Abstract: Online Participation, Social Isolation, Biculturalism, and Empowerment: A Virtual Ethnography of Kenyan Diaspora Women Living in North America (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

415P Online Participation, Social Isolation, Biculturalism, and Empowerment: A Virtual Ethnography of Kenyan Diaspora Women Living in North America

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Evalyne Orwenyo, PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
N. Andrew Peterson, PhD, Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Allison Zippay, PhD
Antoinette Farmer, PhD, Professor, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ
Ousseina Alidou, PhD, Professor, Rutgers University, NJ
George Nyabuga, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Nairobi, Kenya
Background and Purpose

Online communities have become a part of life for many universal for people with access to the internet. African diasporans use online communities to create new relationships amongst themselves in host countries and engage with socioeconomic and political issues in their countries of origin. There is limited research showing how African diasporans harness online spaces to organize and empower themselves. This study bridges the gap by investigating how online participation influences acculturation, social isolation, and empowerment of Kenyan diaspora women residing in North America.


A virtual ethnography was conducted in two online communities on Facebook, a popular social media platform comprised of Kenyan diaspora women residing in Canada and the United States. We used a convergent, parallel mixed-methods approach to investigate whether and how online communities provided a pathway for reducing social isolation, attaining biculturalism, and exercising empowerment. In addition to observations of the virtual community, participants were recruited to complete survey questionnaires and in person qualitative interviews. Quantitative research questions tested the hypothesized relationships between online participation, biculturalism, empowerment, opportunity role structure, sense of community, and social isolation. Qualitative research questions explored participants’ perceptions of the relationships among these variables. A postcolonial theoretical framework, among others, was applied to contest the generalizations of African immigrant women, valorize their unique cultural identity, and demonstrate the expanded notions of civic participation. Quantitative data were collected using validated modified scales (n=287) and analyzed using path analysis. Qualitative data were collected using systematic observations (n=approx. 18,000) and semi-structured interviews (n=39) and analyzed using discourse analysis and thematic analysis, respectively.


The hypothesized model was found to provide a good fit to the data X2 (4) = 5.42, p = .25; CFI = .997; NFI = .987; TLI = .987; RMSEA = .035. Findings from systematic observations indicated that salient topics in online interactions included acculturation, managing relationships, social support, among others. Findings from semi-structured interviews revealed descriptive categories and themes such as varied motivations for joining the online community, empowerment, benefits, and drawbacks of online participation.

Conclusions and Implications

Overall, the results from the qualitative and quantitative analyses were consistent. Findings supported existing theories of empowerment, sense of community, and opportunity role structure but indicated the need to redefine acculturation theory. Overall, participants’ acknowledgment of their social isolation predicted biculturalism, empowerment, and a sense of community. Online participation and opportunity role structure mediated the relationship between social isolation and biculturalism, empowerment, and sense of community. Despite apparent social inequities, participants perceived online communities as serving a utilitarian role in countering perceived social isolation, increasing access to information, and as a source of emotional support. The online communities demonstrated the heterogeneity of Kenyan diaspora women whose complexity cannot be reduced to generalized simplifications. Future research should focus on collaborating with online participants in digital activism towards racial and social justice mainly because movements such as Black Lives Matter (#BLM) gained momentum in online platforms.