Jane Fernandez Edited by

Jane Fernandez Edited by
Edited by
Jane Fernandez
Critical and Inter-Disciplinary Perspectives
At the Interface
Series Editors
Dr Robert Fisher
Dr Nancy Billias
Advisory Board
Dr Alejandro Cervantes-Carson
Professor Margaret Chatterjee
Dr Wayne Cristaudo
Mira Crouch
Dr Phil Fitzsimmons
Professor Asa Kasher
Owen Kelly
Martin McGoldrick
Revd Stephen Morris
Professor John Parry
Paul Reynolds
Professor Peter Twohig
Professor S Ram Vemuri
Revd Dr Kenneth Wilson, O.B.E
An At the Interface research and publications project.
The Diversity and Recognition Hub
Critical and Inter-Disciplinary Perspectives
Edited by
Jane Fernandez
Inter-Disciplinary Press
Oxford, United Kingdom
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First published in the United Kingdom in electronic format in 2009. First
Table of Contents
Jane Fernandez
Section I: Diaspora/Diaspora/Diasporas
Framing the Diaspora: The Politics of Identity and Belonging
Jane Fernandez
Politics of ‘Diasporization’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Olivier Ferrando
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
Andy Byford
The Russendisko and Music from and of the Post-Soviet
David-Emil Wickström
Are National Minorities of the Former USSR becoming
New Diasporas? The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
Yves-Marie Davenel
Measuring Diasporic Identities A Survey on Foreign Students
Attending the University of Pisa
Gabriele Tomei
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese: From
Alienation to an Alternative Way of Life
Jia Gao
Diversity within Chinese Diaspora: Old and New Huaqiao
Residents in South Korea
Young Ju Rhee
A Diaspora of Descendants? Contemporary Caledonian
Society Members in Melbourne, Australia – A Case Study
Kim Sullivan
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism: Epistemological
Tensions in Diasporic Filipino Activism
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
Section II: Home and Heimat
Identity, Social Roots and Empowerment: A Study of the Low
Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
Ghan Shyam
Migration, Settlement and Identity: A Cultural Theme of the
Muslim Diaspora after Partition of India-1947
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland: Israel and
Pakistan Compared
Theodore P. Wright, Jr
Palestinian Diaspora goes Global through American-Palestinian
Wesam Al-Assadi
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue: The Case of Africans and
Europeans in London
Ursula Troche
The Formation of Stereotypes about the Cuisine of the
Armenian Diaspora among Armenians who live in Armenia
Evgenia Guliaeva
My Red, Gold and Green Bindi: The Semiotics of Identity,
Authenticity and Ownership in Multicultural Canada
Naki Osutei
Section III: Diaspora - Performances and the Imaginary
Border-crossing Witnesses: Life Narrative as Testimony in the
Tibetan Diaspora
Julie Fletcher
Securing Justice for Economic Refugees through Unionization
Mitch Avila and Edgar M. Medina
Justice and Immigration: Are Constraints Unjustifiable? A
Global Luck Egalitarian Account
Orsolya Reich
Returning to the Diaspora: Israeli Women Living in the UK –
Challenges to Identity and Psychological Implications
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
Integration through Education: Muslims of the United States
of America
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
A Commercial Identity? The Antipodean Image in London
Robert Crawford
Points of Entanglement:The Overdetermination of German
Space and Identity in Walk on Water
Nicholas Baer
The Return Home Through The (Magic) Film Image
José Manuel Mouriño
Labour Migration in CIS-countries: Tendencies, Formation of
Diasporas and Impact Development
Sergey Ryazantsev
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora: Institutional
And Policy Dynamics
Jack Mangala
Researching the Irish Diaspora: From Concept to Political
Breda Gray
For patience, help and support, I wish to thank my husband,
Stephen Goldborough.
Special thanks also to Rob Fisher and Ram Vemuri for
organising the “Diaspora: Critical Issues” Conference
which gave us a critical thinking space for the issues
discussed in this book.
The Conference Diasporas: Critical Issues at Mansfield College,
Oxford from July 5th -8th 2008 provided a thinking-space for those of us
invariably interested in, or who work with, issues and concepts of the
diaspora/s. The conference signposted several themes which drew scholars
and practitioners from a cross-section of disciplines across the globe. The
wide range of topics offered a broad scope for engagement with issues
pertaining to what has become one of the most contestable concepts of our
times: diaspora/s.
In “The Diasporic Imaginary and the Indian Diaspora”, Vijay
Mishra defines “Diasporas as people who would want to explore the meaning
of the hyphen, but perhaps not press the hyphen too far for fear that this
would lead to massive communal schizophrenia”1. I want to raise the
restrained hyphen here as an entry point into this discussion of diaspora. If
the hyphen can be regarded as an “elliptical” sign that waits to be discovered
and interpreted, it stands also, in the process of our interpreting,
paradoxically empty and full. If its meaning resists definition, it is also a
holding place that both marks and suppresses our anxieties, enabling our
hesitation and reluctance and even inability to pursue or unpack the largely
fluid spheres of engagement/ influence that we are forced to contend with,
using Rey Chow’s metaphor, as “passengers-in-transit”.
More importantly, the hyphen in subverting its own function, i.e. its
purpose (supposedly) to bring two polarised identities (debatable of course)
into a meaningful whole suggests that splits and fragmentation, breaches in
diasporic identities is the character of diaspora. Indeed, Sudesh Mishra
reminds us that the hyphen is also a “sign of rupture.”2 Accordingly the
qualification regarding the definition of diaspora is not merely a matter of
semantics but a motivator/initiator/measure of diaspora.
Several trajectories of the many concepts of diasporas have emerged
over the last decade and its impact, its multiple and fractious framings and its
attendant issues have come to enable and influence almost every field of
study. Perhaps the most significant survey of diaspora criticism to date is
Sudesh Mishra’s recent work, Diaspora Criticism (2006), a work to which I
am indebted for this introduction and which is cited in Breda Gray’s essay. I
wish to employ aspects of Mishra’s catalogue of diaspora criticism as a backdrop for this introduction. My positioning Breda Gray’s essay at the close of
this publication is to return us to the significant patterns in diaspora criticism
as well as to highlight the future pathways Gray’s essay anticipates. A good
place to start would be to keep in mind that the interest in diaspora as a
discipline goes back several decades. Mishra cites John Armstrong’s (1976)
“prototypical description of diaspora as ‘any [minority] ethnic collectivity
which lacks a territorial base within a given polity.”3 He charts how this
broad generic base for the description of diaspora was broken by the Sheffer
School of the 1980’s whose emphasis on “tran-state networks” (rather than
“intra-national or policy-based approach” to the subject of ethnic minorities)
marks a significant “‘break’ in methodology [with] earlier studies [...]”.4
While, the emphasis on homeland and hostland relationships underlies
Sheffer’s “complex triadic networks”, Mishra argues that Sheffer’s focus on
“ ‘trans-state networks’ distinguished by complex ethnic ties and solidarities
[..] “ is what made diaspora criticism “visible”, identifiable as a “new type of
social species”, converting into what is now commonly known as “modern
diaspora.”5 The focus on what Mishra calls “territorial binarisms”, reliant on
“three apparently stable entities – a homeland, a hostland and an ethnically
unified diaspora” (with varying qualifications) emerge as the focal point of
these early discussions of diasporas. If Sheffer constructs the diaspora in
terms of a “complex triadic relationship between ethnic diasporas, their host
countries and homelands”, he configures these networks as essentially
“conflictual or cooperative” measured against “the capability of diasporas to
mobilise in order to promote or defend their interests or the interests of their
homelands within their host countries [...].”6This early criticism has provided
a basis for the continuing and vigorous critique of diaspora since. Whatever
its limitations, we cannot deny how central it has been in providing us with a
typology and a specific language for appraising, critiquing and qualifying this
“social phenomenon.”7
William Safran’s role as a significant player in extending the
diaspora debates is well noted in diaspora studies. Critiquing the Sheffer
school, Safran attempts to tighten the early definitions of diaspora which he
regarded as “too flexible”, as “lack[ing] specificity and [thus] open to
metaphoric substitution.”8 Safran’s six-fold taxonomy has been cited and
worked over by scholars over the last decade or so. For Safran, the “concept
of diaspora [should be] applied to expatriate minority communities”. While
the elements of dispersal, centre-periphery which underlie Safran’s
definition, reconceptualise the old “territorial binarisms.” Safran’s significant
qualifications streamline the field to endorse diaspora largely as relational
and measuring affective ties to the homeland. In a more recent work, Safran
affirms that the Jewish diaspora
continues to be used as a prototype because it combines
such features as ethnicity, religion, minority status, a
consciousness of peoplehood, a long history of migration,
expulsion, adaptation to a variety of hostlands whose
welcome was conditional and unreliable, and a continuing
orientation to a homeland and to a narrative and
ethnosymbols related to it9.
Jane Fernandez
Safran’s definition assumes a significant characteristic of diaspora
as the minority community’s “partly-alienated” attitudes to the host-country
against the back-drop of their enduring loyalties both materially and
emotionally to the “ancestral homeland”. Accordingly, Safran’s definition
identifies diaspora through the diasporic community’s engagement
“vicariously, to the homeland in one way or another.”10
Safran’s focus on the “diasporic entities” extricates diaspora from
other “social formations” as well as marks the shift away from the managing
role of the homelands to the diaspora [diasporic entities] itself. This shift
“encourages the ascription of the diaspora [as] a self-nominating agency” or
as endowed with a “collective will-to-self definition.”11 Mishra points out
that “if the category of diaspora is internal to the consciousness of dispersed
minorities [...], then it is possible to give short shrift to a whole host of extrasubjective factors, both ‘here’(hostland) and ‘there’(homeland)”. The
problem as Mishra cites is that “diasporic consciousness” emerges as “the
active component framed between two relatively passive territories.”12
Further, if Safran’s taxonomy tightens earlier definitions of diaspora, it falls
into a new trap, that of excluding groups that lie outside of its taxonomy.
Diaspora then is measured against a “conformist/non-conformist” paradigm,
creating illusions of authenticity and enabling a hierarchical structure of the
diaspora flouting idealist notions of the classical or ideal diaspora, in this
case, based on Safran’s view of the traditional Jewish model.13
Robin Cohen(1997), influenced by scholars such as Hall and Gilroy,
shifts away from “the macro(homeland/nation-state) to the micro-local”
overturns earlier attempts to “institute a discrete homeland-hostland
dichotomy” and argues against Safran’s “ideal” diaspora, citing the fact that
the “Jewish case offers several, sometimes contradictory, forms of
dispersion.”14 Mishra asserts that Cohen’s own classificatory ideal, one based
on “a quintet of ethnically neutral categories: victim, labour, trade, imperial
and cultural” merely replace Safran’s ideal. Of particular note, is Mishra’s
point that up to this point, the definition of diaspora has been represented as
“class-neutral, gender-neutral and generational-neutral ethnic blocs that
uncritically project home and host countries as homogeneous territorial
The next phase of diaspora criticism moves more dramatically away
from the territorial binaries, collapsing “homeland-hostland dichotomies” and
in the process cautions against any “homogenising tendencies” and seeks to
privilege subjective, “provisional” and discursive formations16. This phase is
one which is distinctive by its contemporary and late-modern and postmodern
theorizations. The Conference Diasporas: Critical Issues was profiled within
this paradigm. The themes of the Conference and the Call for Papers clearly
outlined both the anxieties of diasporas as well as the marked gaps and shifts
that could be anticipated within this seemingly complex and contentious
project. Besides the formal presentations, the value of the dialogue and
discussions that emanated as a result of the presentations was both
illuminating and provocative. Almost all essays presented at the Conference
expressed a wary concern for the limitations of the term diaspora and
cautioned against homogenizing tendencies. Engagement with phrases like
old diaspora, new diaspora, historical diaspora, classical, transnational,
transcultural, economic diaspora were hailed as moderately efficient but
limiting markers for the permutations of the many diasporas in current
critical discourse and practice. Further, several presentations acknowledge
directly or indirectly, or as a sub-text, the difficulties of locking the diaspora
into any one part of speech which in turn reinforces the fluid notions and
multiple functions of the term diaspora.
These attempts seem to articulate the rhizomic nature of diaspora.
The diaspora is embedded in, as well as, generates into/through several
intersecting roots. Accordingly, the interplay of concepts of diaspora with
concepts of home and its critical use make up the bulk of the first two
chapters of this publication. The concerns of critics regarding the
interchangeability of the term “diaspora” in its functions: suggesting
sometimes a process, a condition, a state, a space, a concept, an effect, a
model, the interplay of dramatic and economic modes, informed many of the
formal and informal discussions at the conference. These concerns highlight
the real and imaginary impulses and motivations of the diaspora/s. The many
references in this conference to players, performance, playing, acting, actors
suggest that the diaspora functions among other things as theatre, both in its
enabling performance and witnessing capacities as well as in its imaginative
fabric and imaginary positioning; revealing the action and occluding the
actor/acting at the same time. The implications of diaspora as a mega-drama
of human mobility, whose visual/literary/theatrical capacity has implications
for both artists/players and ‘spectators’ suggests that extending the scope for
the aesthetic engagement with this field can provide much critical as well as
cathartic value for this field.
Braziel and Mannur point out that the term “diaspora” “has been
critiqued as being theoretically celebrated, while methodologically indistinct
and ahistorical.”17 It is hoped that this volume of conference proceedings
address and moderate this criticism. I have attempted to provide a reader that
brings together the conference proceedings through a framework based on
Derek Walcott’s idea of bricolage, offering the essays here as fragments
whose interplay of meanings and value will develop and change as the
fragments are shifted. Indeed, Sudesh Mishra suggests that “the new
sociology of diaspora will have to focus on [...] bricolage.”18 The variety of
ideas in this book rest often independent of each other and yet offer subtle, if
somewhat restrained associations of inter-relationships. This book is an
attempt to organise the multifarious viewpoints that energized the debates
Jane Fernandez
that ranged during the Conference in a framework that may make some of the
issues of the diaspora, as presented here, more easily accessible and readable.
The logic of the networking of ideas here are based around the key element
of the conference which was to raise critical issues with regard to the
diaspora as a talking points to stimulate research as well as establish the gaps
and investigate the nexus necessary between theory and practice.
It would be helpful to bear in mind that the catalogue of essays here
reflects the inter-disciplinary focus of the conference. Accordingly, the
specimens, ideas, theories, methodology, symbols, abstractions and language
registers, to name a few characteristics, are unique to specific discipline. In
terms of a dialogue with diaspora-related critical issues, the range of essays
here reflects a coherent if somewhat restrained unity. I have sought to
appropriate the title of the Conference to mark this publication of its
proceedings so as to preserve the rationale which informed the scholarship of
the Conference. A quick summary of these critical issues which emerge from
the collation of essays in this volume would include the following: a)
definitions of the diaspora b) the myths, politics, initiatives, collaboration,
ruptures and disjunctures of homeland and hostland formations c) the
reconfigurations of temporal space, national/transnational identity and
citizenship and the responsibilities of governments and agencies towards
displaced minorities: in particular, the role of and responsibilities to
economic refugees d) the aesthetic treatment of diaspora, rewriting
configurations of space and home, narrativizing diaspora, witnessing role and
agency issues, eliciting and critiquing the “gaze” of the
The section breaks in this book are marked by three divisions.
Section I: Diaspora/Diaspora/Diasporas, deals with the fluidity, the
extensions and reconfigurations of the term diaspora. Section II: Home and
Heimat deals with the limitations and conceptualizations of home. Section
III: Diaspora - Performances and the Imaginary deals with the imagined
worlds through which issues of the diaspora are transacted in a global
context. Each of the sections is by no means conclusive. Rather the sections
are meant as rhizomic frames interfacing both ways and anticipating further
dialogue in multiple directions and across intersecting boundaries.
Section I: Diaspora/Diaspora/Diasporas
Section I attempts to frame the diaspora by unframing it. By this I
mean that the diaspora can only be managed meaningfully if we understand
that it is in itself an open-source and that any attempt to limit its scope or its
definition transgresses the boundaries of both its conceptual and
epistemological framing. Diaspora is derived from the idea of a scattering of
seeds. As such the concept must be allowed to take root, transplant, crossfertilize, rather than fossilize. The essays in this section raise the issue of the
difficulties of treating the diaspora as a bonded term, its limitations
conceptually and its necessary open-endedness. The aim of this section is to
open up and leave open the scope for enquiry into the definitions of
My preceding argument anticipates the rationale for this section in
dealing with the limitations of the term. Should the diaspora return to the old
frames of identity-formations, creating ghettos of the homeland in host
countries, preserving romantic illusions of home and myths of return? How
can the diaspora authenticate fluid notions of identity and multiple framings
of the self/nation which it represents? This section problematizes neat
categorizations of identity as well as de-sacralizes notions of the homeland as
static or bounded. The veneration of the homeland as a sacred space is an
aspect of the imaginary we carry and sustain within the diaspora. But the
danger lies in our losing ourselves in our own myths and making a monument
of the “ruins of [our] history”. If it is necessary for us to associate with
memories of our past and our histories, it is equally important to recognize
that the ability/freedom to disconnect with our visages of homeland,
especially in the light of the traumatic histories of some of the diasporas, is
significant and necessary for a moving on to engage and establish a new
sense of place and home. It is not my intention to suggest that we should not
look back to recognize the historical contexts and formations of our past but
rather that we can associate with the past without necessarily connecting to it.
Connection implies a degree of fixated attachment which runs the risk of
what Vijay Mishra calls “reactionary thinking”, “fascist rememorations” and
“ethnic absolutism.”19
Further, this section meets the call for scholars to locate diaspora
studies within specific historical contexts, to make it methodologically
critical and relevant. The several essays in this Section qualify definitions of
the diaspora through the study of diasporas from different “points of
departure”, namely the USSR and China. The essays presented demonstrated
the specificities of diasporas and the ethno-national/ transnational
particularities/ imaginaries of communities defined through their interactions
and performances.
The several essays focusing on the Russian diaspora mark the
impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and register the unique
characteristics and disjunctures of the Russian diaspora. Ferrando, Byford
and Davenel trace how this epic event marks Russia’s entry into the politics
and anxieties of identity formations. Ferrando cites the case of Central Asia
where the mere shifting of “borders across settlements” left “five million
indigenous people [...] on the wrong side of the border”. Given the range of
minority groups within this diaspora alone, Ferrando cautions against
defining the diaspora through “archetypal traits” but rather calls for a focus
on the “diasporic relationship” of the stakeholders. Of special note is
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Ferrando’s distinction between “several levels of ‘diasporization’ from mere
diaspora rhetoric to pan-ethnic gatherings, bilateral agreements and
eventually overt repatriation policies.”
Similarly, Byford cites how the “expansion of the Russian speaking
post-Soviet diaspora across the Western world” has changed the character of
several European nations. Indeed, what constitutes “Russianness”? Byford
argues that to different degrees, ‘Russianness” can be applied to both those
whose mother tongue is Russian and to those somehow involved in the
administrative and business affairs of the former empire, although he warns
that the “Russian language” should never be regarded as “a marker of the
cultural unity of the ‘diaspora’. A case in point is Wickstrom’s discussion of
the Russendisko, “one of the most visible and audible events run by PostSoviet migrants in Germany”. Wickstrom employs the Russendisko to
“critique the homogenization” of Russians living in Germany. He argues that
the “ethnic categories” such as “ethnic German and Jewish” are imaginaries
imposed by the host country, “linked to” the political stakes of different
institutions, but “void of meaning in the Soviet Union”. Wickstrom proposes
that the emphasis on “target groups” as either “Russian-speaking” or “nonRussian speaking” might ease some of these concerns.
Expanding further on the limitations of the term, Yves-Marie
Davenel argues that the term “diaspora” fails as a critique of a migratory
phenomenon as unique as that of the USSR. Citing Nurbulat Masanov,
Davenel argues that Kazakhstan is a case in point, which fails to meet
scientific definitions of the diaspora and indeed that “no one of the hundred
national minorities of the country can be called a diaspora”. Davenel argues
that the definition of diaspora applied to a community like the Tatars of
Kazakhstan is mere political economy. The “political stakes” then define and
determine the “mobilization of the term” and its use and non-use, becomes a
tool managed by a series of different players at a given time, in a given
context. Accordingly, Byford calls for the definition of diaspora to be
expanded to incorporate “networks of exchange, performances of
community, and discourses of identity”. More importantly, diaspora must be
studied as “an effect of (inter)actions and as a tool of (political, economic and
cultural) mobilisation. Of significance is Byford’s observation that the value
of the diaspora as a “site of cultural exchange” must qualify if/how “this
interaction” strengthens “essentialising and romanticing” both homeland and
Gabriele Tomei’s qualification of transnational diaspora is
significant here in his critiques of conservative methods of measuring
transnational communities. Tomei argues that such measures “underestimate
the more expressive, daily and informal side of the equation” and calls for
particular attention to, besides “social capital”, the “co-development
orientation” of a community, that is “the way in which migrants act in the
present on the basis of the future engagement for developing the community
of origin.”
Whereas the Russian diaspora was the result of a dramatic political
upheaval which marked the collapse of the USSR, the same cannot be said of
China, though both nations, together with India, emerge as gigantic points of
departure for the diaspora. Whereas conflict and exile, as deep traumatic
fissures, mark the former, the latter is characterized by elements of
voluntariness and “alienation”. Jia Gao determines that the character of the
Chinese diaspora falls outside the traditional model of diaspora because it
does not arise out of a historical narrative of violent expulsion or dispersion.
Gao argues that “Chinese diasporas cannot be considered to be unified” and
that it would be more accurate to regard Chinese diasporas as a “series of
physical and geographical diasporas”. Gao proposes that, in the context of the
Chinese diaspora, where force is not a mover in the diaspora stakes, and
where “push-pull” factors are irrelevant, that “alienation” from the homeland
should “replace the element of force” in the constitution of diaspora. Further,
that the term “alienation” given its broad connotations and use in several
currencies needs to be qualified specifically in relation to the diaspora. If the
Chinese diaspora evolved over a significant length of time and in varying
degrees in response to economic pressures, voluntary migration and the
“demand for labour and capital by transnational capitalism”, Elaine Tay
argues that the Chinese diaspora “can be said to illustrate the
reconceptualisation of diaspora described by Tölölyan who argues that ‘A
diaspora is never merely an accident of birth [but] defined by ‘being’ and
The several essays in this section contest customary notions of
belonging, moving away from ethnic and national registers, and in the case of
Young Ju Rhee’s study of the Old and New Huaqiao Residents in South
Korea challenging the “conception of citizenship” as merely “a relation
between the individual and the state”. The practice of a “neo-liberal view of
citizenship” is evident in “the strategies and effects of professionals seeking
to both circumvent and benefit from nation-state regimes by selecting
different sites for investments, work and family relocation.” Emerging
concepts of “flexible citizenship” and “maximal rights-based residents” is
changing the debates on citizenship issues. All these essays call for a reevaluation of restrictive labels and identifications of belonging and value
“multiple belongings” and “ethnically inclusive” models.
Kim Sullivan argues that all the attempts to qualify the definitions of
diaspora against its classical framing and more recently in its “more neutral
understanding of the word ‘diaspora’ fails to ask what place the diaspora
holds for ‘self-identifying diasporic descendants’. Sullivan uses the Royal
Caledonian Society of Melbourne as a case in point which test the limits of
the definition of diaspora in the context of “surrogate” homelands. This test-
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case measures the disjuncture between “remembered” and “imagined”
homelands. Arguing that the Caledonian Society “has survived intact” in
Australia despite the fact that its homeland roots with Britain and Scotland
are for many merely superficial, Sullivan asks if “a self-driven, and
emotionally-derived claim to diasporic identity, however sincere, [is]
sufficient to warrant the inclusion of the descendant within the definitional
parameters of the term ‘diaspora’”. That is a question that anticipates future
pathways for diaspora studies.
Finally, Marco Cuevas-Hewitt’s essay absorbs several elements of
the issues raised in the foregoing essays as well as anticipates the harrowing
attempts to define “home” against the realities of transnationalism. CuevasHewitt’s focus on transnational social movements demonstrate the modes and
role of “political activism” in reconfiguring notions of identity in response to
the ideological shift from modernity to postmodernity. Citing Rocamora,
Cuevas-Hewitt argues that conceptions of culture have broken the territorial
and nationalistic moulds that contained them and that today the character of
Filipino identity is defined extra-territorially. Cuevas-Hewitt’s definition of
diaspora as “a network, composed of innumerable singularities” provides a
broad template for the diaspora which enables and envisions new forms of
belonging which converts “outside” into “inside” so that under the umbrella
of a “diasporic cosmopolitanism” multiple belongings, diasporic subjectivity
and even exile may be valued.
Section II: Home and Heimat
Section II entitled Home and Heimat links the framework of the
previous chapter in defining diaspora to its ancillary search for what
constitutes “home”. “Roots and Routes” have become conventional and
archetypal pathways for the framing of home and identities in the diaspora.
While the idea of home is never neat if we measured it against the history of
colonization and dispossession, its resonance against the back-drop of the
diaspora is complicated further by the multiple strata’s of displacement and
conceptualizations of home that have emerged over recent decades. Issues of
race and identity complicate further the trajectories of positioning home to
extricate it from mere spatial configurations. If the question of diaspora is
contentious, the question of what is home has been equally slippery and
paradoxical. The range of responses to the question of ‘home’ has left all and
sundry homeless! Accordingly “homelessness” has become the somewhat
celebrated space of the diaspora!
In the Beckettian sense, the diaspora embodies a continuing deferral
of home. In the Girardian sense, the triadic home-host-diaspora configuration
leaves us in a perpetual quandary in a triangulated play of desire that seeks
not resolution but irresolution. Home, then is never enough as we measure it
against the plenitude we project on the unpossessable Other! This is a danger
that we court within our contestations and configurations of home in the
diaspora. And one route we have embraced to avoid such a pitfall has been
the rhizomic nature of diaspora.
Arising out of the structure of the rhizome are relevant questions
about fluid identities and cultural interfacing. Simply put, we could ask, why
should we not evolve through the diaspora into more fluid and integrative
communities that embrace difference and disjunctures. The conundrum of
host-country is its framed ascription within the semantics of hospitality. Its
role, supposedly, is unrelentingly pseudo-parental! My question is, how long
should we speak of the “host-country” as “host”? Are diasporas always
condemned to be guests in the homes they are transplanted within? Is it
possible to be at home and homeless, to be at home in multiple contexts, to
think of home globally rather than locally, to choose home rather than locate
home! Indeed, why should not the host-country become home.
I have chosen for this section the title “Heimat” inspired by
Alexandra Ludewig’s essay “Home Meets Heimat”. Ludewig argues that
whereas the German word “heimat’ is often used synonymously with
“home”‘ its use has been tentative and apologetic “outside the German
speaking community, owing to its specific cultural baggage”. Ludewig
argues that given among other things the politicising of home and
reconfigurations of diaspora, “home has experienced a semantic shift, which
aligns it more closely with heimat, a term imbued with the ambivalence of
home and homeland intertwined.”20 Given the shift in current scholarship
with regard concepts of “home”, from “idyllic sphere of belonging “ to
“attachment to that of a threatened space”, the “geographical understanding
of home is increasingly taking second place to an emotional imaginary
[...].”21. My purpose in introducing this chapter under such a heading is to
reinforce this concept of home not just as an imagined and mythical space of
belonging but also as a relationship with a “threatened space”.
Citing the film Casablanca, Vijay Mishra argues that “hidden from
the film’s diegesis, is that diasporas have a progressivist as well as a
reactionary streak in them. Both forms of this “streak” centre on the idea of
one’s “homeland” as very real spaces from which alone a certain level of
redemption is possible”.
For Vijay Mishra, the articulation of diaspora involves the surplus
value that is attached to the homeland: “Homeland is the desh (in Hindi)
against which all the other lands are foreign or videsh”.
When not presented in this “real” sense, homeland exists as
an absence that acquires surplus meaning by the fact of
diaspora so that Sikhs in Vancouver and Sri Lankan Tamils
in Toronto clamour for a homeland (Khalistan, Tamil
Eelam) or, in some quarters, Muslims seek a pan-Islamic
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utopia in the European heartland.”22This constitution of the
“desh” carries also hidden sub-texts which fall into the gaps
of the hyphenated identities and of the resistance to
“videsh” and the so-called foreign worlds.
One of these sub-texts in the Indian contexts involves the fear of
pollution, characterized through traditional notions of caste. Identity
formations within the diaspora have to contend then not only with the
romantic notions of a homeland whose value is exaggerated by its loss or
absence but also carry, manage, translate, circumvent or convert the “social
baggage” of the homeland. Related to caste are other fears of contamination,
characterized through religious prejudices and taboos against migration. Both
Shyam and Zahoor raise the point about the cultural taboos, of crossing the
Kala Pani (black water/sea) in the case of India and confronting “muhajir”
(migration) issues in the case of Muslims in Pakistan. Both essays
demonstrate how the imaginaries of the homeland cut across the diaspora.
Shyam’s essay deals with the mobility of ideas of caste from India to the
West Indies, their subversion and reconstitution and measures the difference
between the more dynamic changes in India and the less conservative
changes in the West Indies in the light of “post-Independent India” which has
seen “lower castes [...] [emerge] as important actors in Indian electoral
politics”. Shyam questions the extent to which the homeland can enable a
“flow on” of this positive shift to the West Indies.
A point of interest that extends from Zahoor’s essay involves the
question of where the diaspora starts and the homeland stops in the case of
Pakistan-Indian relations. To what extent is Partition still an artificial line to
people on both sides of the divide? What pockets of resistance continue to
baulk at the legacies of Partition and the semantics of diaspora in relation to a
homeland that constitutes also a diaspora? If psychologically, for some, the
division is artificial, it makes obsolete any attempt to assert a hierarchical
relationship between India/Pakistan or homeland/homeland-diaspora. This is
further complicated in the case of Pakistan with the “imaginary divide” of
Partition which rather than resolve, complicates our definitions of the
diaspora, which in this case for some, is diaspora-homeland. Further the deep
and unresolved trauma of dispossession in the Indian context is registered
through the imaginaries of “pure” cultures which some communities seek to
maintain through ostracism. A case in point is the example of Punjab. Zahoor
argues that the semantics of diaspora has become a template for exclusion
and division in Punjab where inter-marriages are frowned upon not on the
traditional basis of religion and ethnicity but on the identification with
muhajir or migration. The fear of migratory in-flows into the community
suggests that the politics of muhajir conceal deep-seated rivalries locking
with fantasies that must be named.
Against this background, Theodore Wright’s essay provides some
useful discriminators. Wright’s essay fills a noticeable gap in diaspora studies
in the neglect of the nature and impact of diasporas “whose emigrations have
been reversed by return to its claimed homeland.” Wright cites, as examples,
the case of Zionist Jews to Palestine since 1882 and the more recent
Muhajirin to Pakistan. Whereas scholars have generally regarded the “return”
of diaspora as a myth, since return has been generally regarded as symbolic
(i.e. if measured through remittances and nostalgia), Wright examines,
through a comparison of Zionist Jews and Indian Muslims, the role of
religious factors determining the push-pull motivated return of these groups
to their homelands.
Picking up on Wright’s theme of the “return”, I wish to note at this
juncture Wesam Al-Assadi critique of the recent shift in the literature of the
Palestinian Diaspora, namely the significance of Palestinian-American
Anglophone literature and its themes of “identity and return”. Of particular
value is Al-Assadi’s critique of “return”. Citing Lisa Majaj who argues that
return “is not simply going back; it is also to go forward; to create a new
future from the fragments of a reclaimed past” Al-Assadi explores the work
of several writers, notably, Said’s Out of Place which endorses the notion of
identity as a “cluster of flowing currents”; “requir[ing] no reconciling and no
harmonizing. They are [...] out of place, but [...] always in motion.” AlAssadi explores how the “unrealized” nation-state of Palestine acts as a
“cipher” and how through this “imaginary” ideal, concepts of identity are
negotiated. Al-Assadi concludes that through the diaspora, Palestine is “in
constant transit”.
Accordingly, these examples invite us to consider some of the ways
in which the splitting of home is negotiated and transcribed. The scope for
psychoanalytical readings of home and diaspora would serve well in this
instance especially in the light of Kleinan understandings of “phantasy” as
opposed to fantasy. Given that “mothers play a central role to symbolic
formation,” we could well ask, what implications this has on “(o)ur
attachment to the nation” or homeland. “For if the mother produces and
characterizes the nation, then all that is embodied in her phantasmatic role
must also belong to the nation.”23
Home then is the interfacing of historical and mental spaces with our
emotional and psychological needs and fantasies as well as phantasies in the
Kleinan sense. In this regard, home is the desire to retrieve sacralised space
and underlying this is the fear of polluted and contaminated spaces. It is this
tension between the desire for “sacred” space and the fear of pollution and
contamination that home is negotiated within and through the diaspora.
Another element of this is recent interest in studies of race and ethnicity. John
Solomos writes:
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From a historical perspective it is clear that part of the
power of racism lies in the way in which racist ideologies
operate by constructing impassable symbolic boundaries
between racially constituted, or racialized categories. [...] A
principal means of accomplishing this is to perceive the self
as carried in the genes rather than as transmitted via
culture, as distilled through what appears to us most
‘natural’ and immediate: the body. Corporeal properties,
and most fetishistically, skin colour, thus come to furnish
an ‘epidermal schema’ not only for anchoring difference
but for distinguishing the pure from the impure, the
included from the excluded. [...] Racial and ethnic groups,
like nations, are imagined communities.24
It is against this notion of nations as “imagined communities” that I
present Urusula Troche’s essay which calls for a renewed European-African
dialogue. This essay is a response to recent scholarship which calls for a
critique of concepts of race and identity as “intrinsically political resources”.
I cite Troche’s essay, with an eye to David Carter’s assertion that
“[p]erceptions of land and nature” are never innocent. They “depend upon
deeply encoded but historically variable cultural frameworks. We do not
simply ‘see’ what is before us. Our seeing depends upon processes of
organising, selecting, focusing and interpreting the physical forms we
perceive. In this sense, we ‘create’ the landscape we observe, through the
frameworks and concepts of our culture.”25 The anxieties of dominant groups
are drawn largely from notions of “fixed” and “static” notions of being.
Underlying these notions of identity is the Eurocentric fear of contamination
by black or non-European, or indigenous, and the resistance to migrant and
refugee spills into a nation’s space.
A classic example of this is Australia’s “White Australia Policy”. As
Warwick Anderson argues, “the white Australia policy, a tenet upon which
the nation was founded” was driven in part by medical scientists in
Townsville who conducted research to prove that “white Australia” “would
not only prove feasible in the northern tropics, but was in fact a medical
necessity, especially in the tropics.”26 Out of this emerged conceptions of
“whiteness” cultivated through the politics of science. Anderson argues that
“[u]ntil the 1880s, […],being British implied a lineage, after that, whiteness
became a type, mobile and standardised;”.
[l]ater still, in the 1930s, whiteness dissolved into
variations across a population. Whiteness might suggest a
typical bodily constitution or temperament; a cultural
legacy and thought style; a virility or femininity; a head
circumference and brain capacity; a predisposition or
resistance to certain diseases; a blood group; a lamentable
inability to sweat off tropical moisture – and so on. [...]
Whiteness was merely a signpost pointing to a true racial
type, the essence of whiteness, which continued to resists
efforts to decipher it.27
The “writing over” of nations then involved a “white-washing” of a
nation to produce and normalize an “assemblage of whiteness”, to make it
appear so “commonplace” and logical. Given that this “repertoire has become
so commonplace,” Anderson argues “that we may fail to recognize the work
it took to put it together, to make it look normal.”28 Of particular interest to
positioning Troche’s essay is Anderson’s question: “What would it take to
repopulate [a nation’s] history with specifically white bodies, to make them
visible again and ultimately to make them as strange as any other body?”29
Troche’s discussion of the African diaspora in the context of the United
Kingdom is a response to such a query! For Troche, diaspora is “a revolution
developing from the earlier theorization ‘matrix’ of race, gender and class”
which “made possible a broader view of the world”. Troche argues that
“blackness is in practice positioned outside the nation while whiteness is
characteristically placed within the womb of the nation”. Whiteness then
becomes a self-sufficient sign, a determinant of all values collapsed into a
silent sign of adequacy, plenitude and normalcy, “irrespective of the [white
person’s] origins”. It says all that a nation needs to know about itself from
“inside”. As Hall asserts, “[w]here Africa was the case of the unspoken,
Europe was a case of that which is endlessly speaking – and endlessly
speaking us.”30 On the contrary, “black” is the sign of rupture, of
delinquency, the aborted child of the nations of Europe, in this case, the
United Kingdom. In this sense, black people born in UK must necessarily be
outsiders while white immigrants must unquestionably be insiders.
