Abstract: A Virtual Ethnography on Kenyan Immigrant Women Living in the United States of America (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

376P A Virtual Ethnography on Kenyan Immigrant Women Living in the United States of America

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Evalyne Orwenyo, MSW, PhD Student, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Online communities have revolutionized the adaptation of immigrants and their interpersonal relationships.  Many Kenyan immigrant women residing in the U.S. are increasingly participating in online communities on social media platforms as a way of connecting with others and learning about how best to fit into American society.  Online communities have been instrumental in helping these immigrant women to adopt to a new life in the U.S. by facilitating access to information, development of meaningful connections, among others. In the current political environment of rising anti-immigrant sentiments, these immigrant women are using online communities to share and access information about protecting their rights and supporting people who are facing deportation.  In a large country like the U.S., it is logistically challenging for Kenyan immigrants to regularly meet. Thus, among Kenyan immigrant women, online communities have served as a substitute to face-to-face meetings and more importantly as a conduit to assist each other. Prior to this study, information about the role of online communities in the adaptation of Kenyan immigrant women has been mostly anecdotal - stories, testimonials and cautionary tales. Therefore, this study generates much needed knowledge on how Kenyan immigrant women have harnessed the power of online communities on social media to adapt to life in the U.S.


This research looks at how Kenya immigrant women use online communities as a conduit for adaptation to life in the U.S. This study was conducted using virtual ethnography technique of a highly interactive online community of over 11,000 members (Kenyan immigrant women) residing in the U.S. In this study, I treat the internet media as embedded in other social spaces since human stories have remained vivid, but, the ways have expressing them have changed. In fact, online behavior in present-day could be perceived to be more normative than face-to-face interaction. Virtual ethnography is the chosen mode of research because it is relatively unobtrusive (minimizing researcher reactivity) and exhibits a fair amount of interpretative flexibility hence revealing the complexity of daily social experiences.


Generally, online communities among Kenyan immigrant women seem to be viewed positively, as conduits for improvements of the lives of its members. However, some online community participants have reported suffering negative influences of cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, a false sense of connection, social media addiction and decreased productivity therefore feeling disempowered and marginalized, all of which affect their adaptation.


Further research needs to be conducted to better understand the mechanisms of online communities in the attainment of adaptation and positive acculturation for Kenyan immigrant women, a population for whom participation in online communities has become a permanent fixture in their daily reality. In a world where there is widespread human displacement and migration, it is vital for service providers such as governments, local authorities and social service agencies to better understand the adaptation strategies of immigrants’ populations and whether online communities could be a vehicle to achieve this end.