Digital Caretaking: Relationships in a Digital Feeding Tube Community

Authors: Sara Loftus*, West Virginia University
Topics: Gender
Keywords: Digital Caretaking, Infrastructures of Care, Digital Ethnography, COVID, family caregiving
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Scholars have critically examined how caretaking occurs within interdependent care networks that are reciprocal and constituted by particular socio-cultural and spatial experiences. Building on this scholarship, my work examines how family caregivers (re)create digital family support groups through their digital activities and relationships. The central hypothesis of this research is that digital spaces are important “places'' in family caretakers’ everyday geographies that are relationally shaped and maintained by the hosts and users’ digitally mediated activities across multiple spaces and times. My preliminary digital ethnography of an online feeding tube support group examines the role of both hosts and “users’” (both human and nonhuman) in maintaining and transforming these digital communities. This research unsettles taken-for-granted assumptions about caretaking by examining digital disability spaces that caretakers frequent during precarity and crisis (e.g. the ongoing COVID pandemic). Further, it contributes to feminist geographic and STS literatures on the ways supportive communities are created in digital spaces, examining participation, relationships, and temporality in less visible spaces like deep web groups within the context of interdependent relationships and networks. Within these digital networks, I expect to reveal complex relationships between humans and non-human actors that reflect broader social and cultural inequalities that perpetuate daily precarity, especially during COVID-19. This in turn informs how these spaces are used as places of resilience to counter negative social and structural forces for family caregivers by providing needed connections across time and space.

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