It is in this context that Troche argues that assumptions about
diasporas are based on skin colour: on an “epidermal schema”. Black people
are regarded as belonging to the African diaspora irrespective of where they
are born while white immigrants are never assumed to be “foreigners” except
as and when they choose to state otherwise. Further Troche argues that given
that “America is the country of the ‘first-nation peoples’”, all Americans
excepting the native Americans should be regarded as belonging to the
diaspora on the basis applied to Africans who were forcibly brought to
America. Troche’s argument here can be applied to several other nations,
Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to name a few where the entire
collective of these nations, except for the indigenous people, belong to a
diaspora. Troche conceptualises a “three-fold scheme for the African
diaspora” in Britain. Of these, the controversial idea she introduces stems
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from the “Out of Africa” theory by which Troche argues that “every
continent outside of Africa is an ‘African diaspora’” and by that logic,
“Europe” she argues “is a child of Africa”. On this basis, Troche appeals for
a renewed African-European dialogue.
To what extent are homelands merely symbolic? This question is
raised and treated through the case of the Armenian diaspora, a case argued
by Evgenia Gulyaeva. Gulyaeva argues that given that the Armenian diaspora
is made up of western Armenians for whom “eastern Armenia was never
home”, Armenia as it stands, is a “symbolic rather than real homeland”.
Gulyaeva investigates why “stereotypes” of the “western Armenian diaspora”
persist in the Republic of Armenia, which maintains that the “cuisine” of the
diaspora has “preserved its culinary [old-pan-Armenian]” traditions “better
than the eastern Armenian diaspora” and the Armenian homeland. A
significant point that can be drawn out of this discussion is how food plays an
import role as a product of cultural exchange “between previously divided
groups” as well as how the homeland is inscribed and transcribed through the
domestic sphere.
I have placed Naki Osutei’s essay at the end of this section as its
“open source” model resolves many of the concerns raised in this section and
showcases Canada as a model for the diaspora. Osutei argues that the obvious
benefits of enabling the “open source” of cultural symbols qualified against
the real and imaginary fears of the communities that share/receive the
cultural symbols, in this case, the red, gold, and green bindi, can be harnessed
through “trading essential renderings of culture,” embracing a more
enlightened understanding of cultural ownership and abandoning “quests for
authenticity.” Osutei cites Bhabha in concluding that the “preservation of
[our] histories should not be confused with the preservation of culture. The
Canadian “open source” model could well be a positive template for other
Section III: Diaspora: Performances and the Imaginary
One of the difficulties of putting together these conference
proceedings was the diverse range and scope provided in the essays
delivered. It reflected the complexity of the diaspora as a phenomena that has
to contend with plural and multiple positioning, institutions, capital
movement, migratory flows, language currencies and transnational pressures.
The current shift in diaspora studies has been to move “beyond theorizing
how diaspora identities are constructed and consolidated” to “how [...] these
diasporic identities” are practiced, lived and experienced.”31 Accordingly, the
collection of essays in this section helps us focus on the modes of agency and
strategic performance/s of the diaspora.
Indeed, against Marxist theories and more recently, Appadurai’s
“theory of disjuncture”, no cultural product/strategy exists in isolation from
economics and politics. However, Mishra argues that Appaduria’s chaotic
and random disjunctures are not to be confused with the “classical Marxist
notion of the internal contradictions sustaining capitalist relations [...].”32
Appadurai favours what Mishra describes as “a form of extreme
discontinuity” through which he “imagines a system of contingent global
flows, or loops, where none of the segments link up except along random,
eccentric and lateral pathways” in the “way of the rhizome as imagined by
Deleuze and Guattari.”33 While acknowledging the value of Apapdurai’s
engagement with “socio-economic aspects of globalisation”, Mishra argues
that “the issue of effectivity and determination” central to Appadurai’s thesis,
“is much more complex and clandestine than suggested by Appadurai.”34
I am aware that in profiling the essays in this section against
Appadurai’s imaginaries, that I am using his theory rather mechanically and
superficially, if not selectively. But my purpose is to highlight the key idea
emerging from this theory and that is the way in which the imagination is a
real player in global politics. It is with this qualification that I employ
Appadurai’s “-scape” register “to point to the fluid, irregular shapes of [the]
landscapes” of the imagined worlds that Appadurai cites. Extending Benedict
Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities,” Arjun Appadurai’s argues
that five significant “landscapes” : ethnoscape, technoscape, financescapes,
mediascapes and ideoscapes, are building blocks of the imagined worlds, (the
multiple worlds which are constituted by the historically situated
imaginations of persons and groups around the globe which interface,
intersect “contest and sometimes even subvert the imagined worlds of the
official mind and of the entrepreneurial mentality that surround them.”35 In
this regard, Appadurai speaks of that “something critical and new in global
processes”, the something that cannot be ignored, the way in which “the
imagination” must be regarded as “a social practice”. For Appadurai, this is
neither “no longer mere fantasy” nor “simple escape” nor “elite pastime, nor
“mere contemplations” but rather how the imagination “has become an
organized field of social practices.” Appadurai argues that the imagination
has indeed become “a form of work” and “a form of negotiation between
sites of agency (“individuals”) and globally defined fields of possibility.”36
Appadurai’s estimation of the imagination and its reconfiguration as a key
player in the politics of the diaspora is relevant to our purpose.
In profiling the final chapter in this collection in the light of what
Appadurai calls the “work” of the imagination, it will be useful to keep in
mind that the “disjunctures between economy, culture and politics” are as
real as they are inestimable. If the imagination is a “key component of the
new global order” it follows that this component must be extricated as a
subject qualifying and acting upon diasporic formations and transactions.
Whatever the limitations of Appadurai’s theory, we cannot ignore the several
“disjunctures” between economy, culture and politics.”37 It is the practice and
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“work” of these imaginaries aligned with and against these disjunctures that
this final collection of essays anticipates further and ongoing dialogue
It is in the context of Appadurai’s ethnoscapes, i.e. “landscapes of
persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live [...] and appear to
affect the politics of (and between) nations to a hitherto unprecedented
degree” that I wish to reflect on Julie Fletcher’s essay38. Fletcher’s essay
demonstrates how the politics in Tibet is impacted by players outside of
Tibet, and more significantly by those who are not necessarily Tibetan either.
The far-reaching influence of the “testimonial practices” and their interfacing
with other “landscapes” such as finance and media has the potential to
determine quite randomly the “embedded politics of the homeland”. Through
the creative engagement of “border-crossing witnesses”, the Tibetan
diasporas “complement and counterpart [...] the ‘embodied politics’
occurring within Tibet”; and shift through a series of roles/strategies, which
in turn creates the imagined world through which homeland and hostland
politics and ideologies of exile are negotiated. If the particular appeal of this
diaspora is its collaborative practices of encountering and engaging “others”
through the “culture of telling” towards its cause, a significant consideration
emerging from this discussion could also involve how the “culture of telling”
extends the context and implications of the imagined world.
Avila and Medina’s focus on the role that Unions can play in
meeting the moral and economic challenges “posed by forced economic
emigration” emphasize the particularities and needs of this economicallydriven/generated diaspora. Indeed, this paper is significant for its sympathetic
engagement with the issue of economic refugees and its investment in justice
and human rights issues. Given that by 2050, Avila and Medina estimate that
thirty percent of the total Mexican population of 130 million (i.e. 39 million)
Mexicans or their direct descendants will reside in the US, their concerns
have both urgent and significant implications. By evoking Appadurai’s
imaginary worlds, at this juncture, we could reflect on the question of the
imaginaries that are constructed in the process of this “shift[ing] of
international capital” as well as the disjunctures that emerge even as “nationstates shift their policies on refugee populations.”39
Further, the interfacing of ideoscapes, involving in this instance, the
imaginative landscapes of the Unions and that of the ethnoscapes represented
by the shifting needs and fears of the refugees, clearly complicate the
process, strategies and resolutions sought. Of interest also to the debate about
immigration and citizenship is Orsolya Reich’s discussion of Global Luck
Egalitarianism, while acknowledging that immigration acts as a means
“corrective measures for global misallocation” of resources calls for a
moderation of open-border policies” so that the aims of Global Luck
Egalitarianism are not subverted by its practice.
My purpose in including Yasmin Fulder-Heyd’s study of Jewish
women living in the UK in this section is to invite further reflection on how
gender anxieties and homeland trauma deepen further the disjuncture
between the cultural, economic and political spheres. Fulder-Heyd’s study is
significant in exploring the role of alienation, fear, “shame and guilt” as
factors that drive attachments to the homeland as well as complicate
responses to the host country. Fulder-Heyd concludes that Israeli immigrant
women live “in a constant state of temporariness and transition”. Again, in
the light of the role of the imagination, we could well consider how this
“temporariness” reflects also how the motivations shift and will shift within a
range of temporary states and accordingly change imaginaries to create
different imagined worlds.
Byford and Schull’s study of Muslim immigrant populations in the
US measures the benefits of using education as a tool of integration. Arguing
that “education is the most effective path towards integration”, they call for
updating curriculums to meet the “demographic challenges of today”. Citing
the rise in global tension around the world in relation to Muslim extremists
and sectarian violence, Byford and Schull call for a two-way curriculum that
informs and clarifies the two respective communities to the other. Their study
is especially significant to increase mutual understanding between
mainstream and marginalised communities. These worthwhile objectives
would be best achieved through negotiating both the material and the
imaginative landscapes of the parties involved. Further, the potential for
collaborative work between Byford and Schull’s study and Birgit Breninger
and Thomas Kaltenbacher’s work is worth noting. Breninger and
Kaltenbacher’s interest involves the “phenomenon of cultural ‘gaze
switching’”. Their enquiry is directed to the probability of a similar process
to “code switching” (normally associated to language learners) happening
“within a critical period of cultural learning” among diasporics. Their test
based on the use of an eye-tracker anticipates further development and would
benefit from inter-disciplinary collaborations. .
A key player in the politics of culture is the artistic and aesthetic
framings of the “shared spaces of diasporas”. Sanjay Chaturvedi defines
these “shared spaces of diasporas” as “a truly cosmopolitan place where
diasporic cultures are celebrated not only for their fusion of differences
across different orders but also for coming together to create distinctive
syncretic cultures.”40 But the “innocence” of cosmopolitan spaces need to be
moderated against the media and marketing strategies and imaginaries which
engage with the politics of territoriality/deterriorialization. In the final group
or essays, I turn to this. Appadurai asserts that “[d]eterritorialization, in
general, is one of the central forces of the modern world, since it brings
labouring populations into the lower-class sectors and spaces of relatively
wealthy societies, while sometimes creating exaggerated and intensified
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senses of criticism or attachment to politics in the home state”. Appadurai
argues that “deterritorialization creates new markets for film companies, art
impresarios, and travel agencies, who thrive on the need of the
deterritorialized population for contact with its homeland.”41 Robert
Crawford and Manuel Mourino’s essays can be read against this “imagined”
landscape of deterritorialization. If deterritorialization can be negotiated
through imagined worlds /landscapes, it would be worthwhile to consider,
how deterritorialization and/or reterritorialization is managed through the
mediascape of the imaginary Antipodes in Crawford’s essay? Similarly, how
is it cinematically-managed through the “ghost-station” in Baer’s work and
the “magic step” trigger in the Galica documentary?
Crawford’s focus on market strategies, its concerns and constraints
and their impact on the diaspora raise also other questions for consideration.
How do consumer and economic considerations manipulate and shape
perceptions of the diaspora? Crawford contends that the expansion of the use
of the term “Antipodean” to include the South African diaspora in London
has been primarily driven by commercial interests. Comparing and
contrasting Australian, and New Zealand to South African diasporas resident
in London (20 years), this essay also explores the distinct identities cultivated
for and, indeed, by these diasporas as well attempts to assesses the degree to
which diasporas might actually accept or conform to projected images of
themselves, in this case as part of a collective Antipodean identity, created by
media brokers. The incongruent application of the term Antipodean in its
conventional application of the collective identity of Australians and New
Zealanders (in relation to the UK) is struck by the rather dramatic attempt by
the media to include the South African diaspora into this configuration. The
image of Antipodean-ness, besides losing its distinctive application, becomes
a pawn in the hands of media brokers. What are the effects of attempting to
conflate relatively distinct and historically dissimilar groups of people into an
imaginary cluster? What imaginaries are deliberately being constructed? Who
are the stakeholders, the power-brokers, in this economy of crafting and
disseminating perceptions of identity and community?
Nicholas Baer’s study of Walk on Water critiques “fixed
conceptions of Germanness and alterity”. The film’s attempt to complicate
“national and corporal boundaries” is suggested through its triplicating
visuals of Istanbul, Jerusalem and Berlin, cities marked “by division” to raise
and transgress repressed memories of historical spaces so as to open up these
spaces for rewriting and renegotiating identity. Of particular interest is Baer’s
discussion of Fox’s use of U8 track: “a line that moves between East and
West Berlin” and the surreal and suggestive implications of its “ghoststation”. Baer explores the significance of this “overdetermined site of
division”, and how its treatment in the film enables the crossing and
obscuring of previously determined boundaries.
Mourino’s study of the “Documentary for Galician Emigrants”
examines how through film, images of home conveyed through a series of
“moving postcards” mediates between the exile and the myth of return. The
spectator transforms the frame through the “emotive” power of the “gaze”,
through which the resolution of home is made plausible cinematically and
deferred simultaneously. “The status of uncertainty that the cinematographic
filter applies to the image of home habitually places the latter out of reach of
any kind of full experience, but (and at the same time) offers it as being
accessible, chimerically accessible”. The “magic step” or “return home”
involves the mental slide to the memory of home. Mourino concludes that
“[i]n so far as he has belonged to his experience in an emotive way, the
spectator has transformed the frame itself, the proposal of a misty image of
home, to live it like a bridge or threshold of return in which an any-spacewhatever – which stealthily captivates him – has effectively sublimated any
need to return”.
Both Mangala and Ryazantev’s essays highlight the significant role
that remittances play in the relationship between homeland and hostland. The
movement of capital as Appadurai has pointed out has far reaching
implications which is complicated further by the gaps and secrecy that
represents some of these transactions, a point that is pertinent to Ryazantev’s
argument. Ryazantsev’s study of labour migration in CIS-countries explores
its benefits for the countries. Ryazantsev argues that the effect of the flow of
remittances estimated at 15 billion dollars is not to be underestimated,
notwithstanding, transparency issues. This labour force has contributed to
significant development in such areas as trade, construction, transport and
agriculture. Not to be overlooked is the tough working conditions that guest
workers tolerate. By filling jobs that constitute “niches of no prestige”, they
take on roles that local residents resist. In this light, labour migration incurs
social collateral in relation to ethnic enclaves and inter-ethnic tensions which
cannot be ignored.
On a different note, Mangala’s essay demonstrates the disjunctures
between homeland and diaspora contingencies and how the perversion of
economy plays a central role in the politics of the homeland/African diaspora.
Mangala argues that the relationship between the diaspora and the homeland
should be reconstituted so that the contribution of the diaspora is valued not
only for its monetary “remittances” to the homeland but for the ways in
which the diaspora can enable the development of the social and economic
infrastructure of the homeland. Of note, is how the government in Africa and
the African Union have formalised the ties with the African diaspora by
constituting it as the sixth ‘region” of the African Union. A pathway for the
African diaspora is anticipated in Gray’s citation of Boyle and Kitchin’s
“Towards an Irish Diaspora Strategy” through which she surmises that “the
relationship between the diaspora and the homeland [should be] characterised
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as more than the state seeking to capitalise on the financial, human and social
capital of the diaspora. It is also about redeeming a debt owed to the diaspora
[...] and about constructing a more inclusive community of affinity [...]”.
Breda Gray’s paper closes this study by qualifying the framework of
criticism that has shaped diaspora studies. Gray argues that given that
diaspora is being “re-enchanted” in recent times, and mobilised by global
institutions such as the UN and UNESCO, it would be most productive to
“examine the discourses and practices by which diaspora is brought into
existence in any particular time/space”. Of note is Gray’s critique of diaspora
as ‘a way of thinking about populations and producing them as a
governmental category [...] constitutive of new geographies and economics of
globalisation”. Poignant still is her constitution of gender as a significant
player in diaspora politics. Gray argues that diaspora brings “gender, and
women in particular, into focus because women are seen as biologically and
culturally reproducing diasporas [...] , thus a normative heterosexuality tends
to underpin concerns with the survival of diasporas”. Finally, Gray’s point
that the “struggles over diasporic boundary-making frequently focus on
women’s bodies and behaviour” alerts us to a significant trajectory that could
be developed within diaspora studies in relation to the “gendered dynamics of
V Mishra, “The Diasporic Imaginary and the Indian Diaspora”, Asian
Studies Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, 2007, viewed on
December 5th 2008,
S Mishra, Diaspora Criticism. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh,
2006, p. 134
cited in S Mishra, ibid., p. 26.
S Mishra, ibid., p. 25.
S Mishra, ibid., p. 25.
Sheffer, 1986:9-10 cited in S Mishra, Diaspora Criticism, p. 27.
S Mishra, op.cit., p. 26.
S Mishra, Diaspora Criticism , p. 37.
W Safran, “The Jewish Diaspora in a comparative and theoretical
perspective”, Israel Studies 10.1, Spring 2005, viewed on 10 February 2008,
S Mishra, op.cit., p.38.
ibid., p. 38.
ibid., p. 39-41.
ibid., p. 45.
ibid., p. 48.
ibid., p. 71.
J. E. Braziel & Anita Mannur. (eds), Theorizing Diaspora, Blackwell,
Malden and Oxford, 2003, p.6.
S Mishra, op.cit., p. 67.
V Mishra, op.cit, p.10.
A Ludewig, “Home Meets Heimat” M/C Journal 10.4, 2007, viewed on 28
February 2009, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0708/12-ludewig.php.
A Ludewig, ibid.
Vijay Mishra, op.cit.
D Georgis, ‘Mother nations and the persistence of ‘Not Here’”, in
Canadian Woman Studies, 20.2, Summer 2000:27(8). Viewed on 2 Feb 2009,
J Solomos, “Race, Multi-Culturalism and Difference”, in Culture and
Citizenship, N Stevenson (ed), Sage, London & Thousand Oaks, 2001, p.
D Carter, Dispossession, dreams & diversity: issues in Australian Studies,
Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, Sydney, NSW, 2005, p. 134135.
W Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial
Destiny in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, 2002, p.5
ibid., p.2
ibid., pp. 2-3
ibid., p. 3
S Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Theorizing Diaspora, J. E.
Braziel & Anita Mannur (eds), Blackwell, Malden and Oxford, 2003, p. 242.
J. E. Braziel & Anita Mannur, (eds),op.cit., p. 8-9.
S. Mishra, op.cit., p. 158.
S Mishra, op.cit., p. 158-159.
S Mishra, ibid., p. 161.
Cited in A, Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural
Economy” in Theorizing Diaspora, J. E. Braziel & Anita Mannur (eds),
Blackwell, Malden and Oxford, 2003, p. 31.
Jane Fernandez
A, Appadurai, ibid.
A, Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural
Economy” in Theorizing Diaspora, J. E. Braziel & Anita Mannur (eds),
Blackwell, Malden and Oxford, 2003, p. 31.
A, Appadurai, ibid., p. 32.
A, Appadurai, ibid., p. 32.
S Chaturvedi, “Diaspora in India’s geopolitical visions:[…]” in Asian
Affairs: An American Review, 32.2, Fall 2005, viewed 18th December 2008.
A, Appadurai, op.cit., p. 36.
Anderson, W., The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial
Destiny in Australia. Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, 2002.
Braziel, J.E & Anita Mannur (eds), Theorizing Diaspora, Blackwell, Malden
and Oxford, 2003.
Carter, D., Dispossession, dreams & diversity: issues in Australian Studies,
Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, Sydney, NSW, 2005.
Chaturvedi, S., “Diaspora in India’s geopolitical visions:[…]” in Asian
Affairs: An American Review, 32.2, Fall 2005, viewed 18th December 2008.
Georgis, D., “Mother nations and the persistence of ‘Not Here’”. Canadian
Woman Studies, 20.2, Summer 2000:27(8). Viewed on 2 Feb 2009.
Hall, S., “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in J. E. Braziel & Anita Mannur.
(eds), Theorizing Diaspora. Blackwell, Malden and Oxford, 2003.
Ludewig, A., “Home Meets Heimat”. M/C Journal 10.4, 2007, viewed on 28
February 2009. http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0708/12-ludewig.php.
Mishra, S., Diaspora Criticism. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh,
Mishra, V., “The Diasporic Imaginary and the Indian Diaspora” . Asian
Studies Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, 2007, viewed on
December 5th 2008.
Safran, W., “The Jewish Diaspora in a comparative and theoretical
perspective”..Israel Studies 10.1, Spring 2005, viewed on 10 February 2008.
Stevenson, N., (ed) Culture and Citizenship. Sage, London & Thousand
Oaks, 2001.
Section I
Framing the Diaspora:
The Politics of Identity and Belonging
Jane Fernandez
The concept of Diaspora is complicated by the fact that the slipperiness of
identity is an unassailable fact. Ideas of the “local” or “cultural” cannot be
sustained any longer by notions of pre-determined authority or coded systems
of thought and practice. Identity and belonging then are concepts that are
interminably in a crisis. If identity is elusive, “belonging” can only be
managed in a position of “media-res”, somewhere in-between. We choose to
belong through our poetic faith in certain stakes or stake-holders. In this
sense, “belonging” implies an acceptance of what is and what is not. When
we speak of belonging, we speak of a certain kind of denial: of a shortfall or
lack, of exclusion, of a gap between wholeness and meaning. In this sense,
“belonging” is managed within a complex space that is pregnant with desire,
frustration, pain, hope and arguably, disconnectedness.
Keywords: Belonging, diaspora, hyphenated, identity, Moses, transnational.
Over the last several decades, the term “diaspora” has been
complicated by issues of global mobility, multiple dislocations, technological
advancements, and postmodern consciousness. Terms such as classic
diaspora, modern diaspora, voluntary diaspora, post-diaspora, transnational
diaspora, and metropolitan diaspora suggest a certain degree of anxiety with
the limitations of a term that has become critical usage for concepts regarding
dispersion, dislocation, exile, migrancy, and such like. In attempting to
grapple with the concept of diaspora, we find ourselves interfacing with
several strata of displacement. The scaffolding of these strata manages but
fails to contain the superfluous meanings the term seems to aggregate around
itself. The several definitions of diaspora: whether involving the dispersion of
a classical group/people, or forced dislocation from the homeland, or
voluntary migration, or indicating an attachment to multiple nations/histories,
has one thing in common.1 In all these varying categories, the underlying
premise that girds the issues of diaspora involve concepts of identity and
belonging. It is in the mutuality of these inherently related concepts and their
significance to “home” and “self” that my interest lies. Indeed, as
Radhakrishnan points out, “home” and “not home” and “coming” and
“going” are neither literal nor figurative, but rather, issues within the politics
Framing the Diaspora
of “imaginary geographies.”2 Zhang states that “modern diaspora disrupts the
apparent closure of home”; it also signals how “the earlier conceptualisations
of home based on a singular location are no longer adequate to describe the
new dimensions and transformations of home, which has been re-versed in
diaspora not as a “felicitous space” of living, but rather as a process of (be-)
coming.”3 Rey Chow’s metaphor of the migrant as the “involuntary
passenger-in-transit between cultures, for whom homelessness is the only
“state” is pertinent.4 Indeed, home has become a “veiled body” like the
purdah which as Mintum argues “renders [the object] more mysterious and
therefore more attractive and more vulnerable.”5
To contend with the diaspora is to meditate on and mediate through
its mystique: its search through/for its core paradigm: home and its related
fixations of identity and belonging in their many resonating and conflicting
configurations. Like mirrors that reflect mirrors in a fluid symphony of
fleeting reflections the watery subject slides in and slips out of multiple
rupturing rhizomes of unqualified meaning and deferred non-meaning. The
deterritorialisation of borders and boundaries and their resident transnational
challenges involve a re-thinking of questions of identity and belonging. Who
am I? Where is home? Where do I belong? What/Where is in-between?
These questions frame for us our ontological concerns, all that drives our
passion for knowing, being, locating, connecting with home both literally and
figuratively. The question “who am I?” reflects a need to know our place in
the world, an appeal to name ourselves but such a project carries a sinister
threat.6 That threat lies like a cipher defying decryption: the cipher of
difference. If as Solomos cites: “[a]t the basic level, […] identity is about
belonging, about what we have in common with some people and what
differentiates us from others”7 it follows that difference becomes “a source of
At the centre of issues of belonging lies the unconscious nature of
the economy that belonging demands of us. What does belonging demand?
Who demands it? What sacrifices does it entail? What rewards does it give?
If to belong is to choose a certain privilege, we choose in the same context
our wounding and with it the power to wound. Belonging is a series of
contesting stories someone else writes for us till we choose to write our own.
But the tools at our service are contaminated with demands embedded deep
in the collective unconscious and the master narratives of our communities.
Belonging, then, is negotiated in what I choose to call the space between
biography and autobiography. We are born like written texts dependent on
other texts, searching for a way to write us: the inscriptions of our home and
environment tattooed into our unconscious flesh; we belong in ways we
cannot always choose. In this context, belonging is negotiated in a space that
is already pregnant with meaning, a space that shifts us towards some
formations and displaces us from other, a palimpsest of slippery meanings,
Jane Fernandez
determined by our interdependence, pregnant with inscriptions that are both
inherited and created through the implications of our several historical and
sociological formations; a space that shifts and changes and eludes us while it
waits, conspires and facilitates our inscribing and re-inscribing.
We belong always within a wound that never heals: a space pregnant
with fears, hopes, desire, fantasies. The “mutat[ion]” of identity under the
demands of “mechanical solidarity, seriality and hypersimilarity” rise out of
the over-extension of the processes of belonging, a point which recent
examples of 20th century violence demonstrate.9 The metatheatricality of the
Rwandan genocide, for instance is unlike Fanon’s “epidermal schema”, a
case of, actors attacking the fourth wall. It indicates the critical and acute
crisis notions of belonging have reached. Given that “race and ethnicity are
“intrinsically political resources, used by both dominant and subordinate
groups for the purposes of legitimising and furthering their own social
identities and social interests,” the diaspora itself must confront and contends
with these challenges.10
It is in this context that I turn to the figure of Moses in appraising a
critique of belonging. For Moses is emblematic of the deep angst of diaspora,
its promise as well as its double-binds. My interest in Moses here is not
theological, but poetical. I wish only to employ Moses as a literary figure in
his role as the father of classic diaspora to critique our suppositions of
identity/belonging. While we regard Moses, as father of the Exodus, we
cannot forget that he was also a son of the Nile, an Egyptian “prince”. His
Egyptian legacy, for all intents and purposes from the Old Testament
perspective, lies like a cipher, a secret, evasive, closed to Moses like amnesia;
and to unearth the secret is to also recognise the fantasy formations Moses
was bound by. Where did Moses belong? Egypt/the desert/Mount Sinai/The
Promised Land/Israel. To choose one space is to recognise that belonging is
constructed, tutored, managed through a series of rituals, propositions and
taboos to maintain the illusions of purity, originality, and community. For
Moses acting as an Israelite was also Moses acting and not acting the
Egyptian. As guardian of the Law, he was also its transgressor. If to keep the
whole Law is what it means to be an Israelite, Moses was Egyptian. The
weight of these double-binds is suppressed in the biblical text which forces
the narrative of the exodus to collapses into itself, like a tomb that resists
exhumation. And the result is a neatly manicured history, with all traces of
difference silenced.
Belonging is a closed world in an open wound. Moses stands
through time to remind us that we are homeless at home: Other in the Self,
Other to the Self; the violence we wage on ourselves and each other is tied to
the myth of roots. For Moses, running from one home into the illusion of
another is a trail of blood11 that charts his hyphenated identity. As
Radhakrishna points out “The hyphenation of identity […] points up the
Framing the Diaspora
reality that [nations] are not unchanging ontological conditions, but
politically necessary and accountable inventions.”12 From this perspective,
the Jewish nation, the Promised Land is for Moses “politically necessary and
accountable inventions”. Moses’ ambivalence, his hybrid-status is a
suppressed text that is interned in the body politic of Israel’s nation-building.
Moses never enters the Promised Land because he can never belong. I want
to suggest that Moses’ hyphenated identity is a significant sign through which
both sides of the many diasporas in crisis can negotiate a way beyond
imaginary geographies. And it is to language/literature that I turn for such a
I turn to poetry and the image of two mothers around the cradle of
the baby Moses. Azriel Yakov’s poem “Lullaby for Moses” brings together
the voices of the Hebrew/Egyptian mothers not as distinct nationalist or
ethnic voices, but rather as maternal presences, human mothers, rich in their
maternal resonance, each anticipating for Moses safety, emotional and
physical well-being.13 Both mothers position Moses outside his native space
and this movement out of and later back into his nation space helps us
understand what Stuart Hall terms the “positionality” of belonging.14 In a
sense, the Nile, with its fluid motions, its shifting rhythms, becomes the
metaphor for Moses’ routing and re-routing to Otherness.
In the Egyptian mother’s assurance to Moses that “No butcher, no
angel of death will snatch [him]” we recognise also the contrapuntal play of
two narratives raised through this assurance. Moses is raised here both as
victim of and double to the “angel of death”. The spectre of violence, its
“divinity”, is raised and satirised through the yoking of two images of the
loss of innocence. Moses’ own escape from the Egyptian butchery of the
Hebrew first born becomes a double to the exercise of “vengeance” by
Moses’ Hebrew god against the Egyptian first-born. The implied guilt of both
nations raised through the connotations of the “angel of death” erases the
difference between the two nations and renders each a mirror of its Other and
subverts the connotations of innocence and nurture suggested both in the
text’s appeal to historicity and canonical framing. The Hebrew overtones of
the Egyptian mother’s song blur and complicate the boundaries of ethnicity
and nationalism through the poet’s appeal to motherhood, which in turn
demystifies the fantasies of difference.
In the final analysis, the poet’s sympathy lies with the complex
interplay of conscious and unconscious feelings/indebtedness that both
mothers experience. What the poem achieves is to erase the distinctions
between Egypt and Israel, through mounting for us the portrait of Moses in
whom the love of two mothers of warring nations meet. Moses, then,
becomes the centre that ruptures the imagined differences through which the
contestation for space, faith and language are embodied. What the poem
highlights through the tension between the two nations is a drama of
Jane Fernandez
belonging. Yocheved understands how her son’s life can be preserved
through her choosing to invest her faith, drive a stake, however painfully, into
what is Other. In doing so, she gives her son away so that she can keep him.
In Derrida’s terms, her gift to the princess is “impossible”.15 Her
giving is a play on the “economy of the gift”, the indebtedness it will exact.
Moses’ Egyptian identity is strategised maternally, politically and poetically
by his Hebrew mother who positions herself and her son outside of the
contained spaces of ethnic or religious identity. Moses belongs inside and
outside both worlds not by choice, but by ascription. Where does Moses
belong? Can he belong? This morning I want to suggest that belonging like
“gift” is impossible. If Moses teaches us about nationhood, he also carved for
us the space upon which we would inscribe our dispossession.16 The doublebind of community is its structure, institutions and its inherent rivalries.
Indeed, Moses’ angel of death has been busy since. Paradoxically and
appropriately perhaps, “For Moses, the land of Israel becomes the
unattainable. Judged unworthy to enter the land, Moses dies and bequeaths to
us, an enduring consciousness of exile.” Something of Edward Said’s “mind
of winter”, the mind between exile and promise.
For Moses, who imagined home as the Promised Land, home
became only a process of discipline, a projected plenitude, an articulation of a
painfully deferring destiny. Spiritual father of a nation who leads his people
out of Egypt, he becomes the double for the bonded Israelite who never
escapes Egypt, the dispossessed child of his own nation space. Unable to set
foot on the Promised Land, for Moses, home, belonging is a fantasy. He is
displaced from the nation he built, the labour he invested, the meaning he
sought. He is a diaspora within/separate and distinct from the Jewish diaspora
he initiated. In this sense, Moses is the artist who learns that the earth belongs
to itself, that home is a route beyond itself, that exile is the memory of the
past in the return of the future. The quest of nationalism, ethnicity and
tribalism lies in the ignorant search to qualify, indemnify roots and the secret
it occludes is the impossibility and implausibility of the venture. Like the
misunderstanding of sacralised violence, it appears we barter on the
misunderstanding of belonging.
Rousseau reminds us that belonging is a burden rooted in the desire
to stake a claim in what is essentially unpossessable: land and property rights,
which, must essentially be relinquished at death. Belonging is embedded in a
territorial angst as deep as our fear of death and our search for sacred space.
We stake a claim into the ground like an oedipal wound to displace our own
wounding articulated at birth, in each infant’s first cry, an exultant protest of
unconscious belonging to, and dispossession by, father and mother, and life
itself. Like the movement of life from individual to community, the birth of a
community/self marks an entry-point into, to use a Girardian concept,
metaphysical longing, an interplay of desire that has less to do with the object
Framing the Diaspora
of desire and more to do with the subject of plenitude upon whom we project
all our anxieties and fears. How do we belong when our stakes are political?
We belong through a degree of deception, through being ransomed to the idea
of sameness, through choosing amnesia. Identity and belonging then are
concepts that are interminably in a crisis. If ‘identity’ is elusive, ‘belonging’
can only be managed in a position of ‘media-res’, somewhere in-between, a
journey that defies closure or completion. We choose to ‘belong’ through our
poetic faith in certain stakes or stake-holders. In this sense, ‘belonging’
implies an acceptance of what is and what is not. When we speak of
‘belonging’, we speak also of a certain kind of denial: of a shortfall or lack,
of exclusion, of a gap between wholeness and meaning. In this sense,
‘belonging’ is managed within a complex space that is pregnant with desire,
frustration, pain, hope and arguably disconnectedness. What implications
does this have for the diaspora?
According to Fleming Christiansen “belonging implies that
individuals identify with a certain type of community and, conversely, that
communities see and construct themselves as containers for individual
belonging”. Belonging “embodies individual psychosocial agonies […] and
the political construction of collective symbols for identification” with all its
implications of “competition” and torn loyalties.”17 Hedetoft argues that
“belonging must be situated to a) sources of belonging b) feelings of
belonging c) ascriptions and constructions of belonging d) fluidities of
belonging”.18 These key measurements cancel out any innocence we attach to
belonging and moderate issues of agency in this regard. The language of
belonging then carries connotations of violent formations. The metaphor of
“containers” imply a closed world, competition implies rivalries, ascription
carry implications of loss of agency and the potential for wounding,
“fluidities” and “feelings” carry powerful emotive energies with the potential
for surplus and over-reaching agency. Belonging then is schooled and
developed through an arsenal of rites, rituals, prohibitions and taboos, which
initiate our immersion into and sustains our entrenchment within a social
unit. In this sense, the danger, as Gilroy suggests, is that every social group
could be regulated as an army and its members relegated to “citizen
soldiers.”19 In this context, if we think of belonging as the innocent product
of a connectedness between and within a particular group of people based on
natural categories of cultural, racial and national fraternities, we must accept
also that we are marshalling within our identities /communities a progeny of
The seeds that germinate into ideas of exclusivity, purity, privileged
status and ultimately prejudice are framed and institutionalised into a Magna
Carta of the self are bequeathed to succeeding generations through the
politics of belonging. We practice, exert and act upon each other through our
material and cultural artefacts. Through this process we create an archaeology
Jane Fernandez
of community that reflects to us illusions of sameness, solidarity and ‘false
plenitude’ of being. This is the site also of our wounding, the self- wounding
of sameness, the projected wounding of Otherness/difference. The search for
the Other then is not as celebration but as sites of resistance through which
we will mediate our deepest anxieties. The Other then exists simply as
theatre, an object for our gaze: unreal, artificial, a site to be acted upon, an
agency whose existence is merely a functional cathartic medium for
displacing the terrors we cannot quell: the terror of difference, the terror of
choosing aloneness. In psychoanalytic terms, it is a narcissistic retreat in
which everything is made “same.”20
And yet, to use Gomez Pena’s illustration, we live “in the fissure
between […] worlds, in the infected wound: […].” In our “fractured reality
cohabit histories, languages, cosmologies, artistic traditions, and political
systems which are drastically counterposed.”21 How do we belong within
these counterposed systems? What implications does this have for the
diaspora, an already fractured concept? I wish to argue that we can only
belong impossibly. Belonging demands unbelonging, in that sense it involves
our right to cancel out attachments and moderate our formations. While this
may seem like an exercise in word play, or even some form of nihilism, I am
suggesting quite the opposite. I am suggesting that freedom from the
indebtedness that underwrites our belonging to any community is a step
towards peace and a movement away from a violent return to roots and their
associated obligations.
