Introducing the AALCIG Invited Session for the 2019 Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Vancouver.


By Lynnette Arnold and Tanja Ahlin

“care through ICTs thus became a mode of resiliency and maintenance of family ties at a distance in the face of global political-economic forces that would tear them apart”

On opposite sides of the globe, through fieldwork in India and Salvador, both of us had encountered a similar dynamic: families living separated across borders were maintaining intergenerational care through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The Salvadoran transnational families in Lynnette’s study relied on cellphone calls to negotiate collective care needs in the face of the long-term separation produced by the U.S. immigration regime. In Indian transnational families that Tanja studied, the migrating adult children and their aging parents tinkered with ICTs to enact care through transnational care collectives. When we read each other’s work, we were both struck by the deep resonances between the care practices of the families we had met. Through ICTs, families worked to collectively manage the everyday social reproductive labor of care, simultaneously developing creative practices that allowed them to navigate life-course transitions such as aging and illness, marriage and new migration. In both transnational networks, care through ICTs thus became a mode of resiliency and maintenance of family ties at a distance in the face of global political-economic forces that would tear them apart.

This experience of encounter inspired us to organize this panel, which brings together scholars from around the world working on the dynamics of transnational kin care in a digital era. In addition, the panelists bring a wealth of scholarly perspectives to this fundamentally interdisciplinary research, just as we are informed by our different training – Lynnette as a linguistic anthropologist and Tanja as a medical anthropologist. Presenters include Loretta Baldassar (University of West Australia) and Raelene Wilding (La Trobe University, Melbourne), Elizabeth Falconi (University of West Georgia), Caitlin Fouratt (CSU Long Beach), Lena Nare and Synnöve Bendixsen (University of Helisinki), as well as the two organizers. Comments will be offered by our two discussants, Cati Coe (Rutgers University) and Kristin Yarris (University of Oregon). The geographical breadth and interdisciplinary perspectives on intergenerational relationships offered by the panel are designed to speak to scholars interested broadly in issues of care, kinship, and migration. We invite those interested in these topics to join us for what promises to be a fascinating conversation.



Session 4-0830: Care Across Borders: Intergenerational Care through Digital Technologies in Transnational Family Life

Friday, November 22, 2019, 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM. Location: Vancouver CC WEST, Room 118.

Globally, socioeconomic and political conditions have been compelling growing numbers of people to migrate, even as current regimes of (im)mobility constrain this movement. Increasingly, kin ties stretch across national borders, as families seek to adapt and develop new ways to ‘do family’ transnationally. In this reconfiguration, they mobilize information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones, smartphones and computers, to manage family relations at a distance. The papers in this panel explore the role of ICTs in transnational family life, investigating particularly how such technologies are involved in informal caring relations. Beyond asking how care is maintained and facilitated by ICTs, we examine how care practices themselves are transformed when they are produced through ICTs across distance. In addition, we explore how ICTs shape the forms of verbal and non-verbal communication that make cross-border care possible, even as we examine how transnational families strategically use different ICTs to enact particular forms of care.

Bringing together research on transnational families from a variety of regions, we take up life-course perspectives to explore the consequences of intergenerational care through ICTs. Several papers focus on elder care at a distance, highlighting how the involvement of ICTs in this domain can shift norms for family care. Baldassar and Wilding highlight the increasing involvement of young people in practices of digital kinning, while Ahlin describes how ICTs shift gendered care practices among transnational families from Kerala, South India. Other papers investigate the consequences of rapidly changing ICTs for intergenerational care across borders. Falconi traces shifting technologies of care within one transborder Zapotec family over the course of a decade. Similarly, Fouratt examines how the opening of the telecommunications sector in Costa Rica has allowed Nicaraguan migrants to communicate more readily with their families back home, sustaining intimacy in ways that become a resource when families must confront political instability. Arnold’s study with transnational

Salvadoran families shows that despite shifting ICTs, older technologies such as phone calls may still be preferred because of the particular forms of communication they afford. Finally, Nare and Bendixsen highlight how ICTs can become sources of control and threat for asylum seekers and irregular migrants, even as these technologies become increasingly crucial for sustaining relationships in cases of long-term separation.

Ultimately, this panel demonstrates how global inequalities become consequential for transnational family care as technologically mediated care at a distance brings these inequities into the intimate domain of everyday family life. At the same time, these papers highlight how ICTs are taken up as resources for care in ways that seek to produce resilient familial ties despite conditions of immense precarity. Through this conversation, we seek to learn from the efforts of transnational families to care across borders, asking what these everyday struggles can teach us about how to persist in work for justice in a changing world.

Organizers: Lynnette Arnold (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Tanja Ahlin (University of Amsterdam)


Digital Kinning and the role of intergenerational care support networks in ageing
Loretta Baldassar – University of West Australia, and Raelene Wilding (La Trobe University, Melbourne)

Becoming ‘good daughters’: Enacting gender through elder care practices in Syrian Christian transnational families from Kerala, South India
Tanja Ahlin – University of Amsterdam

Enacting Family Care Across Time and Space: A Case Study Examination of Zapotec Transborder Family Life
Elizabeth Falconi – University of West Georgia

Digital Solidarities: Cellphones, Transnational Families, and the Nicaraguan “Crisis”
Caitlin E. Fouratt – California State University, Long Beach

Producing Temporal Accountability through Cross-border Telephone Calls in Salvadoran Transnational Families
Lynnette Arnold – UMass Amherst

Ambivalent Digital Co-Presence – Asylum Seekers’ Transnational Care Practices and Well-Being
Lena Nare and Synnöve Bendixsen – University of Helsinki


Cati Coe (Rutgers University)

Kristin Yarris (University of Oregon)

Click here for a complete AALCIG guide to sessions on aging and the life course at #AAACASCA 2019 (html and downloadable pdf)