Ageing, Migration and Digital Care Labour: the role of distant and virtual supports in aged care

Presenter: Professor Loretta Baldassar, The University of Western Australia

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About the presentation

Any discussion of ageing is quintessentially a migration issue. An increasing amount of formal paid care labour, both in our private homes and in our public institutions, is supplied by migrants. The resultant global care economy has given rise to the dramatic feminisation of labour migration in the form of domestic care workers. Much has been written about the resultant global care chains and the transnational political economy of care. Relatedly, but less visibly, an increasing amount of informal unpaid care labour is provided by temporary visiting family members, and a need to develop a transnational ethics of informal care. This care mobility gives rise to transnational families who inhabit social fields that are constituted and co-created through their reciprocal though uneven care exchanges, which play out over emails, SMS text messages, and social media platforms. So, when we discuss Aged Care policy and practice, we need to discuss migration policy practice, and technology policy and practice as well.

This presentation examines what we can learn from migrant and transnational families about the potential role of new technologies in aged care to improve social support and wellbeing. Drawing on the methodological and conceptual frameworks developed in the ARC project: Ageing and New Media, I explore the role of distant and virtual support networks in aging in place, including during pandemic lockdowns. I examine the way today’s polymedia environments have created the conditions for synchronous, continuous, multisensory co-presence across distance that challenge the normative and ontological privileging of proximity in care and kinship relationships. Such conditions require us to consider the importance of human relations to the material world, in particular of forms of digital care labour. Raelene Wilding and I propose the notions of ‘digital kinning’ and ‘digital homeing‘ as ways to theorise the resultant human-technology interactions, and to explore how the rapidly changing polymedia environment is transforming how we communicate, imagine ourselves, and organise our everyday lives, including across distance. For older people in particular, these digital kinning practices often require facilitation by others, emphasising their social relational, intergenerational and performative character. It is in the creative and diverse practices at the intersections of mobilities and materialities that we see how technologies can transform the experience of caring, in and across place.

About the presenter

Professor Loretta Baldassar is Director of the UWA Social Care and Ageing (SAGE) Living Lab. She has published extensively on migration, ageing and transnational families. Professor Baldassar is Vice President of the International Sociological Association, Migration Research Committee (31) and Regional Editor for the leading Journal Global Networks. In 2020, she was named one of the top 30 Australian researchers in Social Sciences, and Research Field Leader in Human Migration. In 2021, Professor Baldassar was again named Research Field Leader in Human Migration, as well as in Ethnic and Cultural Studies.

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