In the context of the diaspora, it appears that the some moderation to
concepts of belonging would be significant. It would seem that rather than
exist as a by-product of globalisation, immigration and decolonisation,
diaspora in its many different formations, slippery, contentious, connected,
disconnected, confused, as we may be, should lead the way in shaking loose
the underpinnings of race, colour, past histories, geographies and grievances
that recirculate in what Derek Walcott refers to as the “ruins of history”
within the diaspora. Further, whereas we had India, China, Australia, Ireland
etc we now have an Indian diaspora, Chinese diaspora! It appears that
through the diaspora we return to the same model of “containers” and
enforced ascription of identities in relation to roots/history. The tags that
contain and catalogue us in serial imitations of the past suggest that we are
trapped in a truth/untruth of myth/history rather than the truth/untruth of
art/revelation. There is indeed no secret destiny in melanin, in ethnicity, in
nationality or even in transnationality, not even in diaspora. Radhakrishnan’s
concept of home as “imaginary geographies,” Zhang’s as “process of becoming, Rey Chow’s “homelessness” as the only home, K. S. Maniam’s
“chameleon outlook” calls for a more telescopic or aerial view of “home”,
and so taking our cue from the virtual self, we should, as Agger suggests,
“compose” the self, arrive and depart moment by moment.22 To shed the
Framing the Diaspora
replicated models of isolation, break out of epidermal contexts and adopt a
more aerial view of belonging is to refresh our interdependent formations
beyond the scope of the local, something akin to Stuart Hall’s positionality.
The fundamental question remains, why in the diaspora are we fixated on the
language, motifs of belonging/ be/longing (longing to be)/ when diaspora
means dispersion. Like seeds we carry the promise of new growth in that
moment of dispersal to our new centres and that newness as it gains
momentum changes also the associated connotations of the past. We remain
open and fluid like a river that retains its essence even as it changes: flowing,
connecting and refreshing.
That is the energy, the fullness of diaspora, rupturing the skins of
our containment, valuing, measuring, the spaces between our fingers while
still feeling connected to the hand/body. Through these spaces we breathe our
differences knowing, anticipating and celebrating the awareness that
change/transition is our right, not a grief, not a wound. If the diaspora is not
the resolution of a shipwreck, it is also not the heart of intersecting
shipwrecks we carry from and into multiple locations. The frontiers we reach
are always inhabited, full of both promise and contamination and our attitude
to belonging both to the past and in the present determines the outcome of
our new formations.
How can we choose and unchoose amnesia without resorting to a
hunger for mimicry? How can we choose a different story from the ritual
violence of community building and preservation, another biography from
that which has been inscribed into our skins and our wounds? If, as
Caribbean writers remind us, our heritage lies in “sand”, then our heritage is
always shifting/becoming. Indeed the significant legacy of the diaspora is the
courage and privilege we have found in choosing to “die where we [were] not
born.”23 This is no tragedy. This is the promise of life/peace. Finally, Stuart
Hall reminds us that the “diaspora has a line through it”. Indeed, it appears
that the diaspora is and cannot be. As Hall and Gilroy tell us with
globalisation, we are all now diasporic. Hence, for Emile Ollivier Haiti/home
is as much in Montreal, Chicago, or New York.24 If we are the embodiment
of our “lands” in all the spaces that we inhabit, we cancel out as the world
pours itself into us. Diapora is not our destiny, neither is Home; ultimately
peace is our destiny. And therein lies Home.
S Mishra, Diaspora Criticism, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh,
R Radhakrishnan, Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Locations,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis &London, 1997.
Jane Fernandez
B Zhang, “The Politics of Re-homing: Asian Diaspora Poetry in Canada” in
College Literature, 31(1), 2004, p103-125 viewed on May 24 2008,
Cited in Zhang, ibid.
Cited in D Grace,”Women’s Space: Inside the Haveli” in Journal of
International Women’s Studies, 4.2 April 2003 viewed on 19 May 2008,
J Rutherford, After Identity, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 2007
J Solomos, “Race. Multi-culturalism and Difference” in Culture &
Citizenship, in N Stevenson, Sage, London, Thousand Oaks,
Rutherford, op.cit.
P Gilroy, Between Camps: Between Camps : Nations, Cultures and the
Allure of Race. 2nd ed. London: New York: Routledge, 2004, p.104
Solomos, op.cit., p.201
Blood becomes a symbolic reminder of his inside/outside Egyptian status.
Ironically, the image of blood is invoked again, this time as a sign of
ssprotection and election of divine favour when the angel of death visits the
first-born Egyptian sons.
Radhakrishna, op.cit., pp. xxv
A Yakov, “Lullaby for Moses”, Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s
Studies and Gender Issues 8 (Fall 2004): 248 .2. General OneFile viewed on
May 14 2008. http://find.galegroup.com/start.do?prodid=ITOF.
S Hall, Interview, P Osbourne & Lynne Segal, London, June 1997, in R.D.
Torres et al, op.cit.
J Derrida, 'Given Time: The Time of the King.’ Peggy Kamuf. Trans.
Critical Inquiry 18/2.Winter (1992) University of Chicago Press: 161-187.
Rousseau locates the transformation of a human being from a subject into
the body politic of a group, a nation, in Mosaic Law. In “Considerations on
the government of Poland” Rousseau describes how Moses “conceived and
executed the astonishing project of creating a nation out of a swarm of
wretched fugitives, […]. Out of their wandering and servile horde Moses had
the audacity to create a body politic … gave them customs … over-burdened
them with peculiar rites and ceremonies; he inconvenienced them in a
thousand ways in order to keep them constantly alert and to make them
forever strangers among other men.” cited in Gilroy, op.cit., pp. 99-100.
F Christiansen, & Ulf Hedetoft. The Politics of Multiple Belonging:
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe and East Asia. Ashgate Publishing
Limited, London, 2004, p. 2-3.
Gilroy, op.cit., p.55
Framing the Diaspora
S Frosh, “Psychoanalysis, Identity & Citizenship”, in Culture and
Citizenship, N Stevenson (ed) Sage Publications, London, 2001, p.72.
Cited in W Mignolo, “Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural
Critique or Academic Colonialism?” Latin American Research Review 28.3,
Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p xiv, intro. Cited in Zhang, op-cit., p. 103-105; K
S Maniam, “The New Diaspora”, in Donald H McMillen (ed), Globalisation
and Regional Communities: Geoeconomic, Sociocultural and Security
Implications for Australia, University of Southern Queensland Press,
Queensland, 1997 p. 18-23; B Agger, Virtual Self: A Contemporary
Sociology. Blackwell, Malden & Oxford, 2004, p. 144.
M Munro. “Unfinished Journeys: Exile, Africanity and Intertextuality in
Emile Ollivier’s Passages.” Journal of Modern Literature 29.2, Winter 2006.
B Agger, op. cit., p.144.
Cited in Munro, ibid.
Agger B., Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology. Blackwell, Malden &
Oxford, 2004.
Christiansen, F. & Hedetoft, U., The Politics of Multiple Belonging:Ethnicity
and Nationalism in Europe and East Asia. Ashgate Publishing Limited,
London, 2004.
Daphne, G., :”Women’s space, Inside the Haveli”, (April 2003): pNA (31).
Journal of International Women’s Studies 4.2 (April 2003): pNA (31).
Derrida J., “Given Time: The Time of the King.” Peggy Kamuf. Trans.
Critical Inquiry 18/2.Winter (1992) University of Chicago Press: 161-187.
Gilroy, P., Between Camps: Between Camps : Nations, Cultures and the
Allure of Race. 2nd ed. Routledge, London and New York, 2004.
Gupta, D. K. Path to Collective Madness. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT,
USA, 2001.
Maniam, K.S., “The New Diaspora”, in Globalisation and Regional
Communities: Geoeconomic, Sociocultural and Security Implications for
Australia, Donald H McMillen (ed). University of Southern Queensland
Press, Queensland, 1997 p. 18-23.
Jane Fernandez
Mignolo, W.D., “Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural Critique or
Academic Colonialism?” Latin American Research Review 28.3,1993, pp.
Minh-ha, T. T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and
Feminism. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1989.
Munro, M., “Unfinished Journeys: Exile, Africanity and Intertextuality in
Emile Ollivier’s Passages”. Journal of Modern Literature 29.2,Winter 2006.
Rodolfo D., L. F. Miron & J. X. Inda, Torres., .Race, Identity and
Citizenship, A Reader (ed). Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1999.
Rutherford, J. After Identity, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 2007
Stevenson, N., (ed) Culture and Citizenship. Sage, London, 2001.
Yakov, A., “Lullaby for Moses.” Nashim:A Journal of Jewish Women’s
Studies and Gender Issues 8, Fall 2004, 248 .2. General OneFile viewed on
May 14 2008. http://find.galegroup.com/start.do?prodid=ITOF
Zhang, B. “The Politics of Re-homing: Asian Diaspora Poetry in Canada” in
College Literature, 31(1), 2004, p103-125 viewed on May 24 2008.
Jane Fernandez is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Avondale College,
NSW, Australia. She has a PhD in Postcolonial Literature. Besides her
interest in research and teaching, she writes poetry and has produced several
plays. email: [email protected]
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Olivier Ferrando
In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union turned former internal boundaries
into international frontiers and left millions of people stranded on the wrong
side of the border. This paper explores this intertwined population issue in
Central Asia and particularly the triadic nexus between the kin-states, their
kin-minorities abroad and the host-states where they reside. I argue here that
the concept of diaspora should not be approached in substantialist terms as a
static bounded entity exhibiting a range of archetypical diasporic traits. It
should rather qualify the dynamic interaction between the stakeholders of this
triadic nexus and the way kin-states of Central Asia do or do not ‘diasporise’
their kin-minorities abroad. The paper distinguishes several levels of
‘diasporisation’ from mere diaspora rhetoric to pan-ethnic gatherings,
bilateral agreements and eventually overt repatriation policies.
Keywords: Central Asia, diasporisation, host-state, kin-minority, kin-state,
nation-State, post-Soviet, repatriation.
In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union turned former internal
boundaries into international frontiers between newly sovereign states. The
stranding of millions of Russians outside their homeland received a
significant scholar attention.1 In Central Asia, the indigenous population2
experienced a more anonymous dispersal, not by past migrations, but by the
movement of borders across settlements. Over five million indigenous people
remained on the wrong side of the border. Rather than being part of their kinstate, they became kin-minorities hosted by neighbouring states. As
multiethnic states pay a specific attention to the relationship between political
boundaries, national identities, and their constituent ethnic communities, the
position of outside groups who share cultural and linguistic traits with the
titular ethnic group is of crucial importance.
This paper proposes to explore this intertwined population issue in
Central Asia and particularly the triadic nexus between the kin-states, their
kin-minorities abroad and the host-states where they reside, through the
concept of ‘diaspora’ which is approached here as an analytical framework.
The aim is not to provide a catalogue of diaspora issues within and between
those countries, but rather to illustrate the diversity of situations and
outcomes in the diaspora politics of a region often improperly presented as a
whole, and to underline the malleability of the diaspora label for kin-
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
minorities, kin-states, and host-states. The paper focuses on post-Soviet
Central Asia, and more specifically on Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,
and Tajikistan.3 These independent states can be considered, in this sense, as
emerging diasporic states,4 but the degree of awareness and development of
diaspora politics and policies highly differs for each country.
This research is based on published material on diaspora politics in
Central Asia, including official data from Statistical Committees and
Migration Agencies. It is also grounded on several field visits to the region
between 1999 and 2007, where interviews were conducted with state policymakers, local authorities and ethnic minority leaders.
Background: the Formation of Kin-Minorities in Central Asia
The Historical Dispersal of Central Asian Indigenous Peoples
In pre-colonial times, Central Asia was a large borderless region
stretching from eastern China to Persia and from Russia to the British India
without national cleavages. Various forces led to the dispersal of its
population and the shaping of ethnic identities. A first force was the Russian
conquest of Central Asia in the nineteenth century. The establishment of
interstate borders with China, Afghanistan and Iran created a separation
between those living under the Russian empire and their fellows stranded
beyond the border. It was the case of numerous Tajiks and Uzbeks who
remained in or fled to Afghanistan as well as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in China.
A second force was the extension of the Soviet power to Central
Asia after 1917 through the collectivisation and forced sedentarisation of
nomadic tribes. Some two million people, totalling 42 percent of the ethnic
Kazakh population, reportedly died in the early years of the Soviet regime.5
One third of the remaining Kazakhs fled abroad, mainly to China,
Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. In administrative terms, the Soviet ethnic
policy promoted five native peoples - the Kazakhs, the Uzbeks, the Kyrgyz,
the Turkmens, and the Tajiks - to the rank of ‘nationalities’ (ethnic groups in
the Soviet terminology) and granted them national republics.6 But the
intertwined settlement of these five newly created ethnic groups and the mass
arrival of non-natives who settled in the region either voluntarily (most of the
Slavs, Jews, and Uralian Tatars) or by force (Germans, Koreans, Caucasians,
etc.) made the initial plan of five ethnically homogeneous republics clearly
not attainable. As a result, each Central Asian republic comprised a large part
of the nationality it was named for, but also significant shares of the four
other native groups, as well as a myriad of non-native nationalities. In 1989,
on the eve of independence, out of 49 million inhabitants, 16 million were not
native of Central Asia. Among the 33 million natives, one in six (5,5 million)
lived outside the borders of their eponym republic (see Appendix 1).
Oliver Ferrando
From Kin-Minorities to Diasporas: Factors of ‘diasporisation’
In Soviet Central Asia, all citizens used to enjoy the same legal
rights regardless of their ‘nationality’ (alleged ethnicity) and their country of
residence. Following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., the emergence of
international borders between former sister republics left sizeable shares of
native nationalities stranded across the borders of their eponymous kin-state.
Each republic became a sovereign nation-state with a multiethnic population
comprising a titular nation and hosting not less than a hundred other
nationalities, reduced then to the status of ethnic minorities, including kinminorities from bordering states. This geopolitical upheaval challenged the
population of the region to reformulate basic notions of ‘home’ and ‘abroad’.
The concept of ‘kin-state’ should be addressed as a putative
homeland, not in the sense of a symbolic ancestral territory formed around a
teleology of origin7 but merely as the nominal entity of an eponym ethnic
group, with no presumed common origin. Therefore my understanding of the
diasporic fact in Central Asia does not aim to design people across borders in
substantialist terms as static bounded entities exhibiting a range of
archetypical diasporic features - those of the Jewish or Armenian ideal type.8
It rather qualifies the dynamic interaction between three stakeholders: the
kin-state, in the way it engages in the construction of diasporic policies
towards its co-ethnics abroad (top-to-down process); the kin-minority, in how
it influences state policies (bottom-up process); and the host-state, in the way
it allows or limits the expression of diasporic identities within its citizenry.
The paper proposes to explore the way kin-states of Central Asia do
or do not ‘diasporise’ their kin-minorities abroad. This process of
‘diasporisation’ actually depends on various factors such as the size and
degree of organisation of the kin-minority, domestic and foreign politics of
both the kin-state and the host-state, as well as economic resources made
available by the kin-state to support its co-ethnics.9 In Central Asia we can
distinguish several levels of such diasporisation: diaspora rhetoric, pan-ethnic
gatherings, bilateral agreements and overt repatriation policies.
From Diaspora Rhetoric to Worldwide Pan-Ethnic Congresses
In their attempt to define their newly sovereign nations, Central
Asian nationalists often encouraged a diasporic narrative encompassing all
co-ethnics regardless of their country of residence. Tajikistan is a meaningful
example of such diaspora rhetoric. After independence, the government faced
the paradoxical situation of on the one hand managing the Soviet legacy, with
Tajikistan being the alleged homeland of the Tajiks, and on the other hand
developing a new national narrative based on the existence of a pre-colonial
‘Tajik’ state founded in the tenth century, that covered a much larger territory
than modern Tajikistan. Such a discourse can be qualified of diasporic, in that
it promoted a Tajik identity rooted in a mythical history transcending the
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
state borders and including all co-ethnics abroad. But the objective of this
diaspora rhetoric was primarily domestic, as it developed to strengthen a
national consciousness. It actually did not develop into an overt foreign
policy from the Tajik state toward countries hosting Tajik minorities abroad.
In Kazakhstan the diaspora discourse arose under Gorbachev’s
perestroika, when Kazakh associations placed ethnic regeneration on the
political agenda and regarded co-ethnics from outside the U.S.S.R. as suitable
subjects to achieve it since they were spared the experience of russification.
Thus the diaspora discourse focused on those distant Kazakhs, viewed as
living repositories of Kazakh national identity and whose repatriation would
help inculcating traditions long lost by Soviet Kazakhs in the homeland.10
Beside diaspora rhetoric, most Central Asian republics developed
pan-ethnic gatherings that intended to embrace all co-ethnics residing outside
their putative homeland. In 1992 the first World Congress of Kazakhs was
organised under government sponsor to regroup Kazakh representatives from
around the world and encourage exchange experiences of language and
culture. Kyrgyzstan followed this initiative and organised its World Congress
of Kyrgyz with the same objective. In 1996 all Tajik communities abroad
took part to the first World Congress of Tajiks and Persian Speakers
The Tajik initiative differs from the previous ones on three points.
First the WCTPS is the only Central Asian pan-ethnic gathering with a
permanent executive committee, a yearly magazine Payvand (Liaison), and
headed by the president of the kin-state himself. Second unlike Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan, the WCTPS did not develop simultaneously with its kinminorities associations. The latter were actually founded in host-states in
1989-1992 much before the creation of the World Congress. The WCTPS
seems to have then taken over the ownership of existing kin-minorities’
associations abroad afterwards in order to serve its diaspora rhetoric. Tajik
associations have to manage the primary task of representing the Tajiks
within their host-state. At the same time, they are part of the diaspora politics
of their kin-state. Last but not least, the name of the organisation can lead to
confusion in that its identity is defined in terms of both ethnicity (Tajiks) and
language (Persian speakers), the latter being a much larger identity feature
than the former. As a result, the WCTPS comprises leaders of Central Asian
Tajik minorities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, as
well as representatives from Iran, India, and further countries, which are not
hosting historical Tajik communities (USA, Canada, France, Germany).
Interestingly, these latter representatives are mostly of Iranian origin.11
It should be noted that Uzbekistan did not promote such worldwide
organisation. As Fumagalli shows, authorities have focused on state-building
and territoriality rather than strengthening their ties with co-ethnics abroad.12
Oliver Ferrando
Bilateral Agreements: Mutual Support of Kin-Minorities
Despite their symbolic existence, pan-ethnic gatherings remain weak
tools of diaspora politics since host-states keep controlling cross-border
activities, in particular when kin-states and kin-minorities are contiguous. For
this reason, bilateral negotiations between a kin-state and the host-state where
resides its kin-minority may prove to be a more effective tool of diaspora
politics. Negotiations can aim at securing better education conditions, as
between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, 0,8 percent of Tajikistan’s
children (13,272) were educated in Kyrgyz, and 0,3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s
children (2,938) were educated in Tajik language. In order to improve the
education of their respective kin-minority, the two states have signed an
intergovernmental agreement securing the mutual provision of textbooks and
teachers’ training, as well as the access of kin-minority students to their kinstate universities with easier registration procedures.
Bilateral agreements can secure as well the freedom of movement
between kin- and host-states. In 1999 Uzbekistan was the first Central Asian
country to impose a visa regime to its neighbours. Millions of ethnic Uzbeks
residing in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan needed
then a visa to enter Uzbekistan and visit their relatives across the border. In
return, these neighbouring countries started to develop similar visa regimes
toward Uzbekistan’s citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. In 2006, after long
negotiations, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a mutual agreement
providing citizens with a visa-free 60-day stay in the neighbouring country.13
Such agreements can also secure dual citizenship. In Soviet times,
all Central Asians enjoyed the same Soviet citizenship regardless of their
ethnicity or place of residence. After independence, Central Asian authorities
denied the principal of dual citizenship, regarded as a threat to the new state
identity and consequently to its legitimacy in such a multiethnic environment.
Any individual willing to get the citizenship of its kin-state should first
abandon the citizenship of its host-state. The Kyrgyz government initiated
bilateral negotiations to simplify the relinquishing procedure and facilitate the
shifting of citizenship. A first agreement was signed with Tajikistan in May
2004 and since then 6,000 ethnic Kyrgyz from Tajikistan were reportedly
granted Kyrgyz citizenship in a simplified procedure.14 The lack of such an
agreement with Uzbekistan made it uneasy for ethnic Kyrgyz to abandon
their Uzbek citizenship. In the new Constitution of 2008, the Kyrgyz
government decided to simply remove the banning of dual citizenship,15 a
first in the region’s legal framework. Dual citizenship appears to be a key
provision in the triadic nexus between kin-minorities, kin-states, and hoststates since it authorises minorities to keep the citizenship of their host-state
with related rights and duties, and granting simultaneously the citizenship of
their kin-state as a symbolic attachment to their putative homeland.16
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Overt Repatriation Policies
A further step in the diasporisation process is the adoption and
effective implementation of repatriation policies. To date only Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan have developed such policies. Initially repatriation was
couched in terms of domestic imperatives, as both states tried to overcome
the disadvantageous demographic position of their titular nation. On the eve
of independence, Kazakhs represented only 39,7% of Kazakhstan’s
population and Kyrgyz a limited 52,4% of Kyrgyzstan’s population.
The Recipients of Repatriation Policies
In multiethnic societies repatriates could be defined either ethnically,
respectively as ethnic Kazakhs or ethnic Kyrgyz, or on a territorial basis and
would therefore comprise all groups having their homeland in Kazakhstan or
Kyrgyzstan, including large Uzbek and Uyghur local communities, regardless
of their ethnicity. In other words, a territorial definition of the repatriate
would consider autochthony as the prime criteria to claim a right to return.
However both countries failed to capture the multiethnic essence of their
indigenous population. Indeed the 1993 bilateral agreement that Kazakhstan
signed with Iran on the repatriation of Iranian Kazakhs defined repatriates as
‘co-ethnics.’17 In Kyrgyzstan, the legislation referred to ‘ethnic Kyrgyz
returning to their father land’18 but ignored that most Kyrgyz residing abroad
had never lived within the boundaries of present-day Kyrgyzstan. The
‘return’ was thus purely teleological. Repatriation is a prime example of the
tension between two conceptions of the nation. On one hand, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan convey internally the image of a civic nation, where all citizens
have the same rights regardless of their ethnic background. But on the other
hand, repatriation policies promote an ethnic conception of the nation since
they encourage the return of families selected on ethnic criteria.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan did not treat equally kin-minorities
abroad. After 1991 most co-ethnics residing outside the former U.S.S.R. - in
Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey - experienced an ‘unprecedented
porosity of borders’19 and received particular attention from their kin-state.
For instance Kazakhstan supported the early repatriation of ethnic Kazakhs
from Iran (1993) and Mongolia (1994) and adopted in 1995 a Decree on the
Implementation of Presidential Directives on Repatriation. On the flip side
kin-minorities residing within the former Soviet republics were not subject to
such diasporisation. Although Russia and Uzbekistan - and to a same extent
China - were hosting sizeable Kazakh and Kyrgyz minorities, their kin-states
bewared of overt claims not to be viewed as interfering in the domestic
affairs of host-states and encourage them to take, in return, a more active
interest in their own co-ethnics across the border. In post-Soviet Central Asia,
the realistic nation-state logic often prevailed over transnationalism. The only
exception to this regional status quo is the repatriation since 1992 of
Oliver Ferrando
thousands of ethnic Kyrgyz fleeing the Tajik civil war. In this tragic context,
the Kyrgyz government supported the resettlement of co-ethnics from
southern Tajikistan to their putative homeland. However, these families were
not treated as repatriates but as war refugees, as defined by international law.
Special Statuses Granted to ‘Ethnic Repatriates’
In Kazakhstan the inconsistency of national legislation led the
parliament to adopt in December 1997 a Law on Migration of Population,
which introduced the legal status of Oralman (‘returnee’ in Kazakh language)
and provided a legal framework to implement repatriation policies. The law
defined the Oralman on exclusive ethnic ground as ‘any foreigner or stateless
person with Kazakh ethnicity, who resided outside the boundaries of
Kazakhstan on the day of independence and entered Kazakhstan to settle
there on a permanent basis.’ In Kyrgyzstan, the exiles from Tajikistan were
granted the status of Refugee and supported by the High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR). But Kyrgyz returnees from other countries did not enjoy
such benefits. In 2007, 22,800 ethnic Kyrgyz from Uzbekistan were
reportedly facing difficulties to get Kyrgyz citizenship. The lot of these coethnics, largely disclosed by the media, led the Kyrgyz authorities to address
this gap in the law and develop a special status for its repatriates on the
Oralman model. The Law on State Guarantees to Ethnic Kyrgyz Returning to
their Historical Homeland, adopted in October 2007, introduced the
intermediary status of Kayrylman (‘returnee’ in Kyrgyz language) granted to
all ‘ethnic Kyrgyz migrants and stateless people of Kyrgyz ethnicity.’20
In both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan repatriation programmes aim at
completing the legislation to implement effective repatriation policies, fixing
annual quotas of repatriates, and implementing rights granted by the status of
Oralman/Kayrylman (temporary shelter, provision of land plots, free medical
care, access to personal and real estate, citizenship). Various law enforcement
agencies are assigned to support repatriation: the Ministry of Labour
organises quotas, supervises housing, employment and training programmes;
the Ministry for Foreign Affairs oversees departure procedures from hoststates; the Ministry of Transport and Communications provides logistical
support and a smooth passage to the repatriates and their belongings; the
Ministry of Interior processes residency and passport documents.
Limits and Shortcomings of the Repatriation Policies
Despite the kin-state’s willingness to attract co-ethnics from abroad
and the development of overt repatriation policies, the diaspora politics of
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan remained largely ineffective. Out of an estimated
population of 3,1 million Kazakhs living outside their putative homeland,
only 430,000 co-ethnics actually moved to Kazakhstan in 1991-2005.21 As
for Kyrgyzstan, out of a potential of 500,000 co-ethnics abroad, a limited
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
20,000 individuals took the decision to join Kyrgyzstan in the same period,
including a majority of forced Kyrgyz exiles from Tajikistan. This
shortcoming can be explained by the fact that both kin-states did not enforce
repatriation in those countries hosting the largest co-ethnic communities –
Russia, Uzbekistan, and China - for obvious realpolitik concerns.
In addition the treatment of co-ethnic repatriates lacks equity. The
status of Oralman/Kayrylman is granted in the limit of annual quotas.
Migrants entering their kin-state outside the quota system are not labelled as
such and therefore not eligible for the benefits related to this status.
Finally despite an active diaspora rhetoric pretending that repatriates
would foster the ethnic regeneration of the titular group and thus consolidate
the kin-state’s identity, the arrival of outsiders - albeit co-ethnic - often led to
cultural incompatibilities and misunderstanding. The Kazakhs experienced a
cleavage between urban and largely russified ‘mestnye’ (locals) and the
repatriates, who were nicknamed ‘iz-za rubezha’ (from abroad) and perceived
as anachronistic Kazakh-speaking Muslims.22 Conversely in Kyrgyzstan, the
local population lived in remote mountainous areas and was the one regarded
as traditionalist, while repatriates from Tajikistan, who used to live in
multiethnic kolkhozes, were viewed as fake Kyrgyz and called ‘the Tajiks.’23
In post-Soviet Central Asia, the perception of co-ethnic communities
abroad and the politics of diasporisation pursued in relation to them follow
various patterns. Uzbekistan downplays the significance of its kin-minorities
abroad and refuses to diasporise them in order not to challenge its internal
stability. Conversely Tajikistan endeavours to promote a diaspora identity
through the creation of the WCTPS. But this organisation remains weak in
terms of self-definition (language or ethnic boundaries?) as well as of lack of
funds to go beyond the mere promotion of cultural ties. As for Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan, they overtly encourage the return of their co-ethnics to the
homeland through comprehensive diaspora politics grounded on special legal
provisions and institutions dedicated to their repatriates. However the success
of repatriation is seriously challenged by the unequal enforcement of kinstate policies in each host-state and the unfair treatment of repatriates.
It appears clear that the diaspora label should not be determined by
the degree to which a community possesses a prescribed list of archetypal
diasporic traits, but by the degree to which the stakeholders of the triadic
nexus kin-minority/kin-state/host-state develop a diasporic relationship. Since
1991, the emergence of diaspora politics in Central Asia has illustrated the
point that the very term ‘diasporisation’ can become part of a kin-state policy
project targeting kin-minorities abroad to strengthen post-Soviet nation- and
state-building processes.
Oliver Ferrando
P Kolsto, ‘The New Russian Diaspora - An Identity of its Own? Possible
Identity Trajectories for the Russians in the Former Soviet Republics’. Ethnic
and Racial Studies vol. 19(3), 1996, P. 609-639; G Smith, ‘Transnational
Politics and the Politics of the Russian Diaspora’. Ethnic and Racial Studies
vol. 22(3), 1999, pp. 500-523; N Kosmarskaya, ‘“Russian Diasporas” in the
Light of Identity: Conceptualising Position of the Russian Speakers in the
Post-Soviet State”, in L Anteby-Yemini, W Berthomière and G. Sheffer
(eds), Les Diasporas. 2000 Ans d’Histoire, PUR, Rennes, 2005, pp. 335-345.
By ‘indigenous’ I mean those peoples who lived in Central Asia before the
Russian colonization and the mass arrival of non-natives.
Turkmenistan, the fifth Central Asian republic, remains out of the scope of
this paper because the author did not manage to conduct field research there.
C King, ‘Nationalism, Transnationalism and Postcommunism’, in C King
and NJ Melvin, Nations Abroad: Diaspora Politics and International
Relations in the Former Soviet Union, Westview, Oxford, 1999, pp. 1-25
S N Cummings, ‘The Kazakhs: Demographics, Diasporas and ‘Return’’, in
C King and N J Melvin, Nations Abroad. Diaspora Politics and International
Relations in the Former Soviet Union, Westview, Oxford, 1999, pp. 135-136.
A Haugen, The Establishment of National Republics in Soviet Central Asia.
Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2003.
J Clifford, ‘Diasporas’. Cultural Anthropology, vol. 9(3), 1994, p. 306.
In his definition of diasporas, Safran suggested six such features (W Safran,
‘Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return’. Diaspora,
vol. 1(1), p. 83-99) while Cohen identified nine elements (R. Cohen, Global
Diasporas: an Introduction. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1997).
N J Melvin, ‘The Russians: Diaspora and the End of Empire’, in C King and
N J Melvin, Nations Abroad: Diaspora Politics and International Relations
in the Former Soviet Union, Westview, Oxford, 1999, pp. 27-57.
Cummings, pp. 140-143.
Interview with Masud Mirshahi, a French citizen of Iranian origin, leading
the Association of Tajiks and Persian Speakers in France, May 2008.
M Fumagalli, ‘Ethnicity, State-Formation and Foreign Policy: Uzbekistan
and ‘Uzbeks abroad’’. Central Asian Survey, vol. 26(1), 2007, pp. 105-122.
Ferghana.ru Information Agency, ‘Uzbekistan: the President validated the
agreement with Kyrgyzstan on visa-free regime for citizens (in Russian),’
January 10, 2007, [http://www.ferghana.ru/news.php?id=4708].
Ferghana.ru Information Agency, ‘Kyrgyz from Tajikistan register their
citizenship through a simplified procedure (in Russian),’ October 19, 2007,
Politics of ‘Diasporisation’ in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Article 20 (4): ‘Kyrgyz residing abroad have the right to get the citizenship
of the Kyrgyz Republic with a simplified procedure, regardless of the
existence of another state’s citizenship’
AC Diener, ‘Kazakhstan’s Kin-State Diaspora: Settlement Planning and
the Oralman Dilemma’, Europe Asia Studies, vol. 57(2), 2005, pp. 327-348
Presidential decree on Immigration Quotas and the Organization of
Immigration of Co-Ethnics from Iran and Other States, April 15, 1993.
Presidential decree on Support to ethnic Kyrgyz returning to their father
land, August 29, 2001.
G Sheffer, Diaspora Politics: At Home Abroad, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 2003, p. 22
Ferghana.ru Information Agency, ‘Kyrgyzstan: legal guarantees to ethnic
Kyrgyz returning to their historical homeland (in Russian),’ November 28,
2007, [http://www.ferghana.ru/news.php?id=7792].
Diener, p. 339
Cummings, pp. 143-147.
Author’s personal observations in Batken, Kyrgyzstan, October 1999.
Olivier Ferrando is a PhD Candidate of Comparative Politics and Societies
at SciencesPo Paris (Institute of Political Studies). His research focuses on
indigenous ethnic minorities of post-Soviet Central Asia. He teaches
international relations at the Institute of Political Studies of Lille, France.
email: [email protected]
Oliver Ferrando
Appendix 1: Ethnic Breakdown of the Population of Central Asia (1989)
Ethnic groups
Other USSR
Total co-ethnics
Within the USSR
Total co-ethnics
outside the USSR
Source: Soviet Population Census of 1989. Statistical Department, Moscow,
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
Andy Byford
The past couple of decades have seen a remarkable expansion of the Russianspeaking post-Soviet diaspora across the Western world, including Britain. In
the UK, this migrant body has in the past few years been prompted to engage
in more active institutional self-organisation and identity reinventions in an
attempt to make the most of its steady growth, as well as to deal with its
socio-economic stratifications and its invariably ambiguous relationship to
‘home’ (its past, present and future). This paper stresses the generational
specificity of this migrant group, which is made up of people born in the
former Soviet Union and then uprooted by the upheavals and opportunities of
post-socialist ‘transition’. It discusses if and how this migrant body can be
viewed in diasporic terms and what sort of symbolic work Russian-speaking
post-Soviet migrants to the UK invest in reconstructing their national and
migrant identities. In this context, the paper deconstructs representations of
this diaspora as a diaspora of ‘Russian-speakers’. The paper proposes three
principal levels of analysing a diaspora (networks of exchange, performances
of community, and discourses of identity), and it emphasises the importance
of studying diaspora as an effect of (inter)actions and as a tool of (political,
economic and cultural) mobilisation.
Keywords: Diaspora, migration, post-Soviet, Russia, Russian-speaker,
Soviet Union, United Kingdom.
This is one of several papers at this conference dealing with
diasporas which have crystallised since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both
through the redrawing of the state boundaries of the former USSR and
through the multi-directional migration that followed and that is still going
on.1 In studying post-Soviet diasporas one must take into account that their
identity remains to a considerable degree embedded in the history of the
Soviet Union as a multiethnic empire and in the numerous problems and
solutions that the former Soviet state created in dealing with its ‘nationalities
question’. This includes the ambiguous role that it forged for the dominant
Russian nationality by identifying it closely with the supra-national Soviet
state, as well as the systematic engineering of minority nationalities through
the institutionalisation of ethnically-defined administrative territories,
passport identities, staff quotas, cultural industries, and so forth. The
formation of post-Soviet diasporas also builds on, but is not straightforwardly
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
continuous with, the longer history of migration both within the former
Russian Empire / Soviet Union and out of it, especially in the three principal
emigration waves earlier in the twentieth century: post-1917, post-World War
Two, and the ethnically-framed (predominantly Jewish) emigration of the late
Soviet era. At the same time, post-Soviet diasporas invariably reflect recent
efforts at national reinvention, characteristic of all post-Soviet succession
states, including the Russian Federation, and this reinvention typically
includes a prominent discourse on new, state-promoted, national diasporas.
Despite their diversity in terms of ethnic, territorial and historical
background, post-Soviet diasporas can perhaps be seen as part of one
complex, historically specific, diasporic field - a kind of ‘fallout’ from the
collapse and reconfiguration of the former Soviet multi-national state in the
contemporary global context. However, it is clear that at ground level,
analysis must make clear distinctions between concrete diasporic situations in
which different groups have found themselves since 1989-91. This paper
concerns the case of one Western-based post-Soviet ‘diaspora’ - namely, the
current population of ‘Russians’ in Great Britain. Both the ‘Russianness’ of
this diaspora and the extent to which this migrant body can be understood in
diasporic terms need to be understood as open; these are precisely the issues
to be tackled in the analysis that follows.
