Youth Migration in Taiwanese (TV) Dramas: Agency and Resistance

Youth Migration in Taiwanese (TV) Dramas: Agency and Resistance

Organizing Principles /Theory:
Wimal Dissansyake (1996), in his introduction to Narratives of Agency, says, “[t]he word ‘agency’ … does not admit of simple and clear definitions” (ix). Dissanayake proposes a focus on “the historical and cultural conditions that facilitate the discursive production of agency, and … framing the question of agency … [so as] to understand the contours of the cultures that we study” (ibid). He quotes Paul Smith (1988) in loosely defining an agent as “the locus from which reconfirmations or resistances to the ideological are produced…” (x)

Sherry B. Ortner (2006) explains two sides of agency: “’agency’ is about intentionality and the pursuit of (culturally defined) projects. … [A]gency is [also] about power, about acting within relations of social inequality, asymmetry, and force” (139). I intend to use Giddens’ structuration theory to help explain the relationship between structure and agency (see Bryant, Cohen, Giddens).

Hollander and Einwohner’s piece on resistance explores the many ambiguities and conflicts among definitions and uses of resistance. All uses of ‘resistance’ that they examine have two features in common: resistance is active, and it is in opposition to something (538). For the purposes of this paper, resistance is considered within the context of agency. It is an action open to (or taken by) the agent, where she acts in opposition to a structure, discource, or other subject’s dominance; this resistance can take various forms, as power differentials “affect people’s capacity for, and forms of, agency” (Sewell qtd. in Orntner 138). Moreover, resistance (‘oppositional agency’) “…is only one of many forms of agency” (Ahearn qtd. in Ortner 137).

Jacqueline Knörr and Angela Nunes write, in the introduction to Knörr’s Childhood and Migration: from Experience to Agency, that
Children’s own views about their own childhood have long been neglected in the social and cultural sciences and so have their views of their experiences of migration. This is true … despite the fact that children make up a large proportion of migrants. (9)

Knörr and Nunes go on to argue that children’s experiences and agency should be studied and understood.
The material:
This paper will examine characters and migration events in Taiwanese TV dramas in terms of agency and resistance. Of particular interest are series set in a high school where the cast portrays students (children). Migration-related plot motifs can include a new character being introduced as a transfer student, and regular characters faced with the prospect of leaving with their parents to live in the United States or a similar destination.

Children (minors) don’t get much of a say when it comes to the family migration. They often relocate with their parents when the latter migrate for economic reasons—nationally or internationally. Nevertheless, these youth indeed have agency, and can choose to act in certain ways particular to their situation.

Through an analysis of migration-events portrayed in high school TV dramas, this paper will show that the characters exert agency, and sometimes resist, in ways influenced by social context, power structure, and relevant discourses.

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