive work on the subreddit which facilitates in-group communication and situated structural critique. However, we also interrogate the political possibilities of identity spaces and understand them as a symptom of what Angela McRobbie has called “the cultural politics of disarticulation.” Ultimately, we argue that the same platform affordances that allow for identity spaces to thrive also limit their political potency and we frame this within Lauren Berlant’s theorization of “cruel optimism.”
“Only Mother Is the Best in the World”: Maternal Guilt, Migrant Motherhood, and Changing Ideologies of Childrearing in ChinaJournal of Family Communication
China’s childrearing culture has undergone dramatic transformations in recent decades, redefining ideals of childrearing in ways that relegate rural-to-urban migrant mothers to a marginalized position. This article explores the repercussions of changing childrearing ideologies in China on the subjectivities of rural migrant mothers through a critical inquiry into their expressions of maternal guilt. Based on interviews with migrant mothers who voiced profound guilt for leaving their children behind, this study uncovers the intersectional oppressive power of three intertwined childrearing ideologies – traditional gender beliefs, the “left-behind children” discourse, and the urban middle-class parenting model. These ideologies, firmly grounded in but also articulated with institutionalized marginalization based on gender, hukou status, and class, frame migrant mothers’ childcare as aberrant and subject them to guilt and self-blame. Integrating Althusser’s concept of interpellation and the theory of intersectionality, this study contributes to the expanding literature of Critical Interpersonal and Family Communication (CIFC) research.
Guilt and Compensation: The Interplay Between Maternal Emotions and Parent–Child Relationships in Migrant FamiliesFamily Relations
Migrant mothers are documented to experience intense feelings of guilt due to long-term separation from their children. Research on maternal guilt frequently conceptualizes guilt as a negative self-judgement of mothers without considering the bidirectional interplay between mother–child interactions and mothers' guilt feelings. Interviews with Chinese rural–urban migrant mothers demonstrate left-behind children's power to elicit, exacerbate, and alleviate their mothers' guilt, which in turn prompts migrant mothers to engage in a wide range of compensatory practices to remedy their relationships with their children. These interpersonal dynamics highlight the relational nature of maternal guilt; the double victimization, both by public discourses and family members, experienced by migrant mothers; and the mutual support that can be offered between mothers and children.
Staying put over the Lunar New Year: Celebrating pandemic styleUniversity of Westminster The Contemporary China Centre Blog
被遮蔽的留流儿童父母之痛 (The veiled suffering of migrant parents)澎湃 (The Paper)
从流动到留守，三个“深圳儿童”返乡的这一年 (From migration to displacement: Recollections from three “Shenzhen children” one year after returning “home”)南都观察家 (Narada Insights)