The relevance of the UK as a potential diasporic site for Russians
has emerged only recently. In contrast to countries such as France, Germany,
the United States and Israel, Britain did not attract large numbers of Russians
in previous emigration waves. However, since the mid-1990s, Britain has
become a popular destination for Russian-speaking migrants from the former
Soviet space and their numbers have risen exponentially in the past ten years,
exceeding, by some estimates, the quarter-million mark.2 This has had to do
both with vastly increased opportunities for migration from the former Soviet
states, and with the fact that Britain, and London in particular, has become, in
precisely this period, arguably the most dynamic focus of migration in
Western Europe more generally. However, the relative prominence of
‘Russians’ in Britain today, and the interest that both Britain and Russia are
taking in this emergent ‘diaspora’ (as a potentially useful site of political and
economic interaction), has arguably less to do with the sheer number of
Russian migrants to the UK (which, in comparative terms, is still not
massive), and more with the large amounts of capital (primarily economic,
but also intellectual and social) that is crossing the borders with at least some
of them.
The exact path of the ‘diasporisation’ of the post-Soviet Russian
migrant population in Britain remains uncertain. One important difficulty is
that the diasporisation of this migrant body can by no means be
straightforwardly based either on a Russian ethnos, or a Russian state, or a
Russian national culture, or, as I shall argue, the Russian language. This
Andy Byford
migrant population is defined by something much broader and vaguer - a
historically-specific socio-cultural background shared by the generation of
people born in the former USSR roughly between the deaths of Stalin in 1953
and Brezhnev in 1982, whose formative identifications are therefore rooted,
somewhat peculiarly, in a state and society that are no more, and whose lifeworlds span the distinctive juncture between late socialism and postsocialism.3
The last few years have seen an intensification of efforts by
variously motivated ‘diasporic entrepreneurs’ to mobilise a more coherently
defined and organised ‘Russian-speaking diaspora’ on UK soil, often seeking
the help and support of the Russian Federation (despite the fact that many of
those who are meant to be mobilised into this diaspora do not necessarily
have strong links with this state and that many who do are somewhat wary of
its political motivations). However, this process of ‘diasporisation’ is so far
proving to be slow and awkward, fraught by mutual rivalries among key
diasporic activists, by a general lack of common purpose, and, most
importantly, by an absence of legitimacy on the part of those hoping to
represent this ‘diaspora’.
Particularly problematic is the formation of representative
associations that could successfully lobby Russian institutions, British local
authorities, various interested businesses or other sponsors for more
substantial funding on behalf of the ‘diaspora’ as a whole. The establishment
of relatively small-scale cultural organisations (Russian-language Saturday
schools, music, dance or art workshops, various ‘community’ clubs, circles
and societies) has, by contrast, been more successful, but these, on the whole,
remain local in scope, quite fragmented, and, as a rule, financially very
vulnerable. The Orthodox Church is no doubt an important focus of
‘community’ for some migrants, but it is by no means capable of acting as a
pillar of this ‘diaspora’ as a whole. The establishment of a more stablyfunded, formally independent, Russian cultural centre (Pushkin House on
Bloomsbury Square in London) is so far proving to be a success, but it is
often perceived as somewhat elitist, while its size cannot compare with the
state-funded cultural centres of other developed nations. At least four
London-based Russian-language weekly newspapers (two of which are free)
are also thriving, acting as important vehicles of commercial, social and
cultural interaction within this migrant group.4 However, although they are
arguably the most effective way of displaying a ‘diasporic community’ and of
advertising its more prominent activists and organisations, these newspapers
are run mostly as commercially-motivated media organisations, rather than
community organs. This also applies to large public events, such as the
Russian Winter Festival which takes place in mid-January in London’s
Trafalgar Square. This now-annual event is undoubtedly the most
exhibitionist display of a ‘Russian community’ in the UK, but its organiser is
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
no ‘diaspora’ as such, but a commercial events-organising company. Of
course, one must not forget various lively Internet forums, live journals and
Facebook-style networking groups which specifically bring together Russianspeakers based in the UK; however, these too are inevitably rather random in
scope and purpose.
As regards the future of this ‘diaspora’, it is still unclear, for
example, if and to what extent the children of the current migrants will be
meaningfully incorporated into the process of ‘diasporisation’. In the short to
medium term, efforts at ‘diasporising’ Russians in the UK are more likely to
rely on continued steady in-migration from the Russian Federation and other
post-Soviet states, which means that the making of a ‘Russian-speaking
diaspora’ on British soil will continue to depend on a fairly mobile and rather
unstable migrant population that tends to retain consistent links with life
‘back home’ (wherever that is).
Before going any further, it is important to outline in more detail my
general approach to studying ‘diasporas’. In my research I treat ‘diaspora’ as
a frame of reference rather than a distinct object of analysis and definition. I
focus on three analytically distinct, but mutually juxtaposed and closely
intertwined dimensions of ‘diaspora’: 1. networks of exchange; 2.
performances of community; and 3. discourses of identity. These three
analytical levels are designed to move away from viewing ‘diaspora’ as either
a structure, or a culture, or a consciousness, all of which I see as notions
much too susceptible to reification.
It goes without saying that a shared socio-cultural background and a
definable repertoire of common cultural markers are an essential precondition for mutual identification and social solidarity within a diaspora,
especially as it emerges in the midst of and against ‘the other’ of the host
environment. However, this shared socio-cultural background is really only a
kind of ‘starting block’, while the assumption of common identity and social
solidarity that supposedly emanates from it is only a latent virtuality (and
often a tenuous one at that). In their own right, these are not sufficient to
make or define a diaspora. To have any significance at all, they require
actualisation - actualisation through very concrete enactment and interaction.
In other words, ‘diaspora’ is only an effect of concrete actions. Put
somewhat differently, ‘diaspora’ resides not in more or less durable and
reproducible forms of social solidarity, cultural identity and senses of
belonging, but in moments of diasporic en-act-ment and inter-action.
Diaspora should not be identified with a network, a community or an identity,
but with specific patterns of exchange, of performance and of rhetoric as they
are actualised in concrete and hence potentially highly variable and
unpredictable, even mutually contradictory, situations of interaction interaction with fellow migrants, interaction with representatives or
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institutions of the host society, and interaction with fellow nationals ‘back
home’ or with institutions of the nation state(s) of origin.
The effect of all these different types of action and interaction is
mobilisation - political, economic and cultural at the same time and in an
intertwined way. ‘Diaspora’ therefore emerges as a particular form or tool of
mobilisation, rather than as its end-product. In fact, ‘diasporisation’ is only
one of many possible tools of mobilisation, inextricably tied to national and
ethnic mobilisation more generally, but suitable only in certain, very specific
historical and geo-political circumstances. Even here, ‘diasporisation’
invariably competes with other forms of social mobilisation and is not
necessarily the most successful one. ‘Diaspora’ can prove to be an extremely
effective route of mobilisation, or else it can be a complete dead-end; in
particular historical and political circumstances ‘diaspora’ can remain a
viable mobiliser for a very long time, often adapting and modifying its role
and strategies to fit new socio-historical or geo-political circumstances; in
other situations it can ossify and become marginal and irrelevant.
The effectiveness or viability of ‘diaspora’ as a tool of mobilisation
does not depend only on the objective historical context, but also on very
concrete political, economic and cultural agency. ‘Diasporisation’ is the
product of concerted (although not necessarily either conscious or coherent)
mobilising action by very concrete agents of ‘diasporisation’. These can
include states, churches, political, commercial or cultural organisations,
diasporic entrepreneurs, and finally, the very individuals who are being
mobilised in this way.
It is vital, of course, to study diasporic mobilisation in terms of
diasporic institution-formation and in terms of the production of a (both
political and cultural) discourse of the ‘diaspora’. In this context, it is
fascinating to examine closely both the macro- and micro-politics of
diasporic mobilisation (at both the institutional and the discursive levels).
However, it is also important not to analytically identify a ‘diaspora’ either
with its explicit institutional structures, or with its own discourse, or with the
specific claims made on its behalf by diasporic entrepreneurs. It also goes
without saying that ‘diaspora’ cannot be analytically identified with the
diasporically mobilised people themselves, even when these identify
themselves, quite unequivocally, as part of some ‘diaspora’. Diasporic
institutions, discourses and individual or collective self-identifications are
merely particular means of constructing a ‘diaspora’, rather than the
‘diaspora’ itself. As already suggested, the concrete (inter)actions by means
of which a diaspora is constructed are those of exchange, performance and
rhetoric, and it is in terms of these that one can analyse the processes of
diasporisation or diasporic mobilisation without falling into the trap of
reifying what is ultimately a social and discursive construct.
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
In the past ten years the post-Soviet migrant population in the UK
has reached a certain critical mass, enabling the formation of what can be
seen as quite a lively post-Soviet ‘marketplace’ on UK soil. This
‘marketplace’ should be understood in a broad way to include both material
and symbolic forms of exchange: so not just the exchange of money, labour,
products and services, but even more importantly, the simultaneous exchange
of information, favours and contacts - in other words, all forms of exchange
involved in social networking.
As already suggested, the ‘diaspora’ in question should not be
identified (structurally) with this exchange network as such, but should be
seen as emanating from the dynamics of exchange taking place within it.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, insofar as this network exists only
through exchange, its boundaries are necessarily fluid, meaning that
transactions within this ‘market’ are not confined to post-Soviet Russianspeaking migrants alone, but strategically extend to representatives and
institutions of the host British society and those of the Russian Federation
and other post-Soviet states; they also regularly spread to other migrant
groups. Secondly, it is obvious that this network is internally highly
fragmented into a multiplicity of vaguely interconnected, but ultimately
distinct niches, which have crystallised specifically on the basis of a very
uneven distribution of different forms of capital (economic, social, cultural,
ethnic, etc.) within the network. And thirdly, it is clear that individual
migrants vary considerably in terms of how much they rely on these
exchange networks, of precisely how they use them, and of how much access
they have to which part of the network.
Speaking metaphorically, the virtual outlines of this ‘marketplace’
can be seen as corresponding roughly to the former Soviet space in a
deterritorialised way, meaning that this exchange network can by no means
be easily delimited in ethnic or national terms. Instead, it reflects the ethnonational melange and the supra-national (one could even say imperial)
ambiguity of the former USSR. This, of course, does not mean that nonRussians - for example, Lithuanians, Georgians or Uzbeks, to name just a few
- do not have their own independent exchange networks that merely overlap,
to different degrees, with this wider, ‘former Soviet’ one. It also does not
mean that there are no ethnic tensions and animosities or refusals to get
involved in certain types of exchanges on ethnic or political grounds.
However, since, as a ‘marketplace’, this exchange network needs to be kept
as expansive and flexible as possible, it also tends to be governed by the
imperative of provisional inclusiveness, rather than strict ethnic
The Russian language is most often highlighted as something of a
distinguishing feature of this ‘marketplace’ - its lingua franca perhaps - in the
same way as it operated in the former Soviet Union. Consequently, the
Andy Byford
Russian language is regularly foregrounded as the unifying cultural marker
which seemingly both naturally and neutrally circumscribes this exchange
network. Thus, in the discourse of the migrants themselves, the most popular
way of labelling their ‘diaspora’ is precisely as a diaspora of ‘Russianspeakers’.5 Yet simply to accept this identification at face value can be
potentially misleading. In the rest of this paper I shall try to explain why, by
deconstructing the ‘Russophonism’ of this diaspora at the levels of exchange,
rhetoric and performance.
Within the confines of the post-Soviet migrant ‘marketplace’, native
ability in Russian can appear to have the effect of transforming the Russianspeaking migrant from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’, while doing the opposite to
non-Russian-speakers, namely to the British hosts or to members of other
migrant groups. In other words, being a Russian-speaker would here imply a
key form of empowerment within this particular exchange network.
However, it is important to see that, at the analytical level of exchange, being
a Russian speaker is not a cultural marker of identity that supposedly creates
some sort of culturally-defined boundary of this ‘marketplace’. At the level
of exchange, no such cultural boundary of the ‘marketplace’ actually exists.
Native ability in Russian is simply the embodiment of a particular linguistic
capital. Important as this capital might be within this migrant ‘marketplace’,
it is only one component, one ‘currency’ in a much more complex pattern of
exchanges taking place here, involving a whole range of different forms of
capital, from economic and social to cultural and ethnic. The exact value of
the fact that one is a native Russian speaker, will vary from transaction to
transaction, and will certainly not be the only or even the most important
factor in structuring power-relations within this marketplace (for example, in
many situations, different levels of ability in English might be just as, if not
more, relevant).
At the analytical level of rhetoric, the term ‘Russian-speaking’ is
neither natural nor neutral, but emerges rather as a politically correct
euphemism. The rhetorical effect of this euphemism is to rework the formerly
political boundaries of the USSR (as reflected in this ‘marketplace’) into the
boundaries of the former USSR’s lingua franca, which emerges as
supposedly apolitical, because, in the post-Soviet era and in the context of
migrant displacement, the Russian language is said to embody connections
that are merely ‘cultural’ and/or ‘pragmatic’ rather than imperial and
colonial. In other words, rhetorically, the term ‘Russian-speaking’ is designed
both to imply and to conceal the political and cultural ambiguity of this
diaspora. This rhetorical and, of course, also political, ambiguity of
‘Russophonism’ only increases in everyday usage, where the rather awkward
term ‘Russian-speaking’ extremely easily slips into ‘Russian’ tout court.
Indeed, in the discourse of this diaspora, the meaning of the term ‘Russian’
remains very uncertain and fluid. It can serve as shorthand for a
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
deterritorialised and stateless ‘Russian-speaking’ ‘former Soviet’ diaspora,
while simultaneously pointing specifically to the new conception of Russian
nationhood as embodied by the Russian Federation (however vague this
conception itself might still be).
At the analytical level of performance, the Russian language is, of
course, a key part of the display of a particular diasporic identity. However,
in this context again, strictly linguistic performance is only one feature of a
much more complex performance of diasporic identity and community that
draws not just on language but also on all sorts of other cultural markers,
often in a highly variable and inconsistent way. If one analyses the different
‘performances of community’ of this diaspora, i.e. its various festivals,
concerts, church services, school performances, song and dance competitions,
newspapers, Internet forums, house parties etc., one is faced with a
remarkable cultural hodgepodge, to which different members of this migrant
population are likely to subscribe to very different degrees and many of them
not at all. These can range from community folk dancing (of by no means
always clear regional origins) to the nostalgic revisiting of old Soviet rock
numbers, from pious performances of Orthodox Christianity to ironic
displays of Soviet military paraphernalia, from mock-tsarist balls for the jetset to the obligatory 8th May Women’s Day celebrations, from the vodkathemed hard partying of the overworked City yuppies to children’s
enactments of traditional folk fairytales at Russian-language Saturday school
What is more, these ritual performances by the diasporic community
are most often done simultaneously for two distinct audiences - the diaspora
itself and ‘the other’, essentially the host British society in which this
diaspora is embedded. This means that these performances of a ‘diasporic
community’ are not just about self-identification, but also about marketing
oneself to ‘the other’. Put somewhat differently, constructing a diasporic
identity in such performances becomes, often quite confusingly, both about
performing supposedly intimate ‘insider’ ties and solidarities, and about
‘dressing up’ into simplified cultural stereotypes designed to appeal to the
British other’s craving for exoticism and cultural difference, as emblematic of
‘multicultural Britain’. In many cases the ‘community’ that is being
performed at these events is strategically designed not to be narrowly
‘Russian’, but ‘Anglo-Russian’ - in other words, to embody some sort of
marriage of ‘the best’ of these two cultures, and to perform a ‘community’
that is consciously promoted as a site of cultural exchange and intersection,
although this interaction usually leads only to a stronger essentialising and
romanticising of both the Russian and the British/English culture.
In the confusing hodgepodge of cultural markers in these
performances, overflowing with cultural stereotypes targeting ‘the other’, the
Russian language does, in fact, emerge as arguably the only cultural marker
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with which all members of this potential ‘diaspora’ are likely to identify
willingly and unambiguously. This is another key reason why the Russian
language appears as this diaspora’s supposedly most ‘natural’ mobiliser and
as the favoured cultural marker in its diasporic self-representation. However,
this common identification through a language only applies if the Russian
language is conceptualised (by the migrants themselves) in a fairly abstract
and idealised way, as some sort of culturally valuable object in its own right
(for example, when it is imagined as ‘the great language’ embodied in the
revered canon of Russian classical literature).
In performative practice, however, the supposedly common Russian
language is never unambiguously a marker of the cultural unity of this
‘diaspora’. Just as often, the language actually functions as a performative
marker of this migrant population’s disunity, of its internal divisions and
splits - divisions based, for instance, on differently valued regional accents,
on different levels of education as expressed through language, on different
degrees to which certain migrants are forgetting their native language
(usually implying different degrees of assimilation into British society); and
finally, language is, of course, the marker of arguably the most painful sociocultural split within this diaspora - the split between parents and children,
which is displayed first and foremost through ‘dislocated’ linguistic
The post-Soviet Russian diaspora in the UK is a good example of a
nascent diaspora whose outlines, solidarities, loyalties and identities are very
difficult to grasp and express in unambiguous terms. Of course, the
complexity of this diaspora and the ambiguities of its self-organisation and
self-representation emanate not just from its relative ‘youthfulness’, but also
from the specific historical context from which it has emerged. This paper
has sought to show that these potentially confusing complexities and
ambiguities can, however, be grasped and understood, by focusing on the
analytical levels of exchange, rhetoric and performance, and by not reifying
this diaspora in terms of its supposed structure, culture or diasporic
This paper is based on extensive fieldwork and around 60 in-depth semistructured interviews carried out in various parts of England and Wales
between November 2007 and June 2008. This research is part of the AHRCfunded project on ‘Russian National Identity since 1961’, directed by
Professor Catriona Kelly (New College, Oxford). I am extremely grateful to
all participants of the Diasporas: Exploring Critical Issues conference for
their illuminating papers, incisive comments and stimulating discussions in
‘The Last Soviet Generation’ in Britain
the formal as well as informal sessions. Since this paper does not directly cite
any secondary or primary sources, all supporting references and background
bibliography have been excluded in the interest of the economy of space.
There are no reliable statistics on how many ‘Russians’ currently live and
work in the UK, despite a considerable interest in this question on the part of
diaspora activists, various businesses, as well the Russian and British
authorities. 250,000 is the most commonly cited rough estimate, made up by
journalists on the basis of widely divergent claims, ranging from 70,000 (the
going estimate for migrants from the Russian Federation only, including
illegal ones) to well above 300,000 (to include all Russian-speaking migrants
from the former Soviet space). It is by no means clear precisely who is or
should be counted in this ‘diaspora’ (e.g. ‘Russians’ or ‘Russian-speakers’
and how exactly one defines these) and also whether the figure should
include only those who have moved to the UK more or less long-term or also
migrants who have come in on student visas or on the basis of temporary
work contracts, yet who are very likely significantly to prolong their stay in
the UK.
One can perhaps distinguish two main generations of post-Soviet migrants
living in the UK - the ‘last Soviet generation’ proper, essentially those born
in the 1950s-60s, and the ‘generation of transition’, i.e. those born in the
1970s-80s. However, there are clear overlaps between these two generations,
with many from the 1970s nostalgically identifying with some childhood
aspects of the Soviet past. A different worldview is much more noticeable
among those born at the beginning of the 1980s, although even here there is a
certain echo of the Soviet cultural past, caused by the unavoidable ‘lag’ of
socio-cultural reproduction.
There are several other publications as well, such as glossy magazines,
targeting narrower audiences, mostly the wealthy, especially women and/or
business people. Also, it is worth noting that some other (mostly advertbased) newspapers, which target primarily Baltic-states migrants, are
published in different languages (e.g. one version in Lithuanian and another
in Russian).
In legislation and policy documents related to ‘diasporas’, the Russian
Federation uses the term ‘compatriots’ (sootechestvenniki) to refer to those
who live outside its borders and do not have Russian citizenship (so mostly
citizens of other former Soviet republics or those who emigrated in earlier,
Soviet times), yet who tend to define themselves as either ethnically or
culturally ‘Russian’, however vague and unpredictable this self-identification
might be, including cases where it is to some degree one of convenience. The
Russian Embassy in London accordingly sees itself as working first and
foremost with citizens of the Russian Federation, and secondly, with the
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category ‘compatriots’ (although in this latter domain it confines itself mostly
to the cultural sphere). In other words, the Embassy necessarily
conceptualises this ‘diaspora’ as a national one, in accordance with Russia’s
existing juridical definitions. However, the term ‘compatriot’ is rarely used
by UK-based Russians and Russian-speakers themselves when defining their
own ‘diaspora’. Indeed, the term sootechestvennik implies the key role of
otechestvo - the fatherland, i.e. the Russian Federation itself, as a state. In
fact, a ‘compatriot’ is defined by the (fatherland) state, in the sense that this
term is ultimately a function of the state’s own (juridical) self-definition. Yet,
clearly, the UK-based ‘Russian-speaking diaspora’ does not define itself
strictly or straightforwardly in relation to the Russian Federation as a state
and prefers the much vaguer formulation - ‘Russian-speaking diaspora’.
Andy Byford is a Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. He is the
author of Literary Scholarship in Late Imperial Russia: Rituals of Academic
Institutionalization (Oxford: Legenda, 2007). He has published extensively
on the history of Russian professions, academia and education, focusing on
the late 19th and early 20th century. His current research is on contemporary,
post-Soviet, Russian-speaking migration to Great Britain. email:
[email protected]
The Russendisko and Music
from and of the Post-Soviet Diaspora
David-Emil Wickström
The fortnightly event ‘Russendisko’ has become one of the most visible and
audible events run by Post-Soviet migrants in Germany. The musical
selection criteria at the event is geography - the former states of the Soviet
Union - also including music by emigrants from those states. This creates a
multileveled sonic texture of music from and of diasporas as well as from the
DJ’s “home”. However, the music played at the Russendisko which is
audible to the majority (non-migrant) audience draws on persisting clichés of
(primarily) Russia and only reflects a fragment of the migrants’ music
production. This paper offers a critique of the term diaspora within a German
context as a homogenising element since the Post-Soviet migrant community
is ethnically and religiously diverse. In terms of music consumption,
however, the lines run along a language barrier: while the most audible music
(heard e.g. at the Russendisko) caters to a non-Russian speaking (and nonmigrant) audience, the Russian-speaking audience (primarily migrants) have
their own institutions and listen to other types of Post-Soviet popular music.
Keywords: Berlin, Germany, Post-Soviet migration, Post-Soviet popular
music, Russendisko, Russian-language community, Russkaja, target groups.
When asked about the musical concept of the Russendisko Yuriy
Gurzhy, one of the two Russendisko DJs, answered:
Geographically it is the 15 former republics [of the Soviet
Union] or people who come from these republics, because I
try to pay attention to so called emigrant music.1
Describing the music’s geographical origin, Yuriy Gurzhy stressed
that the music played at the Russendisko is from the former Soviet Union.
However, due to Gurzhy’s emigrant focus, the Soviet Union is here more an
imagined community than a fixed geographically bounded entity.
Russendisko, the name of this fortnightly event located in Berlin, normally
implies a discotheque for Russians. This particular event, however, is
primarily aimed at Germans and now also tourists. Run by two emigrants
The Russendisko
from the former Soviet Union, Wladimir Kaminer (from Russia) and Yuriy
Gurzhy (from the Ukraine), the Russendisko is part of a growing cultural
phenomenon in Germany and Austria. Fuelled by Post-Soviet migration,
stereotypes of the East and a history of Russian images in German (and
European) popular music, the event shows one aspect of the complexities
surrounding the Post-Soviet emigrant community in Germany.
This community’s music is, however, not limited to the
Russendisko. There are numerous popular music groups, events and even a
national popular music organisation, Pi-Rock, with strong ties to the
community active in Germany.
A Russian Diaspora?
One way to group this community commonly referred to as “Die
Russen” (the Russians) is through the term transmigrants.2 The term stresses
a strong tie between host and home-land. Transmigrant, however, does not
really include the transnational network beyond the home and host country
which is an important component of this group.
The concept of diaspora seems more suitable to grasp the emigrants
in Germany. Living in a host country they have a common origin, the former
Soviet Union. They also have common points of reference like language
(Russian), socialisation and official Soviet popular culture. Furthermore, they
not only maintain transnational contacts with friends and family back in the
former Soviet Union, but also with people dispersed across the world.
Diasporas also challenge national boundaries, something that
Gurzhy’s opening quote demonstrates: the music promoted at the
Russendisko comes from a transnational network of residents in and
emigrants from the former Soviet Union.
At first glance the concept of diaspora seems apt to grasp this
network of (primarily) Russian-speaking inhabitants. The term, especially
when applied from outside the community, hides the fact that this group is
not homogenous. It consists of different ethnicities as well as different
Tölölyan argues that the notion of diasporas only emerging from
homogenous groups
emphasises the preservation and/or non-discontinuous
evolution of a single, previously available identity, and
tends to overlook the possibility that quite loosely related
populations possessed of many different, locally
circumscribed identities in their homelands, but regarded as
‘one’ in the hostland, can be turned into a diaspora by the
gaze of that hostland.3
David-Emil Wickström
This previous homogenising identity is Russen used both by the
emigrants as well as by people living in Germany:
Schum is a radio show about ‘Russian’ music […].
‘Russian’ in quotation marks since for most Germans (and
often for the Russians themselves) all russophone people
are ‘the Russians’. And so we also play Ukrainian,
Moldavian, Belorussian, Jewish music and collect them
under the term ‘Russian’.4
This quote is taken from the website of the monthly radio show
Schum based in Halle. It reflects the overarching use of the term “Russian” to
designate the russophone immigrant community.
The quote also points out that the group of emigrants from the
former Soviet Union is not homogenous. It can be split into three groups,
making Germany special in terms of Post-Soviet migration:5
A) Ethnic Germans who are predominantly Protestant. 6 They come
from Kazakhstan, Russia, Kirgistan and other central Asian states. In German
they are referred to as Spätaussiedler, Russlanddeutsche and Wolgadeutsche.
Their return is guaranteed in the German constitution and in the Federal
Expellees Act and with their repatriation certificate these immigrants receive
the German citizenship. In the period 1991 to 2005 1 931 083 ethnic
Germans moved to Germany.7
B) Jews who primarily come from the urban centres in the European
part of the former USSR. They were accepted through the Quota Refugee
Act, originally established 1980 to admit refuges from South-East Asia as
humanitarian refuges (e.g. Vietnamese boat people). They can apply for
citizenship once they become eligible (normally after 8 years of residence in
Germany). By December 31st, 2005, 205,645 Jews from the former Soviet
Union had emigrated.8
C) Ethnic Russians (Ukrainians, etc.) who are primarily Russian
Orthodox. These consist of asylum seekers, professionals, students and
marriage migrants. About 187,500 Russian (2006), 129,000 Ukrainian (2006)
and 18,037 Belorussian citizens (2005), to name a few Post-Soviet
nationalities, were residing in Germany 2005/2006. The problem with these
numbers is that they include Jewish emigrants, since they as mentioned do
not automatically receive the German citizenship on arrival.9
Thus, based on these numbers and a conservative estimation there
are at least 2.6 million Russian speaking migrants in Germany at the moment.
Of those at least 70,000 are currently living in Berlin.10 Putting this into
context, there were 6,751,002 registered foreign citizens residing in Germany
2006 which is about 8.2% of Germany’s total population of 82,348,399.11
The Russendisko
According to both Germans and emigrants to whom I spoke, the
community in Berlin where I conducted my research, is fractured. The
migrants frequent different cultural institutions and to some extent also live
in different regions of the city.12
At the first glance this segregation seems logical based on the
emigrants’ ethnic backgrounds. The European ethnologist Darieva argues,
however, that the categories ‘ethnic German’ and ‘Jewish’ are primarily
imposed by the host country, Germany.13 These ethnic categories which in
Germany are linked to different expectations and institutions (Jewish
community, organisations for ethnic Germans) were almost void of meaning
in the Soviet Union. Thus Darieva argues that the German state creates an
artificial split, which she labels Re-tribalisations.
Target Groups
Framing the group as a Russian-language community, however,
could be a way to overcome the artificial segregation while avoiding
homogenising the group. Darieva argues that the language Russian is used as
a super-ethnic collective identity category in Russian-language print media in
Berlin and London.14 While this is primarily seen from the print media’s
perspective and not that of the individuals, a language-based approach can be
used here as well.
The local discotheques and youth clubs catering to ethnic Germans
and Jews focus on Russian-language popular music like Russian pop/estrada
and house. On the other hand, the Russendisko caters primarily to a German
speaking audience. Thus, a more useful distinction when discussing the
musical production of the Post-Soviet community is target groups: a Russianspeaking and a non-Russian-speaking audience. Here a clear difference can
be heard in the music played.
Russian-speaking Audience
One organisation catering towards the Russian-speaking audience is
the organisation Pi-Rok. Providing a platform for promoting music, the
organisation targets migrants singing in Russian. The music hosted on the
organisations website ranges from what is perceived as Pop to Rock
reflecting current trends in popular music. Furthermore, the organisation
regularly hosts festivals and has ties to a recording studio.
Apart from the language (primarily sung in Russian), the music does
not really differ from popular music produced by their non-migrant peers.
The above mentioned clubs catering to Jews and ethnic Germans also mirror
this, playing Russian language popular music.
David-Emil Wickström
German-speaking Audience
My main research focus has been the German-speaking target group.
Here the Russendisko and other similar concepts which have appeared
afterwards are interesting in two ways.
First, the music played is linked to a transnational Post-Soviet
imagined community illustrated through the groups presented at the event.
While the majority are from the territory of the former Soviet Union, the DJs
make a point in selecting emigrant groups as well (as mentioned in the
beginning). However, the event is not fixed to one location. Hosting guest
Russendiskos in other cities, the DJs tour Europe and Israel. Furthermore,
similar events have appeared in cities like Halle, Vienna, Graz and Freiburg.
This reflects a general flow of Post-Soviet popular music - at least
through the German-speaking countries. Bands both linked to the emigrant
community in Austria and Germany as well as from the former Soviet Union
regularly tour the European club circuit and play not only for emigrant
audiences. This is enabled through the popularity of the Russendisko which
has made the music known and available. Other important factors are
personal contacts within the dispersed Post-Soviet community, clubs, record
labels focused on Eastern European music and hard work.
Returning to the music played at the Russendisko a closer
examination of the first Russendisko sampler reveals a tendency towards
shared stylistic traits:15 lyrics in Russian (and some Ukrainian / Belorussian)
with music influenced by Ska / Ska-punk, the use of a horn section and to
some extent influences of traditional music and/or instruments.
Yuriy Gurzhy acknowledged in an interview that his colleague
Wladimir Kaminer and he play music that they like.16 The criteria he stressed
was that the music has to be danceable. Thus the DJs filter the music
according to their taste and present only a small selection of popular music
from e.g. Russia. In addition, a lot of the music they play can only be heard at
the local club circuit in the originating countries and not on media with a
national reach.
The second aspect which makes the Russendisko interesting is its
target group consisting primarily of Germans and now increasingly more
tourists. The attendance of Post-Soviet migrants according to people I talked
to is between 15 and 20% of the local community.
One reason for its popularity with Germans might be a European
reception history of imagined Russian music especially from the 1960s and
onward. I call this the Russian folklore lineage. This reception focused on
Russian folklore both performed by Russians in exile like Serge Jaroff and
his Don Cossack Chorus, ethnic Germans like Alexandra or pseudo-Russians
like the German Iwan Rebroff (a.k.a. Hans-Rolf Rippert).
The song “Casatschok” refers to a Cossack folk dance in 2/4. It
provides a good example of folklore mixed with (popular) music production
The Russendisko
in the 1960s and how this music spread to other European countries and local
languages; the Bulgarian singer Boris Rubaschkin made an arrangement in
1967 which by 1969 had been licensed and covered in Denmark, Sweden,
France, Spain and Germany.17
Russian folklore also had a minor impact on popular music,
especially the disco styles, of the 1970s; remains like Boney M’s “Rasputin”
(1978), Dschinghis Khan’s “Moskau” and “Dschinghis Kahn” (both 1979)
are regularly played at the Russendisko.
Besides promoting folklore this reception also helped maintain
stereotypes of Russians as an exoticised Other. These are recycled at the
Russendisko through the use of Russian and Soviet kitsch elements and
stereotypes; TV-screens above the dance floor show Soviet cartoons, Vodka
is served at the bar and the promotion posters used for the event are slightly
altered Soviet and Tsarist Russia (propaganda) posters. Even the compilation
CDs draw on this, e.g. Radio Russendisko produced by Yuriy Gurzhy and
Wladimir Kaminer.18 The CD includes a cover of Boney M’s “Rasputin”
(played by Berlin-based Dr Bajan) as well as Alexandra’s “Schwarze
Balalaika” (originally from 1968). Furthermore, Wladimir Kaminer’s books
also play with these stereotypes. His success as an author is a contributing
factor to the Russendisko’s popularity.
Musically, the Russian folklore lineage is also kept alive through
German and Austrian groups like Apparatschik, Cosmonautix and Russkaja.
While some of the musicians have ties to the Russian community, they at the
same time draw on the aforementioned persisting European clichés. The
Viennese-based group Russkaja provides a good example of the general
music style played at the Russendisko while at the same time using the
folklore elements as an additional kitsch factor. At a concert featured on the
CD/DVD “Kasatchok Superstar” the vocalist starts with a Russian folk song
(The Volga Boatmen’s song) before transitioning to Russkaja’s song
“Barabany” (“Drums”).19 Not only the choice of material is important here,
but also the performance style: Russkaja’s vocalist clearly adheres to the
style of Ivan Rebroff and the cliché of deep-Russian operatic basses. He uses
full chest voice and starts in the low-range. The shift to the song Barabany is
both audible (the final note in the Volga Boatmen’s song is extended into a
scream) and visualised with the vocalist breaking his static pose through
dancing. “Barabany” fits well into the Russendisko-style, using a horn
section over a Ska-punk beat. The name of the album, Kasatchok Superstar as
well as the CD’s graphic layout also clearly allude to this lineage.
Whereas Post-Soviet migration to other countries is very restricted,
by providing a generous legal framework for accepting ethnic Germans and
Jews, Germany occupies a special position. However, this is covered up in
David-Emil Wickström
the media and in the public perception by applying the term “Russians” and
The aim of my paper has been to critique the homogenisation of
migrant groups based on national (or in this case supra-national) origin,
especially the concept of diaspora, which is often uncritically applied to these
groups. While the Post-Soviet emigrants living in Germany have a common
point of origin and are embedded in a transnational network, the concept of
diaspora hides the fact that this group is diverse - both ethnically and
religiously. Due to the recent emigration it is also too early to determine if a
diasporic consciousness will sustain itself through the generations. Instead of
diaspora the supra-ethnic term “Russian-language community” might be
more appropriate. This also opens for non-migrants who through their
knowledge of Russian are active within the network.
Together with Wladimir Kaminer’s books, the Russendisko is often
used as an example for how multicultural Berlin is and how migrants (in this
case Post-Soviet) contribute to cultural life. However, this only shows one
side of the cultural production - that aimed at a German speaking target
group. In other words, not only the group, but also its music production is
diverse. The music aimed at a Russian-speaking audience is primarily
invisible for the majority of Germans. Thus the Russendisko and groups close
to the event create a distorted picture of Post-Soviet popular music. This in
spite the fact that the Russendisko-network relies strongly on a transnational
Russian language community to obtain, distribute and perform the music.
Y Gurzhy, Berlin, 05.10.2005.
N G Schiller, L Basch, & C S Blanc, “From Immigrant to Transmigrant:
Theorizing Transnational Migration”, Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 68, no.
1, 1995, pp. 48-63.
K Tölölyan, “Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational
Moment”, Diaspora, vol. 5, no. 1, 1996, p. 13.
http://www.newchance.de/schum/index.php?menue=radio, 06.02.2008.
Cf. B Dietz, “German and Jewish migration from the Former Soviet Union
to Germany: Background, Trends and Implications”, Journal of Ethnic and
Migration Studies, vol. 26, no. 4, October 2000, p. 642ff.
The ethnic Germans are descendants of Germans who emigrated to inter
alia Russia, Rumania, Hungary and the Ukraine in the 18th and 19th century.
The term also refers to those displaced from what is now Western Poland due
to the second World War. The repatriation is based both on the imagined
blood-lineage with today’s Germany as well as the persecution of ethnic
Germans in former Eastern Europe.
