Abstract Background and Objectives
High rates of migration contribute to the dispersal of support networks across distance. For older adults reliant on informal care, this creates a high risk of increased social isolation. In this article, we highlight the role of communication technologies in maintaining support networks and identities across distance. Building on transnational family research and on anthropological notions of “kinning,” we propose that processes of distant support can be better understood through the new concept of “digital kinning.”
Research Design and Methods
A qualitative project conducted in Australia (2016–2019) with over 150 older migrants (55+) born in nine countries comprising ethnographic interviews and observations. Analysis comprised the inductive approach of ethnographic qualitative research and theory building from cases, drawn from grounded theory traditions. Select ethnographic cases illustrate the key dimensions and benefits of “digital kinning” for older migrants.
Digital kinning practices support the access of older migrants to (i) essential sources of social connection and support, (ii) maintenance of cultural identity, and (iii) protection of social identity, including across distance. Their effectiveness is reliant on access to affordable and reliable digital communication tools.
Discussion and Implications
Although essential to the well-being of older migrants, distant support networks and the digital kinning practices that sustain them receive little attention from policy makers and health practitioners. Organizations concerned with the care of older people must improve awareness of distant support networks by supporting practices of “digital kinning,” ranging from including distant kin in health care plans to prioritizing digital inclusion initiatives.