Migrant Belongings

Larissa Hjorth

Abstract: Digital Kinship – Understanding familial care at a distance

During the pandemic many elements of our life were recalibrated through the digital. As we have argued through the notion of digital kinship (Hjorth et al. 2020), digital media practices are about a process of continuity rather than disruption to everyday rhythms. In our cross-cultural and intergenerational fieldwork in Tokyo, Shanghai and Melbourne spanning four years, we found how families and intimates could use data ambiently to keep a ‘friendly’ eye on each other. Sometimes, these tacit forms of ritual and care moved ambiently from the background to the foreground in everyday life. These practices demonstrated complex ways in which care at a distance (Pols 2009) can play out a across digital, social and material worlds.

In this talk I will reflect upon a few vignettes from fieldwork to pose some questions around intergenerational informal care within digital media practices, especially when distance is involved. While much of this fieldwork was conducted prior to the pandemic, the learnings could provide insights into more nuanced notions of care through digital kinship moving forward. Understanding the quotidian and mundane forms of intergenerational digital literacy can provide insight into care as a complex way of knowing the world that is both intimate and at a distance.


Distinguished Professor Larissa Hjorth is a digital ethnographer, socially-engaged artist, and director of the Design & Creative Practice (DCP) research platform at RMIT University, Melbourne. Hjorth has two decades experience leading interdisciplinary and collaborative digital and mobile media projects that innovative methods to understand intergenerational relationships. She has lead 20 national and international research projects in locations such as Japan, South Korea, China and Australia. Hjorth has also worked extensively how mobile media is used for grief, loss and recovery including the Fukushima disaster of 2011. Hjorth has published over 100 publications on the topic—recent publications include Haunting Hands (with Cumiskey, Oxford Uni Press), Understanding Social Media (with Hinton, 2nd Edition, Sage), Creative Practice Ethnographies (with Harris, Jungnickel and Coombs, Rowman & Little) and Ambient Play (with Richardson, MIT Press). Read more.