The Russendisko
A Kiss & H Lederer, Migration, Asyl und Integration in Zahlen, 14 edn.,
Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Referat 124 - Geschäftsstatistik,
Nürnberg, 2006, p. 65.
The numbers are based on Kiss and Lederer, p. 68. which covers 1993
through 2005. This number also includes 8,535 Jews who immigrated to
Germany before November 10, 1991 - before the procedures of the Quota
Refugee Act were adopted. Federal Ministry of the Interior, Immigration Law
and Policy, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Berlin, 2005, p. 58.
Statistisches Bundesamt, Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit - Ausländische
Bevölkerung - Ergebnisse des Ausländerzentralregisters 2005, Statistisches
Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, 2006, p. 39. Statistisches Bundesamt, Statistisches
Jahrbuch 2007 für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Statistisches
Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, September 2007, p. 48.
With regard to Berlin it is harder to detail the numbers. As of June 30th,
2006 there were 24,206 citizens of Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine residing
in Berlin.
erigkeit.html, 30.05.2008, based on material from the Statistisches
Landesamt Berlin 2006) Furthermore, between 1993-2004 about 42,000
ethnic Germans moved to Berlin. This is a rough estimate based on R Ohliger
& U Raiser, Integration und Migration in Berlin. Zahlen - Daten - Fakten,
Der Beauftragte des Senats von Berlin für Integration und Migration, Berlin,
2005, p. 21.
Kiss & Lederer, op. cit., p. 82.
I was told that the Jews tend to live in Charlottenburg while the ethnic
Germans live in Lichtenberg, Marzahn and Spandau. The third group which
was labelled the alternatives (maybe Russian-speaking bohème is more
fitting) is centred around Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. This overlaps with
Darieva who writes that the preferred settlement areas are Charlottenburg,
Wilmersdorf and Schöneberg. One group of ethnic Germans coming from
Siberia and Kazachstan have settled in the outer boroughs Marzahn,
Hohenschönhausen and Lichtenberg (partially due to the states´ settlement
policy). T Darieva, Russkij Berlin - Migranten und Medien in Berlin und
London, Lit Verlag, Münster, 2004, p. 127f. Dietz discusses this as well,
pointing out that the Jewish migrants centre themselves around the Jewish
communities while the ethnic Germans remain within a community of other
ethnic Germans. Dietz, German and Jewish migration from the former Soviet
Union to Germany: background, trends and implications.
T Darieva, Russkij Berlin - Migranten und Medien in Berlin und London,
p. 77ff.
ibid., p. 262ff.
David-Emil Wickström
Various Artists, Russendisko-Hits, Trikont US-0308, 2003.
Gurzhy, op.cit.
http://www.coverinfo.de, 04.06.2008. The artists were Birthe Kjær (DK),
Dimitri Dourakine, Rika Zaraï (FR), Georgie Dann (ES), Towa Carson (SE)
and Dalida / Yolanda Christina Gigliotti (DE).
Various Artists, Radio Russendisko, Russendisko Records RD 002, 2005.
Russkaja, Kasatchok Superstar, Chat Chapeau CCR015-2, 2007.
Darieva, T., Russkij Berlin - Migranten und Medien in Berlin und London.
Lit Verlag, Münster, 2004.
Dietz, B., “German and Jewish Migration from the Former Soviet Union to
Germany: Background, Trends and Implications”. Journal of Ethnic and
Migration Studies, vol. 26, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 635-652.
Federal Ministry of the Interior, Immigration Law and Policy. Federal
Ministry of the Interior, Berlin, 2005.
Kiss, A. & H. Lederer, Migration, Asyl und Integration in Zahlen. 14 edn.,
Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Referat 124 - Geschäftsstatistik,
Nürnberg, 2006.
Ohliger, R. & U. Raiser, Integration und Migration in Berlin. Zahlen – Daten
– Fakten. Der Beauftragte des Senats von Berlin für Integration und
Migration, Berlin, 2005.
Russkaja, Kasatchok Superstar. Chat Chapeau CCR015-2, 2007.
Schiller, N.G., L. Basch, & C.S. Blanc, “From Immigrant to Transmigrant:
Theorizing Transnational Migration”. Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 68, no.
1, 1995, pp. 48-63.
Statistisches Bundesamt, Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit - Ausländische
Bevölkerung - Ergebnisse des Ausländerzentralregisters 2005. Statistisches
Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, 2006.
Statistisches Bundesamt, Statistisches Jahrbuch 2007 für die Bundesrepublik
Deutschland. Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, September 2007.
The Russendisko
Tölölyan, K., “Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational
Moment”. Diaspora, vol. 5, no. 1, 1996, pp. 3-36.
Various Artists, Russendisko-Hits. Trikont US-0308, 2003.
Various Artists, Radio Russendisko. Russendisko Records RD 002, 2005.
David-Emil Wickström is a PhD fellow in the Musicology Section of the
University of Copenhagen. His current research is on Russian popular music
(mainly from St. Petersburg) and how it flows to Germany. email:
[email protected]
Are National Minorities of the Former USSR
Becoming New Diasporas?
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
Yves-Marie Davenel
Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the Kazak State has developed a
pragmatic approach on the issue of nationality policy by promoting
ethnonational diversity. At the same time, the term diaspora has become
widespread in the former USSR and in contemporary Kazakhstan to refer to
the former national minorities. The use of this term questions the relationship
between the titular nation and the national minorities in introducing a
differentiation between “we” and “they”. Thanks to fieldwork materials, this
paper shows how a former soviet national minority, the Tatars, who lived in
Kazakhstan for more than two centuries, are facing these new questions about
their own identity. Besides, it shows how the Kazak and Tatar States play a
role in the building of a Tatar diaspora. Then, this paper analyses what kind
of discourses about their identity the Tatars living in Kazakhstan produce
today. I argue here that in the specific context of multiethnic Kazakhstan the
use of the term diaspora to analyse the situation of ethnic minorities is
problematic. Indeed, it is used in different contexts by different actors with
diverse intentions.
Keywords: Diasporisation, ethnic minority, Kazakhstan, state-building,
Tatars, Tatarstan.
The French scholar, Gérard Lenclud, in another context spoke of
‘tool-word’ and ‘word-problem’ to express the difficulties researchers
encounter when using the word tradition. The same is true with the term
diaspora. Everybody has a vague idea what diaspora refers to: it means
people from one country disseminated in another one. It becomes a ‘wordproblem’ when scholars attempt to give a clear-cut definition or to make
Its emergence in the scientific circle dates back to the 1970’s in the
Anglo-Saxon world, and to the 1980’s in France. But the term really entered
the media in the following decade. It is almost at the same time that the word
diaspora became widespread in the new independent States. During the
Soviet period, its use was limited to foreign countries and employed in
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
scientific circle. Moreover, the study of this phenomenon was not very
common among Soviet scholars.
According to the Russian scholar Natalya Kosmarskaya, the
diffusion of the term diaspora in the Russian Federation is linked to the will
of some Russian publicists, journalists and factions of political opposition,
especially those of nationalistic and patriotic orientation, to play a role in the
life of the Russians in the ‘near abroad’. That is a ‘diasporisation’ of the
‘compatriots’ to maintain previous links in the new independent States.1
Even after 1991, the term has received few scientific
interpretations.2 In Russia, some scholars have discussed the concept. In
2000, V.A. Tichkov wrote a very innovative article in the scientific journal
Etnograficheskoe obozrenie where he challenged the classical approach of
the term. He insists on a dynamic approach and points out that a diaspora is:
a political project, a feeling and situation without defined
membership and exclusive identity. More often, it is a
national choice or an outside inducement to be diaspora.3
While the thesis of Tichkov provoked some critics, the paper was favourably
received by Russian scholars. Yet debates over this issue are still limited to
scientific circles.
In Kazakhstan, the word diaspora appeared in public speeches
during the first years of independence. It is used as a synonym of ethnic
groups or national minorities, without scientific definition. According to the
Kazak ethnologist Nurbulat Masanov, diasporas as such don’t exist in
Kazakhstan if we refer to a scientific approach. From his viewpoint,
considering that a diaspora is a population made of people from outside who
don’t feel integrated in the host country it resides in, and who claims cultural
and political peculiarities, no one of the hundred national minorities of the
country can be called a diaspora.
Yet the term exists and its use needs explanation. When and in
which context is the term used? What does that mean concretely to be
designated as a diaspora for a national minority? These are some questions I
would like to explore in this paper through the example of the Tatars residing
in Kazakhstan
Does a Tatar Community Exist?
The very use of a common Tatar name is problematic, since it refers
to different peoples disseminated all over the CIS and in other parts of the
world. Though this ethnonym is used with an epithet (usually referring to a
location4) to distinguish different groups, the problem is complicated today
by the claims of, at least, two parties. On the one hand, the authorities of the
newly independent republic of Tatarstan call to a wide Tatar nation who
Yves-Marie Davenel
would include all the Tatar groups on the basis of a so-called ‘community of
culture and language’. This supranational view aims at reinforcing the Tatar
nation. On the other hand, since the collapse of the USSR, some Tatar
groups, like the Tatars of Siberia, the Tatars of Astrakhan or the Krjashen
(orthodox Tatars) seek the recognition of their specificities as separate ethnic
groups. This confrontation between these opposite positions reached its
culmination at the time of the 2002 census in the Russian Federation when
Tatars of Siberia, Tatars of Astrakhan, and Krjashen were counted separately.
Though very few members of these groups decided to register themselves as
Tatars of Siberia or Krjashen (about 34 thousand out of a population of 5.5
million of Tatars), this fact stresses the division existing inside a nation called
Tatars who today live in Kazakhstan are for the most part originating
from the Volga-Ural region. They arrived in today Kazakhstan by successive
waves: the first one started in the 19th century and the last one ended up in the
1960’s. Besides the Russians and the Cossacks, they contributed to the
urbanisation and the economic development of the Steppe thanks to their
commercial and industrial activities. In the 18th century, they also constituted
the main part of mullahs in the Kazak steppes and they kept control over
religious and laic teaching at least until the end of the 19th century.5 Thus,
their establishment dates back before the existence of modern Kazak and
Tatar official entities and was often based on family networks that would be
described today as trans-state.
The introduction of the Soviet regime and the creation of the Kazak
soviet socialist republic and the Tatar autonomous soviet socialist republic
have contributed to a disintegration of the bonds between Tatars, even if
personal bonds remained throughout this period. In addition to this, there was
a russification and a sovietisation process of the people in the two republics
which led to a loss of consciousness of the Tatar culture in the Volga-Ural
area as well as in Kazakhstan. Long-established Tatars developed, if not an
identity, at least their own way of life, largely influenced by local Russian
populations in the cities, Kazak in villages. Only the people having emigrated
from Tatarstan towards Kazakhstan during the 1960’s massively returned
after the creation of a Tatar sovereign entity.
Tatars are today disseminated all over the country. Though they
consider themselves part of a Tatar national minority, differences between
groups according to their origin exist. Yet in Kazakhstan these linguistic
and/or cultural features don’t play a differentiating role like in the republic of
Since the end of the 1980’s, national minorities in the USSR and in
Kazakhstan have demanded and obtained some cultural rights. Thanks to
‘cultural entrepreneurs’, these minorities have become to exist as entities.
Thus, Tatars now possess their own cultural centres where they carry on
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
national language and culture. The official face of Tatars is cultural
organisations. Of course, those are not the reflection of the totality of the
people declaring themselves as Tatars. Indeed, most part of them ignores the
activities and the claims of these associations. Yet these cultural
organisations constitute the only official interlocutor of the Tatar
community’s interests; a community which is, in itself, difficult to define.
This fact raises the question of the definition of a Tatar community.
Since the Tatar associations do not reflect the ‘community’ as a whole, can
we consider the entire group as a diaspora or just some sub-groups inside it?
Here I would like to mention the analysis made by the French sociologist
Stéphane Dufoix.6 According to this scholar, the classical definition of the
concept diaspora suffers three illusions. Here, I point out only two that seem
to me very useful for our understanding of the question. The first one is what
he calls the ‘illusion of the community’: from this point of view a diaspora is
not a social product. It is a sum of people that can be counted. The fact of
counting people of the same assigned nationality makes the diaspora, i.e. the
national group, become real. The second one is the ‘illusion of the
continuity’: the existence of a group is considered natural in an essentialist
approach. The processes and the evolutions of one group are not taken into
In practice, these two points are today widely used to make diaspora
exist. Indeed, they are the basis for the construction and the production of
delimited group by States.
The Construction of a Tatar Diaspora: Influences of Tatar and
Kazak States
In everyday life, the word diaspora competes with other terms such
as nationality, ethnic group and national minority in the official speeches of
the Kazakhstani authorities, as well as in the discourses of the leaders of the
minorities. It does not have any negative connotation. As we will see below,
this conception change according to the different contexts it is used.
During the Soviet period, Tatars were just one nationality among
other nationalities. They were primarily defined thanks to statistics and a
folklorised culture. They had very often forgotten a Tatar identity in favour
of a supranational, Soviet identity. With the collapse of the USSR and the
establishment of independent countries, Tatars became members of separated
States. Yet, they didn’t consider themselves as emissaries and diaspora
representatives of a new state, Tatarstan, overnight. The bonds with Tatarstan
were thin, if not non-existent, for the great majority of them. The low rate of
emigration of Tatars to Tatarstan after 1991 is an illustration of it. This fact is
partly due to economic and political reasons (political situation of Tatarstan
within the Russian Federation, absence of a true supplementary program for
the installation of immigrants in the 1990’s).
Yves-Marie Davenel
Nevertheless, immediately after the collapse of the USSR, the Tatar
State convoked an assembly (kurultaj) of the Tatar people in Kazan. This
assembly brought together Tatars from the whole world. This event marked
the beginning of a vast movement of exchanges between Kazan and the
‘compatriots from abroad’. Tatarstan was then defined and recognised by the
participants as the historical centre of Tatars and the ‘tatarness’.
Since then, Tatarstan has been developing an active policy of
support for its compatriots from abroad by means of the World Congress of
Tatars and of special subcommittees within various ministries. Created in
1992, the World Congress of Tatars is an NGO financed by the Tatar state
whose aim is to get data about Tatars of the world, to coordinate and support
their actions, in particular in the cultural and linguistic spheres. This policy
essentially takes on a cultural and linguistic appearance through the
involvement of Tatar artists or the sending of teaching equipment to ‘Sunday
In 2002 an amendment of the Constitution was adopted, recognising
the duties of Tatarstan towards the compatriots from abroad. Article 14
stipulates that:
Tatarstan ensures its support for the development of the
national culture, of the language, for the safeguarding of
the characteristics of Tatars living outside the borders of
the Republic of Tatarstan.8
If the text doesn’t use the term, in this way the authorities of Tatarstan take
part in the construction and the reconnaissance of a Tatar diaspora.
The true ‘rediscovery’ of Tatars of Kazakhstan took place in 1996 at
the time of the first official visit of the president of Tatarstan during which he
met his Kazakhstani counterpart. It contributes to an improvement of the
conditions of cultural existence of the Tatars: neither the Kazakhstani
authorities, nor Tatarstan can ignore their claims anymore.
Besides cultural bonds, Tatarstan is also developing important
economic bonds with Kazakhstan. These bonds are partly based on local
businesses called ‘Torgovyj dom Tatarstan’ (Commercial firms Tatarstan).
Although the trades between the two countries are treated on an official level,
it is partly based on Tatars entrepreneurs well acquainted with the local
markets and their operating modes. These economic relations do not imply
interference from Tatarstan in the relationship between the Tatar minority
and the Kazakhstani state. Yet if need be, the Tatar minority can call upon
Tatarstan to plead its cause to the Kazakhstani authorities.
Thus, by the recognition of the existence of compatriots outside its
boundaries and the support provide to them, the republic of Tatarstan made a
Tatar diaspora a reality.
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
In the other hand, the Kazak authorities play a role in this process
too. By promoting the Kazak culture, the Kazak president establishes a clear
distinction between an indigenous culture and those of national minorities.
Kazak traditions are considered to be rooted into the Steppe territory. Those
of the minorities are viewed like outside elements, even if they are
recognised. The recognition of the richness of these foreign elements allows
the authorities to distinguish between ethnic groups. By promoting these
external contributions, these speeches point out the otherness of national
In his books, the president of Kazakhstan uses the term diaspora to
make a clear distinction between ‘Us-the titular nation’ from ‘Others-the
national minorities’. Although national minorities enjoy important cultural
rights and limited political rights since May 2007, the purpose of this speech,
and then the use of the word diaspora, is to make clear to them the primacy of
the Kazak culture. At the same time, the purpose of the president is to create
a civic nation, a Kazakhstani nation in which diasporas could play the role of
intermediaries between their countries of origin and Kazakhstan. Thus, by
delimiting boundaries in a multinational State, the Kazak authorities
participate in the creation of a feeling of belonging to a diaspora. Moreover,
the members of diasporas have to respect some rules. In his book, V Potoke
Istorii (In the Flow of History), Nazarbaev underlines the absence of political
claims of Kazaks in the countries in which they live and thus means the place
the national minorities must hold.9
The creation of the Tatar diaspora in Kazakhstan is thus based on
two parallel factors. The recognition of compatriots from abroad by the Tatar
authorities gives it an official existence. At the same time, it allows the
Kazak authorities to consider them as non indigenous on the territory of the
newly independent State. The question now is: how does the Tatar minority
react to this new situation?
The Mobilising Power of Diaspora? Some Elements of Response
One of the difficulties we meet when using the term diaspora is the
reality it covers. If any diaspora can potentially be defined as an
ethnic/national minority, the opposite is not true. All national minorities
cannot be a diaspora.
Two ways of being a member of a diaspora (as well as an ethnic
group) must be taken into account: the belonging and the affiliation. If the
first one results directly from a state of birth and is given by the others, that is
the non members, the second is the expression of personal feelings.
This issue is very problematic in Kazakhstan since the rediscovery
of a Tatar identity and, then the mobilisation of it, is a recent fact. Although
the reflection about a Tatar identity dates back to the 1960s in the then Tatar
ASSR, in Kazakhstan this national identity was not a factor of cultural
Yves-Marie Davenel
mobilisation until the 1990s. It is only after the law on language edited in
1989 than the first cultural centres were founded. Their first aims were and
are still today a ‘re-birth’ of Tatar language, culture and traditions.
Tatar cultural centres exist in every administrative region (oblast) of
Kazakhstan. Most of them are members of the Tatar and Tatar-Bachkir
Sociocultural Centres Association.
Although cultural centres are the only official voice of Tatars, they
have a limited power since a lot of Tatar people living in Kazakhstan don’t
take part in their activities. Other forms of socialisation exist, principally
based on kinship. These two points are not mutually exclusive, but the second
one is more important than the first.
Parallel to the Association, an official diplomatic representation of
the Tatar republic in the Kazak republic has been opened to improve
commercial links between the two countries and to ensure help to local
Tatars. While not an embassy, it represents the official face of Tatarstan in
this country.
From the Kazak State point of view, as well as from the point of
view of the Tatar authorities, however, the Tatar diaspora exists as a sum of
people with the same nationality. This approach does not take into account
the real involvements of a person into his/her nationality. This relationship
depends on several factors including age, sex, region and date of settlement.
Fieldwork surveys reveal that people don’t have the same behaviour vis-à-vis
his/her ethnic group of belonging according to age. The younger and elder
generations tend to be more inclined to ethnic/national feelings than middle
aged people. They actively participate in the activities of Tatar cultural
centres. Yet this does not mean that they identify themselves with Tatarstan
or that they wish to emigrate. They are conscious of belonging to a wide
Tatar nation, but at the same time feel themselves to be one hundred percents
citizens of the Kazakstani nation. The middle-age group is more cosmopolite
and exogamic marriages are a common fact.
Besides, a number of Tatar regard Kazakhstan as their ‘fatherland’
(rodina) for several reasons: they are attached to the places of memory such
as the burials of their ancestors, but also to the streets of a Tatarka (Tatar
suburb in the cities founded at the tsarist time) and to their friendly
relationships with members of other nationalities. Thus, Kazakhstan is
distinguished from Tatarstan, which is considered as a ‘historical fatherland’.
The relation to the territory varies according to interviewed people, and a
North-South cleavage takes shape, a cleavage related to the period of
settlement of the Tatar families in the Kazak territory. Then, the more we go
southward, the more the bonds with the territory are recent. The speeches on
the autochthony follow this line. Indeed, it is not rare that the inhabitants of
Almaty regard themselves more as ‘‘guests in the country of the Kazaks’’10
than as natives. This way of thinking is less common in the North and in the
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
East of the country where the prevailing feeling is that of the autochthony.
Yet, the claim of autochthony is not linked to political demands. It is based
on ‘historical’ background according to which Tatars have been living in
these areas for eight or nine generations.
In this context, the use of the term diaspora by the representatives of
Tatar cultural centres must be understood in two opposite ways. As long as
the term is used as a synonym for national minority, the word is actualised as
the expression of a community rooted in Kazakhstan which has thin bonds
with Tatarstan. However, during interviews when I asked whether or not the
term refers to exogenous group, the same persons categorically rejected the
word diaspora, or to be more precise, this definition of the term. Yet, this
kind of discourses is quite rare since ordinary people utilise words without
any scientific or elaborated definition.
Hence, in this context, the common use of the term diaspora is not
very helpful to understand the different aspects of an ethnic origin
To understand the way the nationality factor functions we have to
take into consideration another factor: the migrations. Since the collapse of
the USSR, many members of national minorities living at this time in
Kazakhstan have emigrated (Russian, German, Ingouche, Ukrainian, and so
on). Tatars did not. Those who emigrated did so for economic reasons but not
necessarily to Tatarstan (usually they left for Russia). Some others emigrated
to Tatarstan for political and/or emotional reasons: they wanted to live in the
country of their forefathers and build a ‘new post-Soviet country’.
However, most of the Tatars living in Kazakhstan for many
generations have chosen to stay. We can note different attitudes in the
relation to the so-called ‘fatherland’ (rodina):
1) Ignorance and/or indifference. This is the most common attitude.
2) The will to establish cultural bonds with Tatarstan but without
project of emigration. This attitude is supported by the Tatar State.
3) The will to emigrate.
This category of people can be divided in two subgroups: those who want to
leave because they don’t trust in the future of the country, and those who
choose to emigrate because of language shift and the future of their children.
These latter feel well integrated in the country but choose to take advantage
of the migration policy launched in June 2006 by the Russian Federation
authorities (“State program to aid voluntary migration of compatriots from
abroad”). As a member of the Russian Federation, the republic of Tatarstan
participates in this program. It has to provide housing, job opportunities and
Yves-Marie Davenel
social care to 700 families). They are not looking for the opportunity to live
in a Tatar environment and generally consider the Russian rather than the
Tatar language as their natural tongue.
Moreover, they don’t use the network of national cultural centres but
rather address their requests for help directly to the republic of Tatarstan. We
can explain that by the fact that representatives of the cultural centre do not
have the possibility to provide help to migrate. The migration policy for the
Russian Federation is the responsibility of the Russia embassy. But even if
the representatives of the cultural centres could provide help, they would not
necessarily do so. Indeed, they consider it would be counterproductive for
their own situation since the Kazak authorities would interpret this fact as an
act of mistrust vis-à-vis the political and interethnic situation in the country.
The mobilisation of the belonging to a diaspora is thus used by some
Kazakhstani Tatars in a specific way. This way corresponds to what the
Russian scholar Tichkov points out, i.e. the diaspora must be defined as a
situational and contextual experiment in a particular moment.
The example of the Tatars of Kazakhstan shows that the use of a
term is not neutral. It has to be analysed in the context of utilisation. While
the Tatar State uses it as a means of consolidating the Tatar ethnos, the Kazak
State uses it to make a distinction between indogenic and exogenic groups.
Tatars themselves mobilise the term in order to benefit some material
advantages or reject it when diaspora is used as a synonym of allochtony.
While national feelings of affiliation cannot be reduced only to utilitarianism,
the use of the term diaspora expresses political stakes.
Describing the contemporary situation of national minorities in postSoviet countries with such term as diaspora without a study of its use by the
different actors in presence is problematic as well. That is why we cannot
answer the question raised in the title without considering all the aspects of
the issue. The answer is open, depending on the viewpoint.
Yet in the context of contemporary Kazakhstan, the use of diaspora
would not be helpful in the overall comprehension since its use would
dissimulate different aspects of reality. Indeed, what do Korean, German,
Russian, and Tatar diasporas have in common? Except the fact that they are
all former sovietised national minorities, their relationships to so-called
‘homeland’ and relationships to the country they live in vary widely.
Since I would not deny that the term corresponds to a certain reality,
or a political project, as in the case of the Tatar State and then has to be used
to analyse the relationship centre would like to develop with what it consider
to be its periphery, the contrary is more problematic. Indeed, speaking of a
Tatar diaspora as a homogeneous entity or as a political/cultural community
is a non-sense.
The Case of the Tatars of Kazakhstan
Hence, in this particular case the use of the term diaspora as an
analytical concept could be misleading. We need to analyse it as a ‘wordproblem’ and to elaborate new terms or concepts to describe this specific
N Kosmarskaya, “Russian Diasporas in the Light of Identity :
Conceptualising Position of the Russian-speakers in the Post-Soviet States”,
in Les Diasporas. 2000 ans d’histoire. L Antelby-Yemini, W Berthomière, G
Sheffer (eds), PUR, Rennes, 2005, pp. 335-336.
Some Russian scientific journals like Etničeskoe obozrenie and Diaspory
have dedicated articles to these issues.
V A Tichkov, “Istoritcheskij fenomen diaspory” (Diaspora as an Historical
Phenomenon), Etničeskoe obozrenie, N°2, 2000.
For example Tatars of Siberia, Tatars of Astrakhan, Tatars of Kazan.
A J Frank, “Tatars Mullahs among the Kazaks and the Kyrgyzs at the
XVIII-XIXth Centuries”, in Kul’tura, iskusstvo tatarskogo naroda : istoki,
tradicii, vzaimosvâzi, Kazan, 1993, p. 129
S Dufoix, Les diasporas, PUF, Paris, 2003, pp. 63-65
Most of the national cultural centres have opened lessons of language for
their own community. Generally, these lessons take place on Sunday. These
“national schools” are supported by the state as teachers are paid by the
Zakon Respubliki Tatarstan n°1130 ‘O vnesenii izmenenij i dopolnenij v
Konstitutsiu Respuliki Tatarstan’, April 19th 2002.
Nazarbaev writes: “The Kazak diasporas have admirably assimilated the
culture, the language and the habits of the countries in which they live since
decades. They practically do not know a political movement based on
national factors. During the period covering all the post-war period, there is
not any example of protests of the Kazak population against the
representatives of the titular nation for ethnic or confessional causes. That
must be used as a model to all the diasporas residing in Kazakhstan’. N
Nazarbaev, V potoke istorii (In the Flow of History), Atamura, Almaty, 1999,
p. 136
Interview with the director of the Tatar public centre of the town of Almaty
Dufoix, S., Les diasporas, PUF, Paris, 2003
Yves-Marie Davenel
Frank, A.J., “Tatars Mullahs among the Kazaks and the Kyrgyzs at the
XVIII-XIXth Centuries”, in Kul’tura, iskusstvo tatarskogo naroda : istoki,
tradicii, vzaimosvâzi, Kazan, 1993, pp. 124-131
Kosmarskaya N., “Russian Diasporas in the Light of Identity :
Conceptualising Position of the Russian-speakers in the Post-Soviet States’,
in Les Diasporas. 2000 ans d’histoire. L. Antelby-Yemini, W. Berthomière,
G. Sheffer (eds), PUR, Rennes, *2005, pp. 335-345
Nazarbaev, N.A., V potoke istorii (In the Flow of History), Atamura, Almaty,
Tichkov, V.A., “Istoritcheskij fenomen diaspory” (Diaspora as an Historical
Phenomenon), in Etničeskoe obozrenie, N°2, 2000, pp. 43-63.
Yves-Marie Davenel is a PhD Candidate at the Laboratory of Anthropology
of Social Institutions and Organisations at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en
Sciences Sociales (Paris). His research focuses on the dialogue between State
[email protected]
Measuring Diasporic Identities:
A Survey on Foreign Students
Attending the University of Pisa
Gabriele Tomei
Despite its growing spread and success, the concept of diaspora suffers an
evident lack of systematic definition, not only from a theoretical but also
from an empirical point of view. This paper discusses the main results of an
on-line survey of young foreigners attending the University of Pisa with the
aim of contributing to a bottom-up definition of the concept of diaspora
through the analysis of a wide set of instrumental but also expressive and
cultural indicators. In fact, if strength of ties, amplitude and frequency of
contacts with other natives (living at home and/or abroad) are generally
considered the main proxy indicators of a possible diasporic structuration of
migrant groups, the paper argues that there are at least other three cultural
and sociological conditions that makes these outcomes possible or not: (i)
whether or not the migrant group members belong to a wider transnational
network, (ii) a shared sense of community with its members, (iii)
participating in a common project that involves the whole community.
Keywords: Co-development, cultural identification, diaspora, sense of
community, social capital, transnational networks.
One of the main characteristics of the global era is the expansion of
the field of definition of personal identity, of social relations, and even of
institutions that are beyond the limits of the co-presence and contemporaneity
of the actors involved.1 Since the early 1990s, the reflection on dislocated
social relations has had the theoretical and applied research support provided
by a new generation of studies on the translocal and transnational character of
migratory processes. The analyses and reflections that have derived from this
new approach have become more and more important in many areas of
applied research and in particular in the studies of the socio-economic
development of nations and communities. These studies go beyond the
original approaches that concentrated exclusively on recruiting processes
(brain drain), on remittances and on returns, by investigating more deeply the
increasingly multidimensional and multidirectional character of the
phenomenon. The recent spread of the idea that between the countries of
Measuring Diasporic Identities
origin and destination of migrants there could be circular processes of codevelopment based on the transnational practices of migrants has meant that
these studies could be extended to the perception of migrants as collective
agents of social change.2
Recently the concept of diaspora provided scholars with a new
instrument to categorise the transnational phenomena that involve clusters of
migrants living in different countries in the world and sharing a strong sense
of belonging to the same community.3 Despite its importance in
distinguishing special types of transnational networks from the other, this
new category brings up several critics both from theoretical and empirical
point of view.4
On the one hand, the aim of this paper is to contribute to the
methodological specification of the concept of a diaspora by proposing an
operating definition based on the use of indicators that can identify both the
instrumental and expressive components of the transnational links between
members of the same community. On the other hand, the objective is to use a
case study to highlight the links between the diasporic structure of a
migratory network and the propensity of the members to support the
development processes of their own community.
Aims, Subject and Methodology of the Research
Migrants have a high propensity to develop transnational ties with
their community of origin, both with the one consisting of compatriots who
live in the home country and with the one made up of compatriots abroad.
This is particularly evident for well-integrated migrants who have resources,
and cultural and technical/professional skills and competences. 5
The strength of the ties that characterise a transnational community
has generally been measured by the consistency and heterogeneity of the
practices found in the context of economic, political and socio-cultural
exchanges with other members of the network.6 These elements accentuate
the instrumental character of transnational communities, but underestimate
the more expressive, daily and informal side of the equation, such as the
sense of belonging to a community, 7 identification with members of this
community,8 and the potential for help and prestige that members have which
derive from belonging and being recognised as belonging to a community
(social capital).
In this paper I define diaspora a transnational community within
which members have a high level of exchanges - both instrumental and
expressive - but also demonstrate a high and shared level of belonging, a
strong sense of identification, and a high level of support and reciprocal help.
In addition, I hypothesise that co-development orientation (the way in which
migrants act in the present on the basis of the future engagement for
Gabriele Tomei
developing the community of origin) constitutes one of the most important
elements in defining the diasporic structure of transnational relations.
This paper analyses data from the initial results of an online survey
conducted in June 2008 on 182 foreign students doing degree or post-degree
courses at the University of Pisa (Italy) between 2000 and 2007.9
Foreign students are a particular category of migrants both in terms
of personal characteristics and in terms of the specific nature of the
institutional contexts with which they have relations during their migratory
experience. They are migrants with a high level of education and have
considerable resources and skills, in terms of communication and relations,
but frequently also in financial terms. With regard to institutional contexts,
they are migrants that have left their home country to develop cultural and
technical/professional competencies, and thus have become part of academic
and professional networks (university, research centre, enterprises, staff, etc.)
which will constitute in an increasingly distinct way their opportunities for a
future career.
The aim of our research is to find answers to some basic questions
regarding the transnational dislocation of foreign university students at the
University Pisa. To what extent do foreign students in Pisa maintain
instrumental, symbolic and normative ties with their community of origin,
and on the other hand, to what extent do they seem to re-orient themselves
towards the society and culture of the host country? In what cases do such
students take part in transnational communities? In what cases does a
transnational community come to life, is it seen by them as a diaspora, and
what factors facilitate this process? What connects the diasporic structure of
the transnational ties of these students and their propensity to support
development processes in their home country?
In order to analyse the results, we first categorised the respondents
into geographical groups.10 This led to a set of three typologies within which
we analysed and compared data on the interviewees’ ties with (i) the host
community (the Italians in Pisa), (ii) the community of compatriots that live
in Italy, (iii) the community of compatriots that live in the home country, and
(iv) the community of compatriots that live abroad but not in Italy.
Analytical Categories: Definitions and Operationalisations
As mentioned when we were outlining our hypotheses, in our
research on foreign students we used five distinct analytical categories. The
first category (transnational activity) was used to verify the existence and to
study the form of ties between the various groups of students interviewed
and the community of their compatriots who reside in the home country or
abroad. Three other categories were used to measure the different weight of
reciprocal ties (social capital) and the symbolic and value attachment (sense
of community and identification) that the groups of respondents maintained
Measuring Diasporic Identities
both with the community of origin (compatriots in the home country and
abroad) and with the host community (compatriots in Italy, and Italian
residents). The fifth analytical category (orientation to co-development) was
introduced to measure the disposition of the students to invest in the future
of their community of origin.
Transnational activities
A recent theoretical and methodological review of the main research
works on transnationalism, proposed the use of a critical threshold with
which to be able to distinguish (in terms of intensity and frequency) a
transnational phenomenon from a phenomenon that cannot be defined as
such. This threshold was seen as a preliminary means in order to deal with
the empirical translation of any transnational theory and if necessary with
how it could be measured.11 The author admits that there are still only a few
studies that have tried to establish the base criteria on which to define and
measure when and above all to what extent a social phenomenon can be
considered as transnational.
The most recent works have established the level of social ties at a
distance by measuring the activities regarding the community of belonging
that the migrants develop in the economic sector (consumption of ethnic
products, money transfers, sending presents, investments in enterprises etc),
socio-cultural (visits, participation in public events in the home country,
membership of ethnic associations etc), and political (interest in the problems
of compatriots in the home country, affiliation to political parties in the home
country, political activism, etc.) .12
In our research on foreign students this measurement is particular
important because it means that it is possible to identify and select those
groups of interviewees who maintain stable, and in some way
“institutionalised” relations with their community of origin (compatriots in
the home country or abroad) and thus find more than the others the need to
develop ‘bifocal’ attitudes and orientations.
Social Capital
For several years the concept of social capital has been one of the
key themes in social research, applied thanks to the initial thematisation by
Bourdieau. The concept was then deepened by its application of the theory of
exchange to the social networks made by Granovetter, Coleman and Lin, and
was exploited as a guiding concept for macro-geographical surveys.
Although this notion primarily refers to the instrumental functions of
exchange between members of a social network, some recent contributions13
have also underlined its expressive meaning - they suggest that social capital
could be considered as an indicator of community aggregates. This then is the
meaning that we have given to social capital in our study of foreign students.
Gabriele Tomei
In order to evaluate it we used a sensitive indicator - a resource generator which sheds light not only on the instrumental value but also the expressive
value of the resources that a member of a network can activate14
Sense of Community
The availability of resources that can be mobilised by a member of a
social network due to that member’s belonging to the network represents an
initial and important indicator of the cohesion of that network and the extent
to which it can qualify as a community. However, the contents of belonging
to a community are not just based on the availability of social capital, since
they are by nature symbolic, emotional and motivational.
So that we could understand and measure the expressive dimensions
of the experience of members of a transnational community (belonging,
identification, attachment etc) we referred to the synthetic indicator of sense
of community,15 which is described as a feeling that the members have of
belonging and being important for each other and a shared trust that the needs
of the members will be satisfied by their commitment to being together.
