Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Identity Gaps: An Analysis of Chinese Academic Mothers' Transnational Communicative Experiences in the U.S.

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Laura Stafford (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Alberto González (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dawn Anderson (Other)


My dissertation examines Chinese transnational academic mothers’ (CTAMs) communicative experiences of identity gaps, especially their interactions with their children, their husbands, other Chinese people, and American people during their temporary stay in the U.S. Motivated by balancing their career pursuits and parental responsibility, CTAMs had to live in transnational split families in the absence of their husbands and other family members.

The purpose of the study is to investigate how the CTAMs defined themselves, what identity gaps (i.e., personal-enacted, personal-relational, personal-communal, enacted-relational, enacted-communal, and relational-communal) they experienced, how these identity gaps influenced them positively and/or negatively, and how they negotiated their identities for more effective communication. The communication theory of identity (CTI) and the concept of identity gaps are the theoretical framework applied to the exploration of the CTAMs’ interactions with the dynamic and multilayered identities presented in the course of their transnational communicative experiences.

I interviewed 17 Chinese academic mothers (i.e., 15 visiting scholars and two international graduate students) who were living or had completed their transnational lives when I interviewed them. The challenges and hardships that they encountered, along with the identity gaps, affected their communicative experiences in the bi-cultural contexts with their husbands in China, and their children, Americans and other Chinese in the United States.

The data of this study were collected in two steps. All participants completed a five-minute online survey first. Then, they scheduled qualitative in-depth interviews (the average length was 60 minutes). The interviews were predominantly conducted via WeChat (a Chinese social media app) (three video calls and 12 voice calls) except for two face-to-face interviews.

Previous literature has shown that identity gaps influenced people’s communication experiences, particularly communication assertiveness, effectiveness and satisfaction (Jung, 2011). My study also supported the findings of prior research on immigrants’ experiences of identity gaps by adding the Chinese transnational women’s encountering of identity gaps and their adoption of identity negotiation strategies. In addition, there were some new findings in which my participants’ motivations and purposes of living the temporary transnational lives with their minor children were crucial to better understand how they perceived the challenges and difficulties and the negotiation strategies and coping skills they adopted. Moreover, the participants’ majors – there were eight English majors and nine non-English majors – were also found influential in their transnational communication and their identity negotiation. Finally, the CTAMs contributed some practical suggestions and important information for future Chinese academic mothers visiting or studying in the U.S. with children. Implications, limitations, and future directions are discussed.