In a recent study on the transnational involvement of migrants
resident in the Netherlands, the authors measured the respondents’ ethnic
identification, or rather the extent to which migrants living un the
Netherlands identify with (1) native Dutch people, (2) compatriots living in
the Netherland, (3) compatriots living in the country of origin and (4)
compatriots in third countries. The authors state:
These social identities indicate how people define
themselves in relation to their social environment. It is not
about what distinguishes one individual from the other, but
about what is shared with the others. The social identity of a
person refers to the two basic questions in life: (1) to whom
I do belong? and (2) how should I behave? These two key
questions relate to the group dimension and the normative
dimension of social identity respectively.16
Using the same logic and schema as the Dutch research, we asked
our respondents to express their level of agreement regarding some
statements. On the basis of our respondents’ answer to the statements we
constructed three indicators representing: (1) group dimension (statements
about to whom they feel close, are proud of, are occasionally ashamed of),
(2) normative dimension (statements about whose norms and values are taken
into account, with whom they agree on the ‘important things in life’) and (3)
Measuring Diasporic Identities
project dimension (statements about which community they feel will be theirs
in the future and the future of their children) of identification.
Orientation to Co-development
Orientation to co-development is a personal attitude, an emotional
and intellectual disposition that is difficult to measure, and even more so to
synthesise into one or more indicators. However, it is a crucial parameter for
understanding not only the type of transnational ties of the migrants but also
the possibility that some of these ties (particularly those with compatriots in
the home country and abroad) can be structured as diasporas: transnational
ties that are very close knit and at the same time able to catalyse and orient in
favour of the home country the future projects of the members, whatever the
country where they reside.
In our research we examined two parameters of the orientation to codevelopment: (1) the interest of the interviewees in using in their home
country the scientific and professional competence that they have acquired
abroad, and (2) the participation of the migrants in cooperation development
projects that are directed to supporting the home country.
Data Analysis
A total of 182 foreign students enrolled at the University of Pisa
responded to our survey, of whom 106 female (58.2%) and 76 male (41.8%).
37.9% were aged between 25 and 29, and only 27.5% were younger than 25.
Students from developed countries represented 33.5% (most from EU
countries), 31.3% from Eastern Europe (mostly Albania), and 31.9% from
other countries. 45.7% were from scientific faculties and 54.3% from
humanistic faculties.
Overall, the level of socio-economic integration was good. 70.3%
were living in a flat or house, mostly rented, which 90.7% deemed as very
adequate for their needs. 41.8% maintained themselves by working (with a
regular contract in 68.9% of cases). Those not working were able to maintain
themselves with a grant (44.1%) or with the help of family members living in
the home country (19.9%) or in Italy (20.5%).
The levels of relational integration were also positive. 30% were
married or living together, and of these 58.6% with an Italian partner. Just
over half (53.6%) spent their free time above all with Italians, whereas 24.2%
spent it with family members (of whom 42.3% live in Italy).
Gabriele Tomei
Table 1 - Overview of Transnational Activities per Migrant Group (in
percentage of the group total)
Everyday economic activities
Transfers money to family
Sends goods to country of origin
Contributions to charities in
country of origin
Average value
Invests in companies in country
of origin
Conducts trade with country of
Average value
Reads newspapers from country
of origin
Keeps in touch with politics in
country of origin
Member of political party in
country of origin
Participates in demonstrations
related to country of origin
Average value
Sociocultural activities in country
of origin
Visits family/friends in country
of origin
Frequent contacts with family in
country of origin
Member/supporter of social
and/or cultural organisation in
country of origin
Participates in
cultural/religious/sport events in
country of origin
Average value
Measuring Diasporic Identities
Data analysis reveals different attitudes between the groups of
students considered in the survey. Students coming from developed countries
(EU most of all) have an high sense of belonging and identification with their
home community, but they seem to have few transnational ties with it.
Transnational practices are poor and the social capital indicators referred to
compatriots living in home country are weaker than in other groups. On the
contrary, they present a higher level of expressive relations with compatriots
living in home country or abroad. Sense of community and other
identification indicators are both higher than in other groups. In general they
do not present any significant co-development orientation.
A completely different situation is apparent for students coming
from developing countries. They declare high levels both in expressive and in
instrumental ties with home community. In fact they have a strong
identification with compatriots living at home but also support and maintain
it by a high level of transnational practices. They demonstrate the higher
level of co-development orientation.
Eastern European students reveal a truly mixed attitude. They
maintain high levels of group identification with their compatriots at home,
but at the same they demonstrate a higher sense of belonging and normative
identification with the host community. In general they have a moderate codevelopment orientation.
Table 2 - Indicators of Belonging Attitudes per Migrant Group
Social capital
Sense of community
Social capital
Sense of community
Social capital
Sense of community
Our research on foreign students enrolled at the University of Pisa
has highlighted on an empirical level the different structure of transnational
ties and sense of belonging amongst the various groups taken into
consideration. In summary, students from developed countries are true
Gabriele Tomei
passing foreigners, those from Eastern Europe are Italians born abroad and
those from other countries are a solidal community. At the same time, and
still on an empirical level, our research has furthered our knowledge of the
quality of those transnational ties and senses of belonging that more than any
other factor are associated with co-development and which, as we have just
mentioned, are those expressed by the solidal communities.
On a theoretical level, the research has enabled us to clarify some
hypotheses and to respond to some of the questions that we asked ourselves
at the outset - clearly these are only preliminary for the moment until we have
made further investigations:
Not all the students who answered the questionnaire, even though
with the same status and a good level of integration, claimed they
had developed transnational ties. The size and intensity of
transnational ties with the community of origin seems to have an
inverse relation to the level of development of the home country, so
we could thus define as being members of transnational
communities only those students from Eastern Europe and
developing countries.
The availability of social capital, of a strong indentification and
sense of community towards the community of origin are important
factors for distinguishing the orientation of members of
transnational communities. Where this is present and recognised by
the members, the transnational community tends to transform itself
into a diaspora. Where this is not present, or is in any case weak, the
instrumental and symbolic resources of the host community will
gradually replace and mix with those of the community of origin,
thus generating hybrid transnational communities, in which the
members will have interiorised the point of view of the host society.
Diasporas are transnational communities that are dense, close-knit,
rich both in social capital and in symbolic and identity resources;
but above all represent the type of transnational community which
more than the others promotes the sense of responsibility of its
members towards the community of origin and induces its actors to
Measuring Diasporic Identities
A Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Polity Press, Cambridge,
S Nair, “La politique de codéveloppement liée aux flux migratoires”, in
Hommes & Migrations, n.1214, 1998
R Cohen, Global Diasporas. An Introduction, Routledge, Oxford 1997; R
Cohen and S Vertovec, Migration, Diasporas and Transnationalism, Edward
Elgar Publishing, Southampton, 1999.
T Faist, “Migrants as Transnational Development Agents: An Inquiry into
the Newest Round of the Migration-Development Nexus”, in Population,
Space and Place, n.14, 2007
E Snel, G Engbersen, A Leerkes, “Transnational Involvement and Social
Integration”, in Global Networks, n.6 (3), 2006
D McMillan and D Chavis, “Sense of Community: A Definition and
Theory”, in Journal of Community Psychology, n.14, 1986
Snel et al., op. cit.
There were a total of 2057 students with a foreign citizenship enrolled in
degree, masters and PhD courses at the University of Pisa between 2000 and
2007. Our research was based only on 900 of these students who gave their
email addresses to the administrative offices of the university. 182 students
had completed the questionnaires by 13 June 2008, which was the day on
which the first extraction of data took place on the basis of which the analysis
was conducted.
The three geographical groups are: (1) Advanced countries (EU, USA,
Canada, Japan, Australia); (2) Eastern Europe (outside the EU); (3) Other
P Boccagni, “Come si ‘misura’ il transnazionalismo degli immigrati? Dalle
teorie alla traduzione empirica: una rassegna metodologica”, in Mondi
Migranti, 2, 2007
Snel et al., op. cit.
A Pizzorno, “Perché si paga il benzinaio. Nota per una teoria del capitale
sociale”, in Stato e Mercato, 3, 1999
M Van Der Gaag and T A B Snijders, The Resource Generator: Social
Capital quantification with Concrete Items, Free University Amsterdam,
University of Groningen, 2004
McMillan and Chavis, op. cit.
Snel et al., op. cit., p.290
Gabriele Tomei
Boccagni, P., “Come si ‘misura’ il transnazionalismo degli immigrati? Dalle
teorie alla traduzione empirica: una rassegna metodologica”. Mondi Migranti,
n.2, 2007.
Cohen, R., Global Diasporas. An Introduction. Routledge, Oxford, 1997.
Cohen, R. & Vertovec, S., Migration, Diasporas and Transnationalism.
Edward Elgar Publishing, Southampton, 1999.
Faist, T., “Migrants as Transnational Development Agents: An Inquiry into
the Newest Round of the Migration-Development Nexus”. Population, Space
and Place, n.14, 2007.
Giddens, A., The Consequences of Modernity, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1990.
McMillan, D. & Chavis, D., ‘“Sense of Community: A Definition and
Theory”. Journal of Community Psychology, n.14, 1986.
Nair, S., “La politique de codéveloppement liée aux flux migratoires.”
Hommes & Migrations, n.1214, 1998
Pizzorno, A., “Perché si paga il benzinaio. Nota per una teoria del capitale
sociale”. Stato e Mercato, n.3, 1999
Snel, E., Engbersen, G., Leerkes, A., ‘Transnational involvement and social
integration’. Global Networks, n.6 (3), 2006
Van Der Gaag, M., Snijders, T.A.B., The Resource Generator: Social capital
Quantification with Concrete Items, Free University Amsterdam, University
of Groningen, 2004.
Gabriele Tomei has a PhD in Sociology of Development and is a full
Researcher at the University of Pisa. email:[email protected]
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese:
From Alienation to an Alternative Way of Life
Jia Gao1
This article is based on an analysis of the empirical data from some research
on contemporary overseas Chinese communities, and examines the apparent
differences between the key elements of the traditional concept of diaspora
and the complexities of more recent worldwide migrations of Chinese people.
The article will begin with a review of the recent efforts to use the concept in
analysing various forms of new Chinese migrants, and examine in what ways
the term diaspora has been utilised in this context. The discussion will then
focus on why and how so many Chinese were motivated to leave their places
of origins, and how and why their new diasporic communities were formed.
The simplicity of the idea of dispersal carried by the conventional concept of
diaspora will then be discussed. This article will continue with an in-depth
look at the data concerning diasporic lives of new overseas Chinese. Special
attention will be given to the findings relied upon by the present researcher in
forming the idea of “dual-track demarginalisation” in an earlier study, which
will be utilised to address the one-sidedness of the notion of separation or
isolation in the long-established concept of diaspora.
Keywords: Diasporisation, diasporic lives, diasporic practices, dual-track
demarginalisation, new Chinese migrants , overseas Chinese.
There has been a growing trend among scholars of overseas Chinese
to make use of the term diaspora as a concept in their studies since it was first
used in the mid 1970s.2 As has occurred to research into other diasporas, the
proliferation of the term diaspora in the field of overseas Chinese studies is
because many old theoretical concepts become ineffective in analysing the
complexities of global migrations of Chinese people, and it is hoped that the
diaspora concept could be used to look at issues beyond the causes and
consequences and the place-based qualities of their worldwide movements to
include social behaviours, economic activities and flexible identities.3 Yet as
has also occurred elsewhere, the real meaning and nature of the concept have
been considered by some to be ambiguous and inadequate, and the utilisation
of the diaspora concept becomes even more problematic when it is applied to
the analysis of more recent international movements of Chinese people. This
article is based on an analysis of the empirical data from some research on
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
contemporary overseas Chinese communities, including one carried out by
the present researcher,4 and looks at the apparent differences between the
focal characteristics, or key elements, of the traditional diaspora concept and
the complexities of more recent global migrations of Chinese people.
The term diasporisation used in this article refers to two processes
relating to contemporary overseas Chinese. It is first concerned with the new
trend of utilising the concept of diaspora in overseas Chinese studies, and the
ways in which it has been utilised. The second process, as to be elaborated, is
about more vital changes that have taken place in the past few decades to not
only the attitude of Chinese people towards international migration, but also
to the ways in which Chinese migrants have opted to migrate from China to
other countries, living a diasporic life as an alternative way of life, if not a
choice of life. Although overseas Chinese communities across the world were
sizable before the early 1980s, when China again became a migrant sending
country, earlier Chinese migrants were largely from Guangdong and Fujian,
two previously poor agricultural provinces. In the past two to three decades,
overseas Chinese communities globally have not only expanded rapidly and
continuously, but have also changed their compositions to include those who
are from a wide range of regions in China and choose to live a diasporic life.
The second meaning of the term diasporisation in this article refers to the key
characteristics associated with the above changes in Chinese diasporas.
In the broad field of diaspora studies, theoretical analyses conducted
by Safran, Cohen and some other researchers have been regarded as the new
classical work that has outlined a framework for further exploring the
concept diaspora.5 In his article, Safran identifies the following features of a
typical diaspora: (1) dispersal to two or more locations; (2) a collective
mythology of homeland; (3) alienation from the host society; (4) idealisation
of return to homeland; (5) an ongoing relationship with the homeland; and (6)
group consciousness.6
In addition to the above six-point synopsis, there are also three- or
four-point summaries of common features of a diaspora.7 Among those key
points mentioned in different summaries, two elements appear to be more
essential than other features in characterising diaspora, and are included in
every possible summary. The first of these two basic features is dispersion or
dispersal from a homeland to two or more locations, and the second is
isolation or alienation from the host society. In a more recent effort, Reis
suggests to consider the term diaspora in three historical phases, calling
attention to the differences between classical, modern and contemporary or
late-modern Diasporas. While she recognises that contemporary diaspora are
complex and coeval with globalisation, Reis also believes that contemporary
diaspora is characterised by dislocation and fragmentation.8
As mentioned, there has been a growing trend among researchers of
overseas Chinese to use the concept Diaspora in their studies since it was first
Jia Gao
used in the mid 1970s, and such a diasporic approach has been widespread
since the 1990s, as the approach is believed to have a number of benefits. For
example, Ma argues that new analytical frameworks such as diaspora theory
are better equipped than traditional conceptions of international migration to
explain “the complex nature of new migrant geographies, social behaviours,
economic activities and shifting cultural identities.”9 Among many scholars
regarding diasporic scholarship as a global approach that “cuts across cultural
and national boundaries,”10 Chew and Liu believe that diasporic scholarship
improves upon conventional theories of global migration by recognising that
migrant communities often develop a unique blend of culture and economics
that “sets them apart from the populations at both their places of origin and
their places of destination.”11 From their perspective, although some regard
the word diaspora as a term interchangeable with the phrase “overseas
Chinese communities”,12 this diasporic approach considers migration and
migrant lives from two-ways (not asymmetric), taking the emphasis off
assimilation, and recognising the importance of culture (not just economics).
Although the entirety of the use of the diaspora concept in overseas
Chinese studies is beyond the scope of this article, a literature review at least
shows that enormous scholarly efforts to use the concept diaspora in overseas
Chinese studies have been made, adding a new theoretical dimension to the
analysis of overseas Chinese and their diasporic life. At the same time when
the concept is utilised in the field, there are also a number of gaps appearing
between the literature on the utilisation of the concept diaspora and the actual
changes in Chinese diasporas. Such gaps are so large that some scholars even
believe that Chinese diaspora or the possibility of multiple Chinese diasporas
is the concept which defies the traditional diaspora concept. The challenges
aside, which will be discussed next, one of such problems is that both the old
Chinese diaspora and the new diaspora have not been differentiated to reflect
the changes that have taken place in the past two or three decades. It becomes
even problematic when research findings based on one type of such diasporas
are used to explain various issues related to other groups.
The commonality between multiple contemporary Chinese diasporas
has indicated that they are different from old Chinese migrants or sojourner
groups, especially in terms of the reasons why they have chosen to migrate
and the belief that they would never be fully accepted by the host society, and
therefore develop their own collective culture. That is, new Chinese diasporas
might still preserve a collective memory about China, the belief that the
ancestral homeland is their true home, and that they should be committed to
its success; as well as that they should maintain their collective awareness,
but they have not only opted to migrate because of reasons different from
earlier groups, but also adopted different attitudes to their diasporic lives.
These have become distinct characteristics of new Chinese diasporas
according to a large amount of literature that has lately appeared. While
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
being caution against uncritical use of the concept to any and all contexts of
global migration,13 this article examines these two features of new Chinese
diasporas with aims of exploring their key differences from old Chinese
migrants and contributing to theoretical debates about the diaspora concept.
Alienation vs. Forced Dispersion
This section looks at why and how so many Chinese migrants have
been motivated to leave their places of origins since the 1980s, and how and
why their diasporic communities were then formed. This is the first key
feature or fundamental characteristic of contemporary Chinese diasporas,
which not only defies the traditional diaspora concept according to some
scholars, but also makes a distinction between the old Chinese migrant
groups and the new Chinese diasporas. The key to this discussion is to
challenge the simplicities of the idea of dispersal carried by the conventional
concept of diaspora and the concept of forced departure from home that is
contained in not only the old idea of dispersal, but also in the lately-formed
and widely-used push-pull model of migration. To further challenge those
ideas, this article argues for adopting the concept of alienation to
conceptualise the factors that push or motivate people to move, especially in
the context of contemporary migration.
Studies of the history of Chinese migration have long demonstrated
how trends in diasporisation have evolved to the extent at which the diaspora
characteristics of the 20th century are different from those in the 19th century.
Stephen Chan once put forward one of the strongest arguments supporting
such a theoretical challenge, contending that the Chinese “diaspora” is unlike
those of others: “no loss of country; no mass enslavement and transportation;
no sustained persecutions, even within the Manchu dynasty; and no mass
exoduses even in times of civil war, except by the Kuomintang to Taiwan in
1949.”14 Some of his remarks are unquestionably debatable, for example, the
Taiping Rebellion of the mid 19th century has commonly been regarded as a
major push factor responsible for the massive emigration of Chinese people
at the time. However, he believes that there have been few instances of
forced exile of Chinese groups or communities. As an alternative, Chan
stresses the role of people’s desire for economic betterment, or their anxiety
about wealth and their freedoms in their migration decision-making process.
Of course, he also notes economic reform in China under Deng Xiaoping, but
he offers no explanation why many still want to leave the country where they
can fulfil their desire for economic betterment. Obviously Chan has mixed up
both the “push” and “pull” factors affecting migration process, although his
arguments imply a unique diasporisation process of Chinese people, almost
pointing out the second meaning of the diasporisation that this article is going
to examine, which is about that Chinese people have opted to migrate from
China to other countries, living a diasporic life as an alternative way of life.
Jia Gao
Of course, his comments were more about pull factors, if they can be defined
using this term, mentioning no internal factors in China that drive people to
The argument put forward by Stephen Chan and some others seems
to want to point out several key points concerning Chinese diasporas. First,
China is not a country or place where a single large scale socio-historical or
socio-political event, including civil war or invasion, could make its entire
population, or even a proportion of them, displaced, and its population size
has since its ancient time made it impossible to have a large proportion of
them displaced and exiled. Second, migration decisions made by Chinese
migrants often do not have direct connections with significant events taking
place in China. Although not many have elaborated their arguments clearly,
some appear to have argued for that not many Chinese migrants were forced
to leave their homeland as obvious and direct as in the case of what has been
defined as classical diasporas. This is in fact a debate about whether any form
of direct force existed in the formation of Chinese diasporas, and to challenge
the potentially passive nature of the definition of diaspora. These debates also
indirectly suggest that the element of force in the concept diaspora should be
replaced by a term that could better explain why some people decide to leave
their homeland. The term alienation appears to be the one that explains the
relationship between those decided to migrate and their place of origin.
Such a broadly defined factor of alienation becomes more evident in
the context of contemporary Chinese diasporas, although there are almost no
studies that focused directly on alienation as a particular cause of emigration
from China. The concept did arise in passing or as minor points in a number
of articles. For example, in their survey of 1,220 Asian immigrants living in
Australia, Ip, Inglis and Wu found, inter alia, that immigrants from Hong
Kong and China cited political security and freedom far more frequently than
other Asian immigrants as a motivation for obtaining Australian citizenship.15
Peter Li specifically emphasises the role of the Tiananmen incident and its
aftermath, not the imminent return of Hong Kong to China, in the rising
volume of emigration from Hong Kong in the early 1990s.16 While big events
such as Tiananmen Square are relatively easy to understand, as the cases
often result from various types of political alienation and result in a situation
where more people become alienated politically, sometimes it is hidden and
difficult to see whether people in fact are alienated. In addition to what Ip,
Inglis and Wu have recorded in their study, Kuah-Pearce also makes it
known that some Chinese migrate “in order to attain a certain level of selfexpression and self-actualisation.”17 That is, it motivates people to leave
when they feel unable to fulfil their potential in their homeland. The feeling
of being alienated from society or other people could be expressed by people
in a number of different ways. In their interviews of Hong Kong migrants, Li
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
and others note that some cited “discrimination at home” as a reason for
Many scholars have also continued to argue that Chinese diasporas
cannot be considered to be unified, and that they are not one kind of diaspora,
rather a series of physical and geographical diasporas, but these Chinese
share some similar experiences in home country, which drive them to
relocate themselves outside their home country. According to a similar logic,
although there is no unifying sense of persecution or exile amongst Chinese
diasporas as argued by some scholars including Stephen Chan, there is never
a lack of different forms of alienation playing its role in motivating people to
migrate. As early as in 1912, Ling had already pointed out that many Chinese
peasants emigrating at the time were doing so partially because of social
prejudice experienced at home.19 In fact, there are numerous cases of
individual Chinese communities being marginalised by either adverse
political agenda or unfavourable socio-economic conditions in home country.
Yong Chen argues that even in the mid-19th century emigration from Canton
to California was not prompted by of “a desperate flight” from poverty as
many scholars have portrayed, but rather a measured choice by merchants
and labourers to achieve upward social mobility in the context of
longstanding trans-Pacific connections.20 When Thuno and Pieke explain that
villagers in Fujian migrate “because it is in their nature and they have always
done so,”21 they forget that like Canton some decades ago, Fujian is far from
the traditional heartland of Chinese culture and politics, very much a
marginalised place in national life.
Because of the broad meaning of the concept alienation, more sociopolitical and socio-economic circumstances, both complex and simple, could
be included in the study of not only Chinese diasporas, but also other forms
of diaspora and diaspora-related issues. A large amount of evidence or data
supporting the use of the concept alienation has appeared in print and Internet
publications, Chinese language films, and television programs. Even in
academic publications, more facts and specifics could be found and used to
confirm that there is a wide range of circumstances that motivate people to
migrate and can also be defined as alienation from homeland. For example,
while socio-economic changes in China have taken place rapidly in recent
years, many rural people are losing out in China’s development, and as a
result feel disempowered and disenchanted. Using data from several Chinese
surveys, Liang and Morooka note a marked shift during the early 1990s in the
socio-economic composition of emigrants away from urbanites towards rural
peasants.22 Such change may be a result of urban reform, which made life for
city dwellers more comfortable, reducing the incentive to emigrate. Of
course, the use of the concept “alienation” in diaspora studies will be
challenged by its similarities to and differences with various push factors of a
push-pull model of migration. As already mentioned, however, the concept of
Jia Gao
the diaspora implies complex connections of those who are geographically
scattered to their home country and culture, which could not be found in the
meaning of push factors. Regardless of whether the diaspora concept has
three or six common features or elements, it also carries the meaning of
collective identity and the unity of those sharing the same cultural
background. In comparison, the push factor is a far simpler explanation than
the alienation concept.
Dual-Track Demarginalisation vs. Isolation
This discussion examines the data concerning diasporic lives, or the
diasporic practices of everyday life, of new overseas Chinese, and addresses
the one-sidedness of the notion of separation or isolation carried by the longestablished concept of diaspora. This is the second fundamental characteristic
or key feature of the diasporisation of contemporary overseas Chinese, which
plays a central role similar to the feature discussed in the previous section in
distinguishing attitudes of contemporary overseas Chinese toward their lives
in newly adopted homelands and various practices from old overseas Chinese
communities. That is, this analysis should be read in conjunction with what
was discussed in the previous section. These two changes have formed the
basis of making new overseas Chinese increasingly diasporised, ending their
tradition of perceiving and treating themselves as sojourners. For a long time,
the characteristics of overseas Chinese communities have been considered
consistent with the traditional diaspora concept, never being fully accepted
by the host society, but rather developing their own community culture and
needs. Such attitudes and practices have changed over time as more Chinese
have adopted living in a diasporic community as an alternative way of life.
Of course, it is widely acknowledged that some scholars have never
considered overseas Chinese to be a community exactly like in the way that
the concept diaspora has been defined. However, evidence produced by some
empirical studies to argue for the uniqueness of overseas Chinese has simply
proven that there was a great level of political participation in local politics
while some formed unique or flexible identities predominantly because of the
interaction of both local and transnational factors. Diasporic trends have
shown that as early as during the 19th and early 20th century, a greater level of
political participation by overseas Chinese already took place in local
national politics, which led to their greater devotion to their host countries.23
For example, when Singapore first gained independence, the passionate
participation of local Chinese almost demolished the idea that overseas
Chinese were apolitical. Although this case has been regarded as evidence
showing overseas Chinese being part of nation-building in their host
societies, their small numbers and the discouragement under various
discriminatory policies have simply confined them to the issues, such as
immigration policy, the right to provide Chinese education, and the rights to
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
control their community media and organisations. Among studies of identity,
the Chinese in Southeast Asia have been found to adopt a range of strategies
to deal with their identity, and the principle that they decided on their
identities mostly depends on the balance between them as an ethnic group
and the socio-political climate in their host societies.24 In a more recent study,
Nonini and Ong argue that identities of overseas Chinese are unstable
formations constituted within webs of power relations. Based on this, they
believe that overseas Chinese living in Thailand have their own “third
culture” which is neither purely Chinese nor essentially Thai, but mobile.25
Despite the aforementioned key changes in their diasporic practices,
overseas Chinese have been considered to have effectively maintained their
strong Chinese identity, and therefore largely separated from the mainstream
of their host societies. Apart from what was mentioned above, the mid 20th
century marked an era in which overseas Chinese consciously stopped being
sojourners and started adopting migrant identities by settling in host countries
and taking up citizenship. Since the mid 1970s, the effects of the introduction
of multiculturalism in leading immigration countries created an environment
in which anti-discrimination had gained international acceptance, which has
also gradually formed a perspective to look at diasporic practices themselves.
Even in some studies of the early Chinese migrants, more attention is paid to
the uniqueness of their diasporic life. As mentioned, Chew and Liu find out
that there was a unique blend of culture and economics that situated Chinese
migrants apart from the populations at both their home country and their host
country. That is, living a diasporic life could be an alternative way of life.
However, also since then, more changes have occurred to diasporic
practices of Chinese diasporic communities than to both the theoretical and
the empirical findings about them. Some new studies have then also emerged
looking at those changes and providing more evidence for further
theorisation, while some researchers realised that too much attention is paid
to the role of the homeland, its culture and global forces at the expense of
local forces. For example, Louie argues that although Chinese Americans
enjoy the privilege of mobility, “their identities are strongly shaped by the
nation-states in which they reside.”26 Callahan also reveals that the identity
formation of Sino-Thai communities takes place in various local economic
cultures, “not just for the most obvious case of national identity, but in
relations of exclusion in local and transnational contexts as well.”27 Based on
a small-scale study in Canada, Chen believes that overseas Chinese live in
“triadic relations” that they have developed between their homeland,
Canadian society, and co-ethnic groups, forming diversified, interactive and
changeable networks. Despite his idea that diasporic thinking should be
replaced by “grounded cosmopolitanism,” Jacobsen has also provided
evidence proving that living outside homeland is a way of life. First, he
reveals that Chinese diasporas are socially integrated groups, not a
Jia Gao
diasporised ethnic group, and their flexible identity includes negotiated local
elements. Second, their longing for homeland is no longer widespread, as
daily lives are far more pressing than others.28
Contrary to the belief that Chinese migrants are normally isolated in
their host countries, a study conducted by the present researcher has revealed
that that there are continuing efforts made by Chinese migrants in countering
marginalisation and maintaining their relevance to both China and their host
country, or Australia in the context of this study. These two types of ongoing
efforts become so evident and constant that a temporal pattern is formed.
Such two types of ongoing efforts and the temporal pattern are then named
“dual-track demarginalisation”. To a large extent, this study is based on an
idea similar to the one put forward by Butler, which believes that rather than
being viewed as an ethnicity, diaspora may be considered as a framework for
the study of a specific process of community formation.29 Apart from this
static picture of their lives, characterised by dual-track demarginalisation,
diasporic lives of that group of Chinese migrants studied then are also found
to have been typified by a train of changes that switched from one dual-track
option to another. If examined as a dynamic process, such changes form and
show a pattern, in which their efforts appear to oscillate between their place
of origin and their new host country, between their original culture and their
adopted culture. For that reason, there appears to be a continuous zigzag or
switching back and forth pattern in this dual-track demarginalisation process.
To the casual observer, these dual-track efforts to counter the danger
of being marginalised on either side of their transnational lives were nothing
more than a testimony to Li Minghuan’s claim that overseas Chinese “need
two worlds.”30 In effect, these two types of ongoing efforts and its temporal
pattern have shown a unique way of life, which is not only characterised by
the correlation between the transnationality of diasporic communities and its
evolving nature, but also confirms that contemporary overseas Chinese are no
longer isolated in their host society nor separated from others living in their
newly adopted country. Otherwise, it would be never possible to explain and
understand a range of facts about their diasporic lives, such as their success in
climbing the social ladder in diasporic communities as small as India,31 and
the Chinese dominance in some Southeast Asian economies.
Conclusion: Towards an Alternative Way of Life
The new attitudes and practices accepted by contemporary overseas
Chinese towards living in a diaspora have shown significant differences from
earlier Chinese sojourners or immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Among the changes are two fundamental characteristics of the conventional
diaspora concept, which are dispersion from a homeland, and isolation in the
hostland, or dislocation and fragmentation in the words of Reis. Based on an
analysis of the empirical data from some research on contemporary overseas
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
Chinese, this discussion has not only challenged the idea of dispersal carried
by the diaspora concept and argued for adopting the concept of alienation to
conceptualise the factors that drive people to move, but has also reviewed the
notion of isolation or separation in the old diaspora concept and considered
living in a diaspora to be an alternative way of life in the context of Chinese
diasporic lives. Because of the importance of these two characteristics in the
concept, and the size of contemporary overseas Chinese communities, this
analysis of changes to contemporary overseas Chinese might be helpful in
examining the contemporary diasporic condition and exploring the changing
meaning of the diaspora concept.
The key to this discussion is to put forward the idea that to live in a
diaspora in a contemporary context is an alternative way of life. This is what
this article called the diasporisation of contemporary overseas Chinese, which
not only takes into consideration profound changes to the attitudes of Chinese
people towards international migration and the ways in which Chinese
migrants have lived in a diaspora, but also recognises the positive and
continuing connection between China as their home country and their places
of work and settlement. To further recognise that contemporary diaspora is an
alternative way of life, if not a choice of life, and make the concept of
diaspora relevant to contemporary diasporic lives, a number of fundamental
characteristics or key elements of the traditional diaspora concept, especially
two of them discussed in this articles, have to be modified and updated.
The author would like to acknowledge research funding from the Faculty of
Arts, the University of Melbourne, and assistance from Mr Rowan A.
R Skeldon, ‘The Chinese Diaspora or the migration of Chinese peoples?’ in
The Chinese Diaspora, Laurence Ma and Carolyn Cartier (eds), Rowman and
Littlefield, Lanham, 2003, pp. 51, 61.
L Ma, ‘Space, place, and transnationalism in the Chinese Diaspora’, in The
Chinese Diaspora, Laurence Ma and Carolyn Cartier (eds), Rowman and
Littlefield, Lanham, 2003, pp. 1-50.
J Gao, ‘Migrant transnationality and its evolving nature’, Journal of
Chinese Overseas, vol. 2(2), 2006, pp. 193-219.
W Safran, ‘Diasporas in modern societies: Myths of homeland and return’.
Diaspora, vol. 1(1), 1991, pp. 83-99. See also R Cohen, Global Diasporas:
An Introduction, University College London Press, London, 1997.
This list is based on R. Tsagarousianou, ‘Rethinking the concept of
diaspora’. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, vol. 1(1),
Jia Gao
2004, p. 54, and J Stratton, Coming out Jewish: Constructing Ambivalent
Identities, Routledge, New York, 2000, p. 142.
R Brubaker identifies three core elements, including (1) dispersion in space;
(2) orientation to a ‘homeland;’ and (3) boundary-maintenance. ‘The
“diaspora” diaspora’. Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 28(1), 2005, pp. 5-6.
M Reis, ‘Theorizing Diaspora: Perspectives on “classical” and
“contemporary” diaspora’. International Migration, vol. 42(2), 2004, p.47.
Ma, ‘Space, place, and transnationalism in the Chinese Diaspora’, p. 4.
Z P Chen, ‘Building the Chinese Diaspora across Canada’. Diaspora, vol.
13(2/3), 2004, pp. 185, 186.
K S Y Chew and J M Liu, ‘Hidden in plain sight: Global labour force
exchange in the Chinese American population, 1880–1940’, Population and
Development Review, vol. 30(1), 2004, pp. 57, 58.
An example can be found in W. L. Lai’s article, ‘Chinese Diasporas: An
overview’. The Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 50(2), 2004, p.1.
J E Braziel and A Mannur, ‘Nation, migration, globalization’, in
Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader, Jana E. Braziel and Anita Mannur (eds),
Blackwell, Malden, Massachusetts, 2003, pp. 1-22.
S Chan, ‘What is this thing called Chinese diaspora?’ Contemporary
Review, Vol. 2, 1999. Available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m
2242/is_1597_274. Viewed on 20 May 2008.
D Ip, C Inglis and C T Wu, ‘Concepts of citizenship and identity among
recent Asian immigrants in Australia’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal,
vol. 6 (3-4), 1997, pp. 363, 375.
P S Li, ‘The rise and fall of Chinese immigration to Canada: Newcomers
from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China and Mainland
China, 1980–2000’. International Migration, vol. 43(3), 2005, pp. 9, 24.
K E Kuah-Pearce, ‘Locating the self in the Chinese Diaspora’, Asian
Studies Review, vol. 30(3), 2006, pp. 217, 218.
F L N Li, et al, ‘Discourse on migration and ethnic identity’, Transactions
of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 20(3), 1995.
P Ling, ‘Causes of Chinese emigration’, Annals of the American Academy
of Political and Social Science, vol. 39(1), 1912, pp. 74, 81.
Y Chen, ‘The Internal origins of Chinese emigration to California
reconsidered’, The Western Historical Quarterly, vol. 28(4), 1997, pp. 521.
F Pieke and M Thuno, ‘Institutionalising recent rural emigration from
China to Europe’, International Migration Review, vol. 39(2), 2005.
Z. Liang and H. Morooka, ‘Recent trends of emigration from China: 1982–
2000’. International Migration, vol. 42(3), 2004, pp. 145, 156–9.
G. W. Wang, The Chinese Overseas: From Earthbound China to the Quest
for Autonomy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 90.
The Diasporisation of Contemporary Overseas Chinese
P. Gosling, ‘Changing Chinese Identities in Southeast Asia”, in The
Chinese in Southeast Asia: Identity, Culture and Politics, P. Gosling and L.
Lim (eds), Maruzen Asia, Singapore, 1983, vol. 2, pp. 1-14.
D. Nonini and A. Ong, ‘Introduction: Chinese transnationalism as an
alternative modernity’, in Ungrounded Empires, D. Nonini and A. Ong (eds),
Routledge, New York, 1997, p. 3-33.
A. Louie, ‘Re-territorializing transnationalism’, American Ethnologist, vol.
27(3), 2000, pp. 645, 661.
W. A. Callahan, ‘Beyond cosmopolitanism and nationalism’, International
Organization, vol. 57 (3), 2003, p. 501.
M. Jacobsen, ‘Re-conceptualising notions of Chinese-ness in a Southeast
Asian context’, East Asia, vol. 24, 2007, pp. 219.
K. Butler, ‘Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse’. Diaspora, vol. 10(2),
2002, p. 193.
M. Li, ‘We Need Two Worlds’: Chinese Immigrant Associations in a
Western Society, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 1999.
A. K. Sahoo, ‘Ethnic minority community in transnational world’.
Viewed on 20 May 2008.
Jia Gao lectures in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne,
Australia. email: [email protected]
Diversity within Chinese Diaspora:
Old and New Huaqiao Residents in South Korea
Young Ju Rhee
This paper explores the distinctions between the old huaqiao and new
huaqiao residents in South Korea, and how their presence and diversity
challenges the conception of South Korean citizenship and sense of
belonging. The old huaqiao are primarily 2 or 3rd generation overseas
Chinese who originate from the Shandong region of mainland China. They
have historically experienced discrimination due to ethnically-based notions
of membership in South Korean society at both the policy and general public
levels. Their origin and differing dialect, Taiwanese citizenship, and overall
economic weakness, has set the old huaqiao residents of South Korea apart
from the rest of the Chinese diaspora in Asia and around the world. The new
huaqiao on the other hand are PRC citizens with ethnic Chinese origin, and
range from 3D labour migrants to young professionals who are able to take
advantage of South Korea’s developed economy and immigration policy
reforms since 1997.The comparative study of the old and new huaqiao
residents in South Korea and the evolving policies toward this diaspora group
well represent the changing understanding of national belonging in South
Korea and how the conception of citizenship as a relation between the
individual and the state is being contested.
Keywords: Citizenship, diaspora, ethnic identity, homeland, host-state,
immigration, neo-liberalism, overseas Chinese (huaqiao).
In this paper I explore the distinctions between the old huaqiao1 and
new huaqiao residents in South Korea, and how their presence challenges the
conception of South Korean citizenship. This comparative study of
‘denizens’ and the evolving policies toward them well represent the changing
understanding of national belonging in South Korea and contribute to the
field of diasporic citizenship.. While distinctions between the two groups are
made based on origin, citizenship, and economic status, this study finds that
their differences are diminishing as South Korea’s immigration policy
becomes more lenient and its society more globalised. Also, many in both
groups hold the increasingly common neo-liberal view of citizenship based
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
on the material advantages it confers rather than see it as an exclusive
relationship between the individual and the state. Increasingly, they seek to
be maximal rights-based residents rather than full-fledged citizens. In this
sense, neo-liberalism has had profound effects on the patterning of ethnoracial differences, and on material, social and symbolic dimensions of
citizenship (Shafir 2004:55). Also explored in this paper is the meaning and
exercise of diasporic citizenship defined based on the geo-political relations
between South Korea, China and Taiwan that have created the differences
between the new and old huaqiao, constructs of “Chineseness,” and ideas of
inclusion and exclusion in their homeland and host-state. Stuart Hall (1990)’s
observations on diasporic identities showing both similarities and differences
are particularly applicable to the study of the old and new huaqiao. Traces of
Chineseness across the diaspora reflect a shared history while local or
national differences reveal the process of dispersion and emplacement (Siu
South Korea and its Huaqiao Policy
In order to explore the huaqiao residents in South Korea, it is
important to establish an understanding of its host-state, which has had a
tumultuous modern history of colonisation, civil war, military regimes, and
dramatic growth into a developed economy. Since South Korea’s economic
recovery after the Korean War (1950-1953), there have been significant
changes to the Korean population of close to 50 million. South Korea has
always been a country of emigration, and has had a long tradition of
exporting workers. Between 1989 and 1997, per capita GNP of South Korea
doubled from $5,000 to approximately $10,000, and the wage of production
workers also more than doubled. With this rapid economic development,
along with an aging population, a serious labour shortage developed,
especially in the dangerous, dirty, and difficult industries, commonly known
as the “3-D” sectors. As a result, many Korean manufacturing companies
began utilising foreign labour.2 Ethnic Koreans from China (chosunjok),
Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Indonesians are among the largest groups of
migrant workers residing in South Korea and those who seek permanent
residency.3 The Korean population has also steadily diversified, with
632,490 persons (1.28%) of registered foreigners with non-Korean
citizenship in 2006.4 South Korea continues to be referred to as an ethnically
highly homogeneous population, with 98% being ethnically Han Korean.
Much of the ethnically-based citizenship policies have been based on this
notion of ethnic and territory-based understanding of nationality.
Still, it is undeniable that significant legal reforms have been made
in favour of the improved status and life of huaqiao in South Korea. The
legislative reforms since 1997 aptly describe the changes the state has made,
necessitated by the realities of South Korea’s diversifying population and the
Young Ju Rhee
state’s economic motives. The Foreigners’ Property Ownership Act (1998)
and Domicile Notification Act (2002) both came about as a result of the Kim
Dae-jung administration efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Amendments in 1997 and 2005 to the South Korean Nationality Law have
made naturalisation easier, as well as brought about greater political and
social rights for resident aliens. Nevertheless, the huaqiao emigration from
South Korea shows that the huaqiao continue to have a difficult time
adjusting to South Korea as ‘inner citizens’ even if they were to naturalise
into Korean citizens. The challenge remains for policymakers who are
beginning to recognise that improving the welfare of its ethnic minority
groups could have long-term benefits to South Korea rather than serve just its
short-term economic goals.
Old Huaqiao
There are approximately 50 million overseas Chinese worldwide,
half of them residing in Southeast Asia, with an estimated earning net worth
close to 600 million in U.S. dollars (Park and Park 2003:33). Known for their
extensive ‘bamboo network’5 based on guanxi6, many overseas Chinese
have identified more strongly with their ethnic group than with their host
state, creating tensions even in multicultural societies such as Indonesia and
Malaysia. It is interesting to note that the old huaqiao in South Korea are the
exception to having the economic power that other overseas Chinese have
been able to amass around the world. In this sense, not only are there
differences between the old and new huaqiao, the old huaqiao of South Korea
are in many ways alienated from the rest of the overseas Chinese community
throughout Asia. This is primarily due to the fact that amongst the 21,806
registered huaqiao (0.04% of total population) in South Korea, majority
originate from the Shandong region (90%), followed by Jiangsu and Zhejian
regions. Shandong is in the Northern region of China and they speak a very
different dialect from the southern region (Guangdong region among others)
where the predominant number of huaqiao originate from, and are closely
networked in Asia as well as throughout the world7 (Jeong 2002:11).
The old huaqiao who arrived in Korea at the turn of the twentieth
century represent the single largest ethnic minority group. “Invisible
minority” is often the label used to refer to the huaqiao because of their small
population, and the relatively indistinguishable physical characteristics with
the host population. These aspects blend the huaqiao into the host society
more easily if they choose to, compared to other racially different groups
(Choi 2001: 2). Historically, not only due to the ethnically based citizenship
policies but discrimination against the huaqiao was particularly evident
during the military regimes. Restrictions currency exchange and ownership of
property, and control on price of jajangmyeon (Chinese noodles) are some
examples of discriminating laws and policies toward the huaqiao.
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
Table 1: Demographic change of ‘old’ Huaqiao in South Korea
Demographic Change of Huaqiao in South Korea
Source: Annual Yearbook of Immigration Office, Ministry of Justice of
Republic of Korea (1985-1994), (1995-2005).
The huaqiao population is a small and declining population, primarily due to
intermarriages and emigration abroad. As with any minority group, the
population change of huaqiao shows that they were susceptible to the
changing economic and political circumstances of the Korean peninsula. The
turbulent Korean history can be noted through, for instance, the dramatic fall
of huaqiao population between 1940 and 1945, from 63,976 to 12,648 when
the economic hardships during the Japanese colonisation and clashes with
Korean people were particularly difficult for the huaqiao community and
many migrated. Since many huaqiao from North Korea migrated to South
Korea in 1953 just before the division of the Korean peninsula, the numbers
increased slightly but decreased again during the beginning of the Rhee
Syngman administration (1948-1960) due to its marginalising policies against
this population (Park & Park, 2003:19). It is estimated that there were as
many as 82,661 in 1942, however this population has steadily declined,
resulting in a decrease of more than fifty percent from the 1940s to 1970s.
Reflecting the decrease in population, interviews conducted for this study
show the difficulty huaqiao continue to have in rooting their lives in South
Young Ju Rhee
3rd generation huaqiao male (70s) retired from restaurant business.
My father owned a Chinese restaurant where I also worked at most of my
adult life, and I used to have inspectors come from the Ministry of Health all
the time, making trouble out of nothing. My uncle and I tried to expand our
restaurant business but due to regulations that limited us from owning more
than one business property real estate, we tried to partner with a Korean but
this turned out sour and resulted in legal dispute. At the end of the day, we
were always treated as ‘jjang-ge.8‘
Korean female (30) married to huaqiao male:
I was working for a language academy when I met my husband. I changed
my citizenship to Taiwan after our marriage because it seemed like the
obvious thing to do, to follow the husband’s citizenship, although we were
living in Korea. I didn’t feel much discrimination until my son began school
and I became a parent, because he is seen as huaqiao before a Korean.
Everything from getting a driver’s license to getting documents issued is
more expensive and bureaucratic. The alien resident registration card does
not validate, we can’t even use on-line banking with that. I feel that just by
having married a ‘foreign’ man, I have to re-gain membership in my own
Chiang, a male (16) student attending hangsung school says:
“In a country like South Korea that emphasises networks made in schools and
educational achievement, attending a school that doesn’t even have an
accredited curriculum makes me feel like a delinquent student, much less a
member of any society.”
It is also interesting to note that this minority huaqiao population
decreased despite the overall prosperity that came about during the period of
the 1970s and 1980s. This is likely due to the increasing migration trend of
huaqiao from South Korea to Western states or Taiwan. Beginning the 1970s,
during a time when the U.S.’s immigration policy became more lenient, a
notable exodus of huaqiao to the U.S. began to occur, particularly amongst
the wealthy huaqiao residents in South Korea. Between 1970 and 1980, an
estimated 30,000 emigrated in total from South Korea to abroad.
Approximately 15,000 moved to the U.S. and 10,000 moved to Taiwan. Also,
during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, without proper social safety nets,
numerous huaqiao left Korea due to failing businesses in sectors such as
Chinese restaurants, oriental medicine, travel agency and small convenient
stores that were particularly sensitive to the difficult market. Although there
have been exceptional periods, the overview of the historical roots shows that
the South Korean huaqiao, similar to other immigrant groups, were
vulnerable to the interface of the local economy, its ethnic Chinese sector,
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
and the transnational Chinese labour market (Pieke 2004:25). Even in recent
years after South Korea began to adopt more lenient immigration laws and its
population diversified, according to a 2003 Korean Human Rights
Commission report, 79% of the 700 huaqiao interviewed felt discrimination
when purchasing or registering on-line, 77% when job interviewing, and 58%
at banking and other commercial services. Of the huaqiao who have
immigrated to the U.S. over the years,9 many have settled in large immigrant
cities such as Los Angeles that have a concentrated group of huaqiao from
South Korea. Interestingly, the Korean huaqiao living in the U.S. have
integrated their lives within the Korean rather than to the Chinese diaspora
communities. Aside from the fact that they were once ‘rooted’ in South
Korea, this is due to the fact that often times, the 2nd or 3rd generation of the
huaqiao are children of inter-marriages (usually Chinese father and Korean
mother), and therefore have ties to Korea as much as to their Chinese heritage
(Yang and Lee 2004). Moreover, although 21,806 huaqiao were registered as
legal aliens in 2005, the immigration office predicted that only 18,000 live in
South Korea, and the rest are either studying or living in Taiwan or elsewhere
and are thought to be a ‘floating population.’
Geo-political Relations
Before exploring the new huaqiao, it is important to discuss the
dynamics between South Korea, Taiwan and the PRC (People’s Republic of
China), particularly beginning the early 1990s. In essence, the homelanddiaspora relations are complicated by the fact that there are two states that
claim to represent the Chinese nation, the PRC and Republic of China (ROC)
or Taiwan. The Cold War ideological difference between democracy and
communism played a major role in keeping the huaqiao in South Korea
connected to Taiwan, their ‘imagined homeland.’ Taiwan and South Korea
relations date back to 4 January 1949, four months after the formal
establishment of the South Korean government, when the Republic of China
set up an embassy in Seoul’s Myeongdong district. However, with the
downfall of communism and changing political climate, and as PRC has
transformed itself from a hermetic communist state to a prominent player in
international affairs (Pieke 2004:193), South Korea continues to be heavily
influenced by the geo-political as well as economic significance of mainland
China. On 23 August 1992, Taiwan severed diplomatic relations with South
Korea in advance of South Korea’s announcement of formal recognition of
the PRC. PRC continues to view the old huaqiao with Taiwanese citizenship
as Chinese citizens of the PRC since Taiwan is seen as an extension of
mainland China.10 As long as the PRC-Taiwan conflict continues, so will
their struggle for diasporic Chinese allegiance and affinity (Siu 2005:23).
With the changes in diplomatic relations, the ideological force that
tied the old huaqiao of South Korea exclusively to Taiwan has diminished.
Young Ju Rhee
Some scholars have observed that the old huaqiao have been able to
rediscover and reaffirm their Chinese identity with support of PRC’s growing
economy and international power (Jeong Yongrok 2002). Hence, although
98% of the huaqiao in South Korea have Taiwanese passports, due to the
political circumstances of the Taiwan-PRC relations, increasing numbers of
old huaqiao are reclaiming their Chinese identity by re-establishing their
roots with mainland China. Business partnerships and education in various
parts of mainland China and most recently, trends of retirement in the Yantai
region are examples of this. Yantai region has become a destination for
retirement homes to increasing numbers of old huaqiao from South Korea,
given the cheaper cost of living and cultural affinity. To some extent although
not as effectively as Chinatowns in other countries, the old huaqiao
Chinatowns in South Korea have also become the networking stage for
incoming new huaqiao, including students, labour migrants, and business
professionals from the PRC.
New huaqiao
Table 2: Demography of Chinese Diaspora in South Korea based on
Country of Total Population
‘old’ huaqiao 22,699 22,118
12,244 11,878
10,456 10,240
36,297 90,298
17,680 46,970
18,617 43,328
48,293 221,525 21,166 103,837 27,127 117,688
Hong Kong
59,514 3,731
30,283 1,333
29,231 2,398
Soviet Union
Source: Ministry of Justice, Immigration Office (Immigration Yearbook
2002, 2006).
The new huaqiao are PRC citizens, estimated at 400,000, and
originate from different regions, ranging from 3-D labour migrants to young
professionals who as a migrant population are becoming increasingly
integrated into South Korea’s globalising economy and society. The new
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
huaqiao are therefore over five times the number of old huaqiao population.
Including the ethnic-Koreans (chosunjok), the numbers exceed 500,000. The
above figures show the significant increase in the new huaqiao, and
particularly that of the ethnic Koreans from China. Even more the case than
the old huaqiao, the new huaqiao in South Korea tend to be ‘long term
sojourners’ with multiple belongings in both China and South Korea, and
even in third countries. Even for those who establish themselves in South
Korea, there is little incentive for the new huaqiao to give up their Chinese
citizenship and naturalise into South Korean citizens, given that residency
rights have become more lenient and advantageous toward the huaqiao and
other migrant groups (Yang Pil-seung, in www.ichosun.com 11-16-2007).
This is indicative of the changing conceptions of citizenship and the practice
of multiple belongings, where numerous huaqiao are ironically choosing to
remain as ‘denizens,’ particularly as some desire not to naturalise into Korean
citizens because of the advantages conferred with partial membership. In this
sense, the new huaqiao represents a new breed of diaspora, where many
choose to forgo identification with a rights-oriented and state-centred
citizenship. Interviews below are representative of this growing trend.
Investment Banker Ping, Male, 34
I am successful and happy in South Korea, and I have lived here for the past
7 years…but I do not necessarily see myself as a permanent resident here and
will go where my job or lifestyle will take me. Wherever we (my family) go,
there is always a Chinese community where we will feel comfortable.
Student Woo, Male, 28
I may stay in South Korea indefinitely given that the laws are more lenient
now… I may or may not seek permanent residency but likely not change my
citizenship (to South Korean). There is a growing international community of
business, academic and other professional elites in South Korea, and I want
to build my global network with them.
Although this paper cannot elaborate due to limited space, one
reason to the continued marginalised status of huaqiao and other non-ethnic
Korean residents is due to the fact that actual citizenship reforms are
primarily driven by neo-liberal policies rather than intended to address the
culturally-rooted problems of marginalised ethnic minorities. For instance,
the South Korean government has initiated projects to take advantage of the
economic opportunities this population and the ‘China boom’ presents.
Projects include the Annual Overseas Chinese Trade Association Conference
held in 2005 in Seoul12, the new Chinatown projects in South Korea
including that in Ilsan (i-chinatown in Northern part of South Korea), and
efforts to revive the old Chinatown in Incheon (port city in western part of
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South Korea).13 While such initiatives have brought about some career
opportunities for old huaqiao in South Korea, they still remain the
‘middlemen’ rather than true agents of these projects. In the case of the 2005
conference, the lack of media coverage of old huaqiao residents in South
Korea and their small presence in the conference itself showed that the
overseas Chinese from abroad were seen as potential investors, while the old
huaqiao living in South Korea, were essentially seen as separate categories of
A male (49) overseas Chinese investor from Singapore says:
“I don’t have any friends amongst the huaqiao in South Korea, so doing
business here will have to be from scratch. The huaqiao in Korea have always
been out of the loop (of the overseas Chinese networks).”
Another difference to take note of is that while the old huaqiao
primarily engaged in small family businesses and are of a similar socioeconomic class due to historical marginalisation as an ethnic minority group,
the new huaqiao have a diverse range of jobs with various socio-economic
statuses. Professional elites who are highly educated are more readily able to
take advantage of citizenship in countries of their origin or current residency
to their benefit. On the other hand, the struggles of 3-D migrant workers who
are vulnerable to the global economy are perpetuated by their illegal status.
For migrants such as these, the opportunities available through migration are
counterbalanced by the loss of rights and citizenship (Shafir 2004:131).
Multiple Belongings
The changing characteristics of the huaqiao diaspora in South Korea
show that not only are the origins of the Chinese diaspora diverse, so too are
their itineraries and destinations which are far from final. Despite their
differences, old and new huaqiao show similar practice of citizenship. As
described above, emigration pattern shows moving abroad is not the only
option in that there is a growing number of old and new huaqiao from South
Korea who separate time between Taiwan, China or US and South Korea,
going back and forth, maintaining businesses, lifestyles and belongings in
both (or more) countries. Aiwha Ong defines this as the practice of ‘flexible
citizenship’ (Ong 1999) in which based on her study of the Chinese diaspora,
she describes the complex relationships between homeland and host societies
and asserts that the traditional idea of national citizenship has become
insufficient. Ong refers to the strategies and effects of professionals seeking
to both circumvent and benefit from nation-state regimes by selecting
different sites for investments, work and family relocation (Ong 1999:112).
Increasing number of old and new huaqiao seek to be maximal rights-based
residents rather than full-fledged citizens, or seek dual citizenship when
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
possible. This neo-liberal view of citizenship has become particularly
prevalent amongst diaspora groups in a host-state such as South Korea where
its economy has recently developed and its immigration and citizenship
policy still in formation. This view reflects the harsh economic realities that
drive why certain citizenship, usually that of western liberal democratic
states, privilege while others undermine toward better life opportunities. This
further widens the citizenship gap14, even amongst those in the same diaspora
group. Hence, globalisation re-inscribes not only gender, race, and class
divisions, but also the social boundaries of citizenship (Shafir 2004:143). In
this sense, Ong’s among other studies support the idea that in today’s world,
it is economic forces that present the greatest challenge to the qualitative
meaning of citizenship (Delanty 2000:127).
The study of the old and new huaqiao residents in South Korea and
the evolving policies toward this diaspora group well represent the changing
understanding of national belonging in South Korea and how the conception
of citizenship as a relation between the individual and the state is being
contested. While their origin and citizenship show distinctions, similarities
between the old and new huaqiao can be found in their neo-liberal
understanding of citizenship. The practice of diasporic citizenship and
multiple belongings is represented through the increasing number of those
who seek to be maximal rights-based residents rather than full-fledged
citizens in their host-states. Given that the current generation of old huaqiao
are born to intermarriages of Chinese and Korean parents, and the growing
presence of new huaqiao, citizenship reforms in South Korea will need to be
translated into that which is ethnically inclusive, and integrates citizens and
denizens with multiple belongings into its society. Until then, there will
continue to be a disjuncture between citizenship as an ideal as conceived in
law or status and how it is practiced by its state, citizens, and non-citizens.
Although the Romanised version is hwagyo in Korean, or described as
hanhwa as some scholars, I will refer to the overseas Chinese under the
anglicized version huaqiao.
These ‘3-D job’ workers have grown in numbers, nearly forty times more
between 1987 and 1997, from 6,409 to 266,301(Choe 2006:104).
For more details on migrant workers, refer to Jeanyoung Lee (2007) ‘Ethnic
Korean Migration into South Korea: Reasons, Effects, and Responses,’ in
Global Migration and the Household in East Asia conference papers(in
English), Seol Dong-hoon & John Skentny (2001) International Norms and
Young Ju Rhee
Domestic Politics: A Comparison of Migrant Worker and Women’s Rights in
South Korea, Timothy Lim (2006) “Foreign Migrant Workers in South
Korea” in Global Turbulence: Global Activist and State.
Ministry of Justice, Statistical Yearbook of Departures and Arrivals Control
While scholars often refer to ‘bamboo network’ (Weidenbaum & Hughes
1996, Jeong 2002) as family-run businesses that have grown to large
conglomerates, ‘ungrounded empire’ defined as “the new deterritorialized
and protean structures of domination that span the Asia Pacific and within
which diaspora Chinese act” (Ong and Nonini 1997:20) also describes these
transnational spaces and identities practiced by overseas Chinese.
Guanxi describes the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence,
and is a central concept in Chinese society. It describes a personal connection
between two people in which one is able to prevail upon another to perform a
favor or service, or be prevailed upon. Guanxi can also be used to describe a
network of contacts, which an individual can call upon when something
needs to be done, and through which he or she can exert influence on behalf
of another.
Although it is difficult to categorize the overseas Chinese population, there
are primarily five groups based on place of origin, dialect or trade. Cantonese
(Guangdong Province), Hokkien (Fujian Province), Hakka (Guangdong and
Fujian Coastal areas then moved to other countries), Hainanese (Hainan
Island), Teochiu (Guangdong Province but with sub dialect), and Yunnanese
(Jade Trade, near Burmese border).
Jjang-ge refers to a derogatory term based on jajangmyon, a Chinese noodle
dish. This word is used by Koreans to refer to huaqiao. This also connotes
being cheap and dirty.
There are about 200,000 huaqiao from South Korea in the U.S., many with
professional skills. (www.kcci.or.kr 2006-09-24 newsletter)
The 1996 missile launched onto the Taiwan strait by the PRC to reiterate
its territorial claim over Taiwan is representative of this ‘One China’ policy.
It should be noted that while the data is from a government website, even
legally documented migrant populations are difficult to calculate. It is
estimated that there is up to 10% discrepancy in the numbers due to its illegal
During the first fieldwork trip to Korea (August-October 2005), I
conducted interviews with various attendees of the Overseas Chinese
Business Association Conference held in COEX, Seoul, October 2005.
During the second fieldwork trip to Korea (May-June 2006), I visited
Incheon and Ilsan several times to meet with government officials in the city
planning divisions and overseas Chinese organizations.
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
Citizenship gap between migrants and citizens in terms of the political,
civil, and social rights they can claim has widened due to globalization and
its inequalities.
Brubaker, R., Ethnicity without Groups. Harvard University Press,
Massachusetts, 2004.
Brysk, Alison and Gershon Shafir (eds). People Out of Place: Globalization,
Human Rights and the Citizenship Gap. Routledge Press, New York, 2004.
Cheong, Y., “Huaqiao and our Tasks Ahead.” Presentation on Ways for
Korean Corporations to Utilize the Overseas Chinese Network, Seoul
University Area Studies, October 16, 2002.
Choe, Hyun ., ‘National Identity and Citizenship in the People’s Republic of
China and the Republic of Korea’ Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 19,
No.1, March 2006
Choi, Hyup et al., Han’gugŭi sosuja: silt’aewa chŏnmang [Minorities in
Korea: Past and Future] Hanul Ak’ademi, 2004.
Choi, Sheena., Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College Choices:
Observations of Ethnic Chinese in Korea. Routledge Press, New York, 2001.
Cornelius W., Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective. Stanford
University Press, Stanford., 2004.
Delanty, G., Citizenship in a Global Age: Society, Culture, Politics. Open
University Press, Buckingham, 2000.
Diamond L and Byung-kook Kim (ed). Consolidating Democracy in South
Korea. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Colorado, 2000.
Gill, Stephen., ‘The Global Panopticon? The Neoliberal State, Economic
Life, and Democratic Surveillance’. Alternatives, vol. 20. no. 1(JanuaryMarch), 1995, 1-50.
Isin Engin F & Bryan S Turner., Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Sage
Publications. London, 2002.
Young Ju Rhee
Jeong, Inseop et al., Ijung gukchŏk [Dual Citizenship] Seoul University BK21
Institute of Law, Human Rights Law Center, Tosŏ Ch’ulp’an saramkwa
saenggak, 2004.
Jeong, Inseop et al. Sahoejŏk ch’abyŏlkwa pǒpŭi jibae [Social Inequalities
and the Rule of Law] Seoul University Institute of Law, Rule of Law Series,
Parkyounsa Publication, 2004.
Jeong, Yongrok., hwagyo wa uriŭi kwaje. [Huaqiao and Our Tasks Ahead]
Working Paper Series, Institute of Area Studies, Seoul National University,
October 16 2002.
Joppke, Christian., Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal
State. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2005.
Kim, Samuel S., Korea’s Democratization. Cambridge University Press, New
York, 2003.
Kim, Sungmoon., ‘Liberal Nationalism and Responsible Citizenship in South
Korea’. Journal of Citizenship Studies, Vol. 12, pg 449-463., 2007.
Kymlicka, Will and Wayne Norman., Citizenship in Diverse Societies.
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.
Lagos, Taso G.”Global Citizenship-Towards a Definition,” Global Citizen
Project, (www.su.edu/gcp) November edition, 2002.
Lee, Chang-hee., T’ongilsidaerŭl taebihan gukchŏkpǒpŭi kaejŏng panghyang
[Nationality Law and Reforms in preparation of Unification in the Korean
Peninsula], Asia yŏn’guso. Asia Institute, 1998.
Lee Chulwoo (2005). Kyosu sinmun [Professor Paper], Sunkyukwan
University, June 13, 2005.
Lee, Chulwoo., “Reaching Out to Compatriots Abroad: Making Sense of the
Overseas Koreans Act and the Hungarian Status Law”. International
Conference: Global Migration and the Household in East Asia, Seoul,
February 2-3, 2007a.
Lee, Chulwoo., Han’guk gukchŏkŭi t’ŭkchingkwa gukchŏkchedo kaesŏn
nonŭiŭi chaengchŏm [The Main Issues and Debates on the Revisions to the
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
Korean Nationality Law] Policy and Knowledge Forum Papers, Seoul
University, No. 334, May 28, 2007b.
Lee, Hye-Kyung., ‘The Korean Diaspora and Its Impact on Korea’s
Development’. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Pai Kai University. Vol.
14, Nov. 1-2, 2005.
Lee, Jeanyoung., Ethnic Korean Migration into South Korea: Reasons,
Effects and Responses. International Conference: Global Migration and the
Household in East Asia, Seoul, February 2-3, 2007.
Lister, R., Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives. Palgrave Publications, New
York, 2002.
Lim, T., ‘NGOs, Transnational Migrants, and the Promotion of Rights in
South Korea’ in by Takeyuki Tsuda (eds), Local Citizenship in Recent
Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Lexicon
Books, 2006.
Ong, A., Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Duke
University Press, Durham, 1999.
Ong, Aihwa., Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and
Sovereignty. Duke University Press, Durham, 2006.
Park, Hyun-ok ., “Segyehwa: Globalization and Nationalism in Korea”.
Journal of the International Institute, Vol 4, No. 1, 1996.
Park, Hyun-ok and Jungdong Park., Han’guk hwakyŭi kyŏngjemit Sahoejŏk
chiwie kwanhan yŏn’gu [The Economic Activities and Social Status of
Korean-huaqiao.] Incheon Development Institute. Incheon, IDS Research
Paper 2003-11.
Pieke, F., Transnational Chinese: Fujianese Migrants in Europe, Stanford
University Press, Stanford, 2004.
Poston, Dudley Jr., Michael Xinxiang Mao & Mei-Yu Yu., ‘The Global
Distribution of the Overseas Chinese around 1990’. Population and
Development Review, 20:631-645, 1994.
Young Ju Rhee
Park, Eun-Kyung., The Stability and Mobility of Overseas Chinese: The Case
of Korean Chinese. Ehwa University Doctorate Thesis, 1986.
Seol Dong-hoon., oegugin nodongjawa Han’guk sahoe [Foreign. Workers
and Korean Society], Seoul University Press, 1999.
Seol and Skrenty., ‘South Korea: Importing Undocumented Workers’ in
Cornelius, Wayne A. (eds), Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective,
Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2002.
Shafir, G., The Citizenship Debates: A Reader. University of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis, 1998.
Shin, Gi-Wook., Ethnic Nationalism in Korea: Genealogy, Politics, and
Legacy. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2006.
Siu, C.D. Lok., Memories of a Future Home: Diasporic Citizenship of
Chinese in Panama. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2005.
Soysal, Y. N., The Limits of Citizenship, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1994.
Turner, Bryan ., ‘Liberal Citizenship and Cosmopolitan Virtue’ in Andrew
Vandenberg (eds), Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era, St. Martin’s
Press, New York, 2000.
Vertovec & Cohen (ed)., Conceiving Cosmopolitanism: Theory, Context, and
Practice. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.
Yang and Lee., Ch’aina T’auni ŏmnŭn nara: Han’guk hwagyo kyŏngjeŭi
ŏjewa onŭl [A Country without a Chinatown: The Past and Present economic
Activities of Korean overseas Chinese] SERI Research Series, Samsung
Economic Research Institute, Seoul, 2004.
Conference Booklets and Government Materials:
Tongbuga damunhwa sidae Han’guk sahoeŭi pyŏnhwawa t’onghap [South
Korea in Flux toward a Multicultural Society in Northeast Asia] Korean
Academy of Social Science, Dec. 15, 2006.
Diversity Within Chinese Diaspora
Rainer Baubock (eds), Migration and Citizenship: Legal Status, Rights and
Political Participation, IMISCOE cluster B3, 2003.
Ministry of Justice, Immigration Office Papers, Republic of Korea, 2002,
2005, 2007.
Ministry of Justice, Statistical Yearbook of Departures and Arrivals Control,
Republic of Korea, 2006, 2007.
8th Overseas Chinese Business Conference, October 2005 conference booklet,
Seoul, Korea.
Park Kyung-tae (eds), Han’gukhwakyo inkwŏn siltaechosa. [2003 Report on
the Status of Hwakyo Residents in South Korea] Han’guk inkwŏn wiwonhoe.
News articles:
Chosun Ilbo, March 21, 2003; November 16, 2007.
Donga Ilbo, October 16, 2007.
Joongang Ilbo, May 20, 2005.
Korean Herald, November 27, 2003.
Kukmin Daily, August 24, 1992.
Munhwa Ilbo, May 11, 2005.
Yeongam Ilbo, November 11, 2007.
Gallup Korea-Young Ju Rhee Joint Survey on Attitudes toward South Korean
Citizenship Policies, October, 2007.
Young Ju Rhee is a doctoral candidate at the Department of International
Development, University of Oxford, UK. email:
[email protected]
A Diaspora of Descendants?
Contemporary Caledonian Society Members
in Melbourne, Australia – A Case Study
Kim Sullivan
Paul Basu has recently reminded us of the centrality of the homeland to the
concept of diaspora. As such, nineteenth-century Scots exemplified diasporic
consciousness, by establishing hundreds of Caledonian Societies as
‘surrogate’ Scottish homelands across the British colonial world. A
remarkable number of those Caledonian Societies have endured into the
twenty-first century, despite the evolution of their host countries well beyond
their settler origins. One of those to do so, the Royal Caledonian Society of
Melbourne (1858), presents an opportunity to explore current understandings
of diasporic identity within a ‘Scottish’ institution whose members are no
longer exclusively Scottish. Current members range from the recent Scottish
immigrant to the fifth-generation Australian, yet the sense of identification
with a distant Scottish ‘homeland’ appears as legitimate for those members
whose connection is purely ancestral, as it does for members actually born
and raised in Scotland. The Caledonian Society of Melbourne therefore
encapsulates, in microcosm, one of the key tensions presently underscoring
the term ‘diaspora’ - namely whether its definitional scope incorporates that
growing global phenomenon of roots-conscious descendants, who have no
firsthand knowledge of life in the ‘homeland’, or the experience of leaving it
- the traditional qualifiers for a diasporic claim. Engaging directly with the
Society’s current members, this paper observes the relationship between the
imagined ‘homeland’ of the descendant and the remembered ‘homeland’ of
the émigré, asking whether the two experiences can ever be reconciled under
the single designation ‘diasporic’ - a question at the heart of the present
Keywords: Australians, Caledonian Society, descendant, Diaspora, ethnicity
and homeland, immigrant, Scots.
diaspora, n. (the diaspora)
the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel
Jews living outside Israel
A Diaspora of Descendants?
the dispersion or spread of any people from their original
homeland people who have spread or been dispersed from
their homeland1
Trying to define a ‘diaspora’ in the twenty-first century is no
straightforward exercise. The Oxford English Dictionary, like most of its
counterparts, gives precedence to a meaning rooted in the traumatic expulsion
of the Jews from their Biblical homeland - an event of such epic and farreaching consequences that its very association with the word ‘diaspora’ has
seen the original meaning, as a human dispersal of any kind, relegated to
second place. Lately, however, this definitional status quo has begun to shift.
As the global movement of people becomes increasingly commonplace, and
the motives and outcomes more complex and varied, it is that second, more
neutral understanding of the word ‘diaspora’ which is most frequently
pressed into service today to articulate a vast array of emerging immigrant
identities, traumatic and peaceful, expulsive and voluntary, assimilative and
But it is not only real-time immigrants, in all of their rich variety,
who are currently pushing the boundaries of the term ‘diaspora’ beyond its
traditionally understood meaning. Another group testing the semantic limits
of the term, even in its broadest sense, are those citizens of ‘new world’, or
ex-British colonial countries, who, as the descendants, by varying degrees, of
immigrant/settler forebears, are turning increasingly to their ancestral ethnic
roots to signify and enhance their own sense of self. Anthropologist Paul
Basu has described this phenomenon as “the ‘new white ethnic movement’:
the desire of white, suburban, middle-class, assimilated citizens to effectively
dissimilate themselves and recover a more distinctive, particular ethnic
These individuals are not included in any formal definition of what a
diaspora is, or who it refers to, yet they typically frame their own identities as
the descendants of immigrants, in overtly diasporic terms, referring to the
places that their forebears came from as the ‘homeland’ for example, even if
they, personally, have never been to, or lived in, the place concerned. This
paper takes up the case of these ‘diasporic descendants’ and asks whether
there is scope for the definitional inclusion of this group, who appear to fall
outside the traditional parameters of a ‘diaspora’, yet relate to the concept,
personally and emotionally, nonetheless.
The testing ground for this enquiry is the Royal Caledonian Society
of Melbourne, a voluntary institution founded by, and for Scottish
immigrants in Melbourne, Australia in 1858, with the aim of providing a kind
of surrogate Scottish ‘homeland’ for its members in the absence of the real
thing.4 The Society’s principal objects were to encourage social intercourse
among the city’s Scots, to provide charitable relief to those among them
Kim Sullivan
found to be in need, and to cultivate an ongoing appreciation of Scottish
culture through the celebration of the country’s literature, poetry and music,
and the practice of its traditional games and pastimes.5 As such, the
Caledonian Society was, at its foundation, a truly ‘diasporic’ institution,
representing, literally, hundreds of Scots who had “spread or been dispersed
from their homeland”, in this case, to the Australian region of Victoria.6
What makes this Caledonian Society an ideal basis for investigating
contemporary understandings of diaspora is that it has survived intact to the
present day, in a country that has evolved well beyond its British/Scottish
settler origins. Consequently, in the twenty-first century, the Society’s
membership no longer consists solely of direct Scottish immigrants, but is
increasingly dominated by Australians of varying degrees of Scottish descent.
But having never deviated from its original function as a sphere of Scottish
diasporic consciousness, the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
currently presents something of an anomaly, attracting both individuals who
have themselves lived in, and left Scotland (the traditional qualifiers for a
diasporic claim), as well as a growing contingent who have no immediate
relationship with Scotland beyond their own decision to identify personally
with the diasporic acts of their often-distant Scottish ancestors.
Is it possible then, intellectually, for the incontestable Scottish
identity of the immigrant member, and the largely self-determined Scottish
identity of the descendant member, to be reconciled within this Caledonian
Society under the single designation ‘diasporic’? In order to test this
quandary, a random sample of current members was canvassed via
questionnaire in 2007, with a view to pitting the Society’s diasporic
credentials against a number of potentially problematic factors emanating
from within the membership itself, regarding their diverse range of personal
relationships to Scotland and therefore their diverse perceptions of Scotland,
as brought to bear on the Society.
In regard to group dynamics, not only do the current members of the
Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne represent a broad sliding scale of
proximity to their Scottish roots, but they are also, as individuals, quite
ethnically diverse. Within the sample group canvassed for this study,
members ranged from the recent Scottish immigrant all the way to the fifthgeneration Australian of Scottish great-great-great-grand parentage. And,
over and above that variance, they also embodied a wide assortment of ethnic
backgrounds, besides their mutual Scottish heritage. As such, the individual
paths by which each of the current members has arrived at his or her Scottish
ethnic claim are incongruent to say the least.
As far as those Scottish connections were concerned, the sample
group of Caledonian Society members represented a clear one-third-twothirds split between Scottish-born immigrants and Australian-born
descendants. That the Society continues to sustain such a high percentage of
A Diaspora of Descendants?
directly Scottish members may seem surprising, given the length of time that
Australia has been an independent and largely self-populating nation.
Certainly, the Caledonian Society of Otago in New Zealand, which is of
comparable vintage and history, currently contains no Scottish-born members
at all.7 But Australia continued to attract large numbers of British, and
therefore Scottish, immigrants in a relatively steady flow throughout the
twentieth century, and so the many Scots among the Royal Caledonian
Society of Melbourne’s current membership are products of this process.8 As
such, their presence helps to enhance and reinforce the Society’s literal status
as a ‘diasporic’ entity.
However, the remaining two-thirds of Australian-born members
represented a very broad range of personal Scottish connections, as the table
below indicates. It is reasonable to assume that those members who were
either one or two generations removed from their nearest Scottish forebear
could at least feasibly claim to have had a meaningful personal relationship
with that forebear, whether as their child or grandchild. But those members
whose Scottish connection stretched to a great-grandparent (three generations
removed) or beyond were arguably too far removed, in generational terms, to
have directly been influenced or affected by the Scottish ancestor from whom
they now drew their sense of Scottish diasporic identity. Just over seventy
percent of the Society’s Australian-born members, and therefore the majority
of all members canvassed, fell into this latter category, so was there any
correlation between proximity to, and strength of feeling for, one’s Scottish
connection which, given the generational distance of so many of the
members, might potentially undermine the Society’s diasporic credentials?
Table 1. Generational Proximity to Nearest Scottish Relative of the
Caledonian Society’s Australian-born Members
Kim Sullivan
To determine this, each of the members was also asked to describe
what it was that had motivated them to join a Caledonian Society in the first
instance, in order to gauge the extent to which its Scottish aspect in particular
was instrumental, rather than, for example, its broader social or charitable
functions. The overwhelming majority cited a ‘strong personal sense of
Scottish identity’, right across the board from the most direct Scottish
immigrant to the farthest descended Australian, suggesting that it was indeed
the Society’s Scottish cultural emphasis specifically which drew Scots and
Australians alike to participate in the life of the Society. Clearly, then, there
was no incremental relationship between degree of ‘being’ Scottish and
degree of ‘feeling’ Scottish. It did not matter whether a member was
descended directly from two Scottish parents, or distantly from one Scottish
great-great-great-grandparent - it was the fact of the descent, and the
members’ personal sensitivity to it, which informed the decision to join the
Society. From the individual, emotional perspectives of the membership,
therefore, the Society’s standing as a legitimate site of Scottish diasporic
identity was not in any doubt.
But another factor potentially threatening to undermine the Society’s
diasporic status from within was the presence, among the Australian-born
members, of other ethnicities in their family backgrounds besides Scottish.
According to a study by sociologist Mary Waters, individuals of multi-ethnic
descent, for whom there is no obvious outward physical sign of their
belonging to any particular one, often develop an ad hoc, and fluctuating
relationship with those ethnicities which raises questions about sincerity of
attachment.9 Following the introduction of an ethnicity question into the
United States census in 1986, Waters tracked and analysed the responses of a
sample group of white Americans of predominantly European descent across
subsequent census years. Waters found that many of her subjects unwittingly
gave different ethnicity answers from one return to the next, and while the
variations were typically subtle, they nevertheless indicated, as Waters
ultimately concluded, that, “ethnicity has become a subjective identity,
invoked at will by the individual.”10
Waters followed up these findings by interviewing her subjects in
order to tease out the causes behind their oscillating ethnic self-perceptions.
She discovered a plethora of external factors at work, among which were the
ageing process, the birth of children, the death of a particular relative, and
even prevailing societal attitudes towards certain ethnic groups, shaped by the
media and popular culture.11 The most telling illustration in the latter case
was the high proportion of study participants with a marginal Italian family
connection, who nevertheless gave ‘Italian’ an increasingly prominent
ranking among their personal ethnic self-identifiers. When pressed to justify
this claim, many admitted that they simply found the idea of Italian culture
A Diaspora of Descendants?
appealing because it enjoyed a reputation for being family-oriented, at a time
when American family values were widely perceived to be in decline.12
Essentially, the Australian-born members of the Royal Caledonian
Society of Melbourne inhabit that same realm of choice as the Americans
studied by Waters. As multi-ethnic, but otherwise ‘white’ citizens of a
country that similarly espouses equality and freedom of personal choice,
these members are likewise at liberty to construct their own identities from
the ethnic threads of their diverse family backgrounds. But the manner in
which Waters’ Americans appeared to impulsively adopt and discard their
personal ethnic identifiers, suggested that their attachment to them was
characteristically fleeting and conditional, rather than emotionally derived or
especially meaningful. Was the same true, then, of the Caledonian Society’s
Australian-born members in regard to their own multiple ethnic backgrounds,
and if so, could this be seen to undermine the authenticity of their Scottish
ethnic claims in particular?
Certainly, most of the Australian-born Caledonian Society members
did indeed indicate that they were of mixed ethnic backgrounds, with most
citing at least one other ethnic connection besides Scottish. The other
ethnicities most commonly reported by the Society’s Australian members
were, perhaps unsurprisingly, English, Irish and Welsh, considering
Australia’s predominantly British settler history, although some other
European ethnicities were also mentioned, including Swiss and Scandinavian.
Crucially though, there appeared to be no hesitation in offering up these farflung connections, and yet none of the respondents cited ‘Australian’ among
their personal ethnic identifiers, suggesting, much as Waters proposed, that
‘ethnicity’ was, to them, entirely a matter of personal choice, and not in any
way limited to, or even necessarily inclusive of, one’s actual place of origin.
But when asked whether they personally related to any of their other
ethnic connections as they evidently did their Scottish ethnicity (hence their
membership of a Caledonian Society), the response was a strong and
collective ‘no’. For example, one respondent, who otherwise cited Irish
heritage, stated:
[…] although I have Irish ancestors I do not feel Irish at all
[…] there are plenty of opportunities [to express my Irish
ethnicity] but I do not wish to avail myself of them.13
When pressed for a reason, he simply responded, “Apathy!”14
Another respondent, citing English ethnicity but claiming not to relate to it
personally, suggested that there simply were no English ethnic associations in
her local area to join. When asked why this might be, she implied that
England’s strong regional variations meant that no overriding sense of
Kim Sullivan
‘English’ culture had ever existed from which one could derive a singular
sense of English ethnic identity.15
A third respondent, also citing English ethnicity but no particular
sense of connection to it, offered an alternative reason for what he, too,
perceived as the general lack of ethnic empathy among English-descended
You could say the whole of the Australian ‘establishment’
is a manifestation of Englishness … perhaps this is why
there is not really a ‘society’ - it already is ours.”16
Here, then, was a group of multi-ethnic Australians who not only
chose to openly associate with their Scottish ethnic roots by participating in a
Caledonian Society, but who also actively and wilfully chose not to associate
with any of the other ethnicities in their collective family backgrounds, even
in cases where the Scottish connection was technically the weakest, as was
true for at least one such member.17
Evidently, there was a strong element of exclusivity and permanence
to the Scottish ethnic claims being made by the Caledonian Society’s
Australian-born members which distinguished them from Waters’ American
group, for whom ethnicity appeared to be a more flexible concern. Perhaps it
might be argued that the very presence of the Caledonian Society itself is
what anchors these otherwise multi-ethnic Australians exclusively to their
Scottish roots (Waters’ subjects did not appear to have similar involvement in
ethnic associations). But of course, a voluntary body such as the Royal
Caledonian Society of Melbourne is only as good as its members, and
arguably it continues to endure precisely because sufficient Australians do
appear to feel so strongly about their Scottish roots.
Whatever the reason, though, it is evident that factors such as
generational remoteness from one’s Scottish immigrant ancestors, and the
presence of other ethnicities in one’s background, do not undermine to any
degree the personal sense of belonging to a putative Scottish homeland for
any of the Caledonian Society’s Australian-born members. There is no
question in the minds of these individuals that they are a tangible part of the
‘Scottish diaspora’, even though the very term itself would appear to exclude
them from it in the literal sense. But is a self-determined, and emotionallyderived claim to diasporic identity, however sincere, sufficient to warrant the
inclusion of the descendant within the definitional parameters of the term
Perhaps the final, critical test is whether the perceptions of the
Scottish homeland with which the Society’s Australian-born members claim
to identify, are compatible with those of their Scottish-born counterparts,
whose relationship with Scotland is at least based on the experience of having
A Diaspora of Descendants?
originally ‘come from’ there. Given that none of the Australian respondents
had ever actually lived in Scotland, or experienced the sensation of leaving it,
would the gap between the ‘remembered’ Scotland of the Society’s direct
immigrants, and the ‘imagined’ Scotland of its Australian-born members,
ultimately prove too wide for both perspectives to be theoretically acceptable
as ‘diasporic’?
Paul Basu found, during the course of a recent study, that a
fundamental tension did indeed exist between what we might, for argument’s
sake, term ‘real’ Scots, namely those individuals who were born and raised in
Scotland, and ‘descendant’ Scots, namely those citizens of other countries
who choose to identify themselves as ethnically Scottish on account of a
Scottish immigrant ancestor.18 While observing interactions between ‘real’
and ‘descendant’ Scots on a genealogy web forum, Basu encountered several
displays of animosity emanating from the former toward the latter,
particularly over the latter’s tendency to conceptualise Scotland in
romanticised and anachronistic terms. This appeared to offend and frustrate
Basu’s ‘real’ Scots, one of whom even resorted to accusing a Scottishdescended American he was corresponding with of “tartan tomfoolery”.19
In order to assess whether this same fundamental tension existed
between the ‘Scotlands’ represented by the Caledonian Society’s ‘real’ and
‘descendant’ members, their various personal perceptions of Scotland were
drawn out via a number of indirect questions scattered throughout the
questionnaire, designed to elicit honest and unaffected responses. Their
answers were, once again, surprising, and appeared upon first reading to
contradict Basu’s findings entirely. Overwhelmingly, the Caledonian
Society’s members, both Australian-born and Scottish-born, tended to frame
their ideas of Scotland around the romantic imagery of clans, bagpipes,
tartan, haggis, and a rural idyll - all of the stereotypical clichés which are
frequently associated with Scotland by those who are not from there.
Most prevalent among those perceptions was the idea of Scotland as
a clan-based society, whose hallmarks of a simple rustic lifestyle and an
abiding loyalty to one’s kin permeated the responses given by both the
Australian and Scottish members. This notion is, of course, both conflated
and anachronistic - only in the Highland regions of Scotland did a feudalstyle clan system ever function, and it effectively disintegrated during the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, under pressure to assimilate into the
emerging British capitalist economy. Partly on account of the often-tragic
process by which traditional Highland society collapsed, punctuated as it was
by famine, clearance and mass emigration, the clan, along with its
accompanying symbols of bagpipes, tartan, and a primitive, rural way of life
entered into romantic folklore as a kind of lost ideal - the Scotland that never
was. In Basu’s study, this skewed and whimsical interpretation of Scotland as
Kim Sullivan
a whole signalled a fundamental point of divergence between those ‘real’ and
‘descendant’ Scots he observed in the genealogy chat rooms.
Yet, among the ‘real’ and ‘descendant’ Scots of the Caledonian
Society, this particular stereotype seemed to represent the exact opposite - a
point of convergence - out of which the Society’s own collective
representation of Scotland was drawn. It was, in fact, one of the Society’s
Scottish-born members who offered the most roundly outmoded and sepiatinged depiction of Scotland, portraying it as a place of small, close-knit rural
communities, happily cut off from the harsh modern world, through a
combination of poor weather, geographical remoteness and the lack of
availability of modern communication systems.20 By contrast, only one of the
‘real’ Scots surveyed expressed any explicit awareness of, or frustration at,
such distorted interpretations of Scotland, stating that, “in recent years we
have not done enough to off-set the haggis, bagpipes and och-aye the noo
…”21 It appears, then, that the strong presence of ‘real’ Scots among the
membership has done little to induce the Caledonian Society’s representation
of Scotland away from the stereotypes that one might expect of a group made
up only of descendants, and towards something more reflective of the
contemporary realities of Scottish life. Despite the tangible connection with
modern-day Scotland enjoyed by the Society’s direct Scottish immigrants,
their post-immigration perceptions appeared to be equally clouded by
romance and nostalgia.
So what, then, was the difference between the Caledonian Society’s
‘real’ Scots, and those observed by Basu? The answer lies perhaps in the fact
that Basu’s ‘real’ Scots were actually resident in Scotland: it was ‘home’ to
them. For the Caledonian Society’s ‘real’ Scots, having left to live elsewhere,
Scotland was no longer ‘home’ but ‘homeland’ - and the distinction is
crucial. It seems that somewhere in the process of leaving one’s place of
origin, it is transformed in the mind from ‘home’ - the location of one’s
everyday reality, to ‘homeland’ - a place naturally relegated to the
imagination by virtue of one’s separation from it. In this sense, the
Caledonian Society’s Scottish immigrant members are no less at the mercy of
their imaginations than their Australian-born counterparts, when it comes to
the matter of conceptualising Scotland from elsewhere, and it is this mutual
reliance upon the imagination which appears to give the Society’s otherwise
mixed membership a cohesion that ultimately overrides the complex ethnic
and generational differences which otherwise exist between them.
And there is essentially nothing new about this unconscious
inclination among immigrants to convert their authentic memories of ‘home’
into the idealised imaginings of ‘homeland’ during the process of removal. In
1928, a prominent church minister from Edinburgh noted, with goodhumoured embarrassment, that even when he visited other countries on a
temporary basis, he was inclined, just as much as the permanent Scottish
A Diaspora of Descendants?
émigrés he encountered on his travels, to resort to a romantic view of
Scotland, while away from it. Describing his attendance as a guest at an
overseas Scottish society dinner, the minister observed:
Man after man gets up (and if you are like me you are one
of them), and pictures an ideal Scotland that never existed
outside of fairy books … Oh yes! We are indeed the
sentimental humbugs of the world!22
The minister’s assertion of ‘sentimental humbuggery’ may have
been a little harsh, but he nicely captured the essence of that transformative
process through which an individual’s perception of ‘place of origin’ passes,
when he or she becomes physically dislocated from it. As such, it would
appear as though two Scots can have fundamentally different internal
perceptions of the place they both come from, simply because one has moved
away while the other remains. But by the same token, it seems that a Scot and
an Australian, both living in Australia, can share a remarkably similar
perception of the place that only the Scot actually comes from, because both
are equally compelled to ‘imagine’ it from afar.
In conclusion, the present-day Royal Caledonian Society of
Melbourne, like the majority of its counterpart overseas Scottish ethnic
associations, seems to serve two simultaneous, and yet largely compatible
purposes: on one hand, it continues to operate, as it always has done since its
foundation in 1858, as a sphere in which the homesick and nostalgic Scottish
immigrant can comfortably reassert (and reinvent) his old identity in a
strange new environment. On the other hand, the Society has grown
increasingly into an additional role as a sphere in which Australians, as
citizens of a young and ethnically mixed nation, can otherwise distinguish
themselves through an alternative, self-ascribed identity drawn from their
ancestral heritage.
The motivating factors behind these two impulses may be
fundamentally different, but as we have seen, the expression they ultimately
take within the Caledonian Society is effectively the same. For recent
immigrant and distant descendant alike, fulfilment of a personal sense of
Scottishness is achieved through the selective cultivation of a romanticised,
and past-oriented conception of the homeland. Neither the degree of
proximity to, nor the concentration of, one’s personal Scottish ethnic claim
appears to have any bearing on this phenomenon - it is equally potent among
those members who have actually lived in, and then left, Scotland as it is
among those who have never lived there at all.
The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, with its highly diverse
membership, therefore, is living proof that diasporic identity does not
necessarily begin and end with the immigrant who actually undertakes the act
Kim Sullivan
of leaving the homeland, as even the broadest of our dictionary definitions
would imply. Rather, it has the capacity to transcend generations and to reemerge in the self-perception of even the most distant descendant. Yet at a
time when the very concept of diaspora is being challenged and stretched far
beyond its longstanding traditional meaning, the issue of the self-identifying
‘diasporic descendant’, and whether his or her experience can legitimately be
articulated within the conceptual parameters of this thorny term, remains
What is certain is that roots-consciousness among the descendants of
immigrants is a growing global phenomenon, and if the implications of this
development are to be fully understood, it is crucial to determine precisely
where, if anywhere, within the broader diaspora debate, the descendant
actually fits.
Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. ‘Diaspora.’
R Cohen, ‘Diasporas and the Nation-State: From Victims to Challengers’,
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 72,
July 1996, pp. 514.
P Basu, Highland Homecomings: Genealogy and Heritage Tourism in the
Scottish Diaspora, Routledge, Oxon, 2007, p. 198.
‘Caledonia’ was the name that Roman invaders gave to that part of northern
Britain which remained beyond their control, namely modern-day Scotland.
The word has survived as a romantic term for Scotland which conjures up
notions of defiance and pride.
Rules of the Caledonian Society of Melbourne, Fergusson & Mitchell,
Melbourne, 1884.
Oxford English Dictionary, ibid.
The same questionnaire was issued to a sample group of members from the
Caledonian Society of Otago, New Zealand, in 2006.
A J Hammerton and Alistair Thomson, Ten Pound Poms—Australia’s
Invisible Migrants: a Life History of British Postwar Emigration to Australia,
Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2005.
M C Waters, Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America, University of
California Press, Berkeley, 1990.
ibid., 7.
ibid., 81.
Respondent no. 1, Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, interviewed
via questionnaire, 2007.
A Diaspora of Descendants?
Respondent no. 5, ibid.
Respondent no. 21, ibid.
Respondent no. 21, for example, confirmed that his family background
was, in fact, more ethnically ‘English’ than ‘Scottish’.
Basu, 110.
Respondent no. 15, ibid.
Respondent no. 3, ibid.
Rev. James Black, DD., ‘The Scot Abroad—Sentimental Fraud’, The
Scotsman, August 23, 1928.
Basu, P., Highland Homecomings: Genealogy and Heritage Tourism in the
Scottish Diaspora. Routledge, Oxon, 2007.
Chisholm, A. H., Scots Wha Hae: History of the Royal Caledonian Society of
Melbourne. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1950.
Cohen, R., ‘Diasporas and the Nation-State: From Victims to Challengers’.
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), vol. 72,
July 1996, pp. 507-520.
Hammerton, J. A., and Alistair Thomson, Ten Pound Poms—Australia’s
Invisible Migrants: A Life History of British Postwar Emigration to
Australia. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2005.
Waters, M. C., Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. University of
California Press, Berkeley, 1990.
Welsh, F., Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia. Penguin Books,
London, 2005.
Kim Sullivan is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Otago,
Dunedin, New Zealand. Her thesis examines the phenomenal growth of
Scottish associations throughout the British world between the lateeighteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and the cultural imprint they left
both upon the colonies they were part of and the homeland they sought to
email: [email protected]
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism:
Epistemological Tensions in Diasporic Filipino Activism
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
Although listed under the common rubric of globalisation, diasporas and
transnational social movements have mostly been treated as mutually
exclusive phenomena. This paper seeks to remedy this oversight in its
examination of transnational social movements within the Filipino diaspora.
As early as the 1890s, diasporic Filipinos were organising in Spain for the
Philippine nationalist revolution. Again, in the 1970s, Filipinos in the
diaspora played no small part in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
In the 1990s, the central issue to emerge was that of holding the US military
accountable for the toxic waste it left behind after the closure of its Philippine
bases. This paper will seek, in particular, to examine the various
epistemological underpinnings evident in different modes of diasporic
political activism, and to evaluate the ways in which these epistemologies are
being reconfigured through, and in response to, the paradigm-shift from
modernity (characterised, most importantly for this paper, by the predominance of the nation-state system) to postmodernity (characterised by
new supranational, or post-national, forms of sovereignty). These shifts entail
a whole complex of processes, often referred to in the shorthand as
‘globalisation.’ Drawing from ethnographic research that I conducted
amongst Filipino American activists in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007, I
will endeavour to bring to light some of the epistemological tensions that I
observed at play during my time there, elucidating, in particular, tensions
between Third Worldist revolutionary nationalism (which persists today
despite globalisation, albeit morphing into a kind of diasporic ‘pannationalism’), and newly-emergent post-nationalist or cosmopolitan
tendencies. This tension between cosmopolitanism and nationalism could in
fact be considered one of the most crucial questions of our time, being
symptomatic as it is, of the epochal watershed that we currently find
ourselves in.
Keywords: Cosmopolitanism, diasporas, difference, global citizenship,
globalisation, pan-nationalism, postmodernity, transnational social
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism
The re-shuffling of people through global migration is taking place
today on a scale unprecedented in human history. As migrants circulate
across the Earth, they are creating new emotional geographies, weaving new
webs of affect, and contributing to the emergence of new global imaginaries.
This, along with the intensification of transnational connections being
enabled through new communications technologies, is engendering
innumerable recombinations and cross-fertilisations of cultural and political
subjectivities in ways which are leading to possibilities for belonging beyond
the nation-state.1 In my work, I take a particular interest in diasporic social
movements – sites where the cultural becomes political; that is, where the
complex cultural identities that emerge out of the diasporic experience come
to inform activist epistemologies and modes of political engagement in the
world. If, as Gaston Bachelard suggests, the cultural is the matrix of prereflexive, taken-for-granted mores within which we live and act, then the
emergence of the political out of the cultural marks the crossing of a
threshold; that of the pre-reflexive into the reflexive.2 Therefore, if
diasporans are already, in themselves, powerful agents of globalisation and
postmodernisation, then I would contend that diasporic activists, as selfconscious world-making agents, are all the more so.
This paper seeks to examine the various epistemological
underpinnings evident in different modes of diasporic political activism, and
to evaluate the ways in which these epistemologies are being reconfigured
through, and in response to, the paradigm-shift from modernity to
postmodernity and the concomitant reconfigurations of power. These shifts
entail a whole complex of processes, often referred to in the shorthand as
‘globalisation.’ Drawing from ethnographic research that I conducted
amongst Filipino American activists in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007, I
will endeavour to bring to light some of the epistemological tensions that I
observed at play during my time there, elucidating, in particular, tensions
between Third Worldist revolutionary nationalism (which persists today
despite globalisation, albeit morphing into a kind of diasporic ‘pannationalism’), and newly-emergent post-nationalist or cosmopolitan
tendencies. This tension between cosmopolitanism and nationalism could in
fact be considered one of the most crucial questions of our time, being
symptomatic as it is, of the epochal watershed that we currently find
ourselves in.
Diasporic Pan-Nationalism
The tradition of Philippine revolutionary nationalism is old as the
Philippine nation-state itself, becoming as it did a galvanising force in the
struggle for independence against Spanish rule. As Eduardo Gonzalez writes,
‘the nationalist agenda has provided Filipinos of various social classes and
ethnic backgrounds with a positive sense of collective identity and
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
belonging.’3 The revolutionary nationalist mythology that arose out of, and in
resistance to, the historical experiences of colonialism, was again called upon
by Filipino activists in the postcolonial period; most notably during the
dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The Communist Party of the Philippines
(CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, were guided by a
distinctly Marxist-Leninist-Maoist brand of revolutionary nationalism, and
together, became the backbone of the popular struggle against the Marcos
Overseas Filipinos played no small part in this struggle, with San
Francisco emerging as one of the most important nodes in the diaspora.
During my research stint there in 2007, I met many Filipino American
veterans of the struggle, some of whom had ended up in the United States
(US) as political exiles and others of whom were born and raised in the US
but who became drawn into the struggle through an emotional connection
with what they considered to be their homeland. The most significant
organisation to emerge was the KDP (Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong
Pilipino, or, Union of Democratic Filipinos), which began life as the USwing of the CPP. Although revolutionary nationalist in character, their
location in the diaspora rendered their politics a curious form of
‘transnational nationalism’ or what Tyner and Kuhlke refer to as ‘pannationalism’.4
Inevitably, contradictions began to emerge in the ranks of the KDP
as its pan-nationalist epistemology was increasingly unable to account for its
members own lived experiences. Initially, the KDP was singularly dedicated
to being a support organisation for the CPP’s struggle against the Marcos
dictatorship in the Philippines. Over time, however, Filipino American
activists within the organisation began to take up issues of relevance to their
own subject positions as marginalised diasporic people within the United
States, in line with the insurgent cultural nationalisms which surrounded
them, such as those associated with the Black Power Movement and the
Chicano Movement. A fissure had emerged between KDP activists’ lived
reality and the activist epistemology within which they operated. No longer
content with mere ‘support work’ for the struggle in the homeland, the KDP
attempted to adjust its epistemology to more adequately address their own
concerns within the US, in addition to their concern with toppling the Marcos
regime in the Philippines. Eventually, the KDP came to adopt what it called a
‘dual line’ program, which expressed a dual allegiance to the Philippine
nationalist revolution and the US working class revolution. This became
unacceptable to the CPP, however, who sent representatives to meet with the
KDP in the US, demanding that they choose between one or the other. This
was back when the phenomenon of ‘globalisation’ was as yet unnamed and
concepts like ‘transnationalism’ were virtually unknown, with people still
only able to think in terms of the nation-state framework. The KDP insisted
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism
on maintaining its dual line approach, and as a consequence, was expelled
from the CPP. This moment was surely indicative of the new challenges
posed to revolutionary politics by the shifting global context.
It is important to note that, while the KDP demanded the right to
multiple allegiances, they nevertheless left the modernist global imaginary
unchallenged, which saw the world only in terms of discrete nation-states and
which accepted the nation-state as the final and ideal form of human
organisation. The rise and rise of globalisation, however, has since rendered
this idea of the world increasingly anachronistic, and has called into question
the very tenability of the revolutionary nationalist project. The disconnect
between reality and traditional Leftist epistemology that the KDP was forced
to grapple with, has only intensified with globalisation, prompting Filipino
nationalist scholars like Gonzalez to ask the tough questions: ‘In the wake of
the seemingly unstoppable advance of globalization, is the nationalist project
dead? Is Filipino nationalism in a tailspin, going into a deep intellectual
slump?’5 While pan-nationalist politics remains a potent force amongst many
activists in the Filipino diaspora, there are new epistemologies emerging
which go well beyond modernist commitments to the nation.
Diasporic Cosmopolitanism
As Woodward et al. remind us, while ‘globalisation alone does not
guarantee the uptake or expression of cosmopolitan dispositions’, it does
provide ‘much of the raw material for its possibility.’6 Hence, while
globalisation has elicited in some Philippine activist groups a fundamentalist
response (the CPP, for example, continues to affirm its classical ideology in
the face of new constellations of power, insisting that nothing has changed),
it has prompted other groups to seriously grapple with the changing worldhistorical context, leading to the adoption of a more cosmopolitan, postnationalist politics. The Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental
Solidarity (FACES) is one such group, whose slogan, ‘Building
environmental justice across borders’, renders its post-nationalist orientation
plainly clear.7 Indeed, nature has always been global and as such, it perhaps
only makes sense for an environmentalist organisation to refuse to limit its
allegiances to any given national terrain.
Several senior members of FACES were once active within the
movement against the Marcos dictatorship, including in the KDP. As such,
the historical experience of the KDP and the debates around the dual line
have come to directly inform FACES’s own epistemology. The lexicon
around globalisation is today taken-for-granted, but in the days of the KDP,
such a lexicon was as yet uninvented, given that neo-liberal globalisation was
still only in its incipient phases. Where the CPP fail to acknowledge that
globalisation is anything new, thereby absolving them of the necessity to
update their ideology to more effectively challenge power, FACES has
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
actively grappled with the implications of the changing world-historical
context, recognising, for example, the new supranational character of
contemporary capitalism.
FACES are also cognizant of their own ambiguous positionality as
Filipino Americans, refusing nationalistic reductions of their complex, hybrid
subjectivities (which, in the manner of the CPP, would posit them simply as
Filipinos in exile from their ‘true’ homeland, even if they were born and
raised in the US). Furthermore, FACES seek to use their hybrid subjectivities
to their advantage, such as is the case with their campaign against Chevron, a
multinational oil corporation with its headquarters located in the San
Francisco Bay Area, but whom also happen to be committing environmental
and social injustices in the community of Pandacan in the Philippines. As
such, FACES – as a Filipino American organisation based in the San
Francisco Bay Area albeit with emotional links to the Philippines – has seen
an opportunity for itself to work in solidarity with local community groups
fighting Chevron in Pandacan, as well as to simultaneously mobilise against
Chevron in the Bay Area. The struggle at each end is local, but together,
FACES and its allies in the Philippines are collaborating transnationally
around an issue and a corporation that is equally transnational. As Christine
Cordero, a FACES Board Member, has articulated:
Our families live here and there. Chevron is a US-based
company and we, as US citizens, have the opportunity and
obligation to hold them accountable to their actions. The
health problems and issues affect all of our families and
communities. The movement must be transnational because
Chevron Corporation is transnational.8
Here, and this is my crucial point, the hyper-extension of social
solidarities through the diasporic experience (and the mobilisation of these
solidarities through transnational activism) becomes the means with which to
challenge the hyper-extension and transnationalisation of capital. This kind of
diasporic cosmopolitanism is in stark contrast to the diasporic pannationalism that I described earlier. Whereas the latter sees its task as one of
retreating into and reclaiming the national as a means of defence against the
onslaught of global capital, the former deems that the struggle must be as
global as capitalism itself if it is to be at all effective.
The Figure of the Fil-Whatever
In August 2007, as a part of my fieldwork, I participated in a twoweek solidarity tour of the Philippines that FACES runs annually as a way of
reconnecting with its partner organisations, and to facilitate cultural exchange
and the strengthening of political solidarities between Filipino and Filipino
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism
American activists in their common struggles, despite being from opposite
sides of the Pacific. On the first day of the solidarity tour, we were addressed
by Joel Rocamora, a prominent leftist intellectual in the Philippines and
veteran of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. He argued that we
need to begin to think about ways to redefine Filipino nationality outside of
territoriality; about how to conceive of culture across national borders and
how to accommodate diverse expressions of being Filipino. ‘Filipino-ness’ is
not just produced by Filipinos in the Philippines anymore, he contended, but
is also being produced in the diaspora by Fil-Ams9, Fil-Canadians, FilAustralians, Fil-Italians, ‘Fil-Whatevers’.
Although only used by Rocamora as a kind of throwaway turn-ofphrase, I believe there is much more to the idea of the ‘Fil-Whatever’ than
meets the eye; in particular, when we connect it to Giorgio Agamben’s use of
the notion of ‘whatever’ as a philosophical concept.10 In order to explain this
concept and its relevance for the discussion here, I will firstly need to
explicate the new theory of difference that Agamben seeks to outline in The
Coming Community. Key to his argument is that we must reject the
universal-particular binary of modernist thinking in favour of a new couplet
of commonality-singularity. Whereas the former presupposes a structuralist
ontology of discrete entities compartmentalised into wholes and parts of
wholes, the latter rests instead on a poststructuralist ontological schema of
expansive, distributed networks. These networks are comprised of
singularities whose commonality, by virtue of being entangled in a common
web, does not efface each singularity’s irreducible difference. Commonality
is achieved across difference, rather than at the expense of it. Here we can see
how Agamben’s ideas depart from the modernist binary between the
universal and the particular, which are always deemed to be antithetical.
As early as 1924, Andre Breton in the Surrealist Manifesto already
intimated towards the kind of ideas that Agamben wrote about in The
Coming Community, such as when he wrote:
If in a cluster of grapes there are no two alike, why do you
want me to describe this grape by the other, by all the
others, why do you want me to make a palatable grape?
Our brains are dulled by the incurable mania of wanting to
make the unknown known, classifiable.11
Where Breton gives the example of grapes, Agamben gives the
example of the human face: Each is irreducibly singular and unique, yet each
is also recognisably human. Thus, we are always at once simultaneously
singular and common, and it is precisely this which Agamben theorises as the
ontology of ‘whatever’. In Agamben’s words: ‘Common and proper, genus
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
and individual are only the two slopes dropping down from either side of the
watershed of whatever’.12
This then allows us to re-cast Rocamora’s throwaway usage of the
term ‘Fil-whatever’ in an entirely new light. Let us imagine, for example, the
Filipino diaspora as a network, composed of innumerable singularities. Each
individual within the diaspora represents a singularity; a ‘difference-in-itself’
not reducible to any kind of averaged out, essentialised, genericised whole.13
Each Filipino, Fil-Australian and Fil-Am, for example, can all be said to be
irreducible singularities. What is crucial is that their singularity does not
preclude their commonality, and conversely, their commonality does not
efface their heterogeneity. In modernist thinking, as discussed earlier,
difference is perceived of in terms of the particular, which is always deemed
to be at odds with the universal. As a consequence, modernist politics always
does violence to difference, in always seeking to departicularise the particular
and striving towards the universal. Nationalism, for example, destroys
internal difference by enforcing homogeneity to a transcendental ideal of
what it means to be an authentic member of the national community.
Diasporic pan-nationalism, of the sort I have discussed in this paper, operates
in precisely this manner, constantly seeking to flatten out diasporic
differences in order to reinscribe diasporic Filipinos back into a
transcendental ideal of Filipino-ness.
Where diasporic pan-nationalism rests on a homogenous notion of
nation-ness, diasporic cosmopolitanism, in contrast, allows for and embraces
heterogeneity. It recognises that commonality can be built between
singularities in ways which do not efface difference. Take my participation in
the FACES solidarity tour, for example. I was a Fil-Australian amongst FilAmericans interfacing with Filipinos; all of us simultaneously singular and
common – singular albeit not at the expense of our commonality and
common albeit not at the expense of our singularity. We were all able to
work together as Fil-Whatevers, through our heterogeneity, rather than
despite it or at the expense of it; that is, we did not have to conform to a
transcendental ideal of homogenised Filipino-ness as a pre-requisite for
common action.
‘Transcendent value’, writes Felix Guattari, ‘presents itself as
immovable, always already there and thus always going to stay there. From
its perspective, subjectivity remains in perpetual lack, guilty a priori’.14 Thus,
to the nationalist, hybridised diasporic subjectivity remains in lack.
Nationalists thus prescribe that Filipino Americans and other diasporans must
overcome their confusion with their hybrid identities and get in touch with
their ‘true’ identities as Filipinos. Too many diasporans internalise this kind
of logic and become anxious about their perpetual condition of lack. Shifting
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism
from a nationalist to a cosmopolitan frame, as FACES has done, is thus a key
manoeuvre, as it allows diasporans to reconceive themselves not as lacking,
but as over determined; uncontainable within existing categories of
belonging, and thus always spilling over into newness.
As such, diasporic cosmopolitanism is allowing for new forms of
belonging not based on essences. It allows diasporans to locate ‘home’ not
just in the homeland, but also in the diaspora, given that it reaffirms diasporic
subjectivity, rather than devalorising it through a perception of its perpetual
lack by virtue of it being estranged from the territorial homeland. Where
diasporans are rendered marginal in modernist forms of politics, they reemerge as central in postmodernity. Removed from the ‘inside’ of homeland
space, diasporans might be seen as constituting a vast swarm of outsiders,
who, through their riotous mobility, are in fact weaving a new inside; that of
the world as a whole. No longer mere exile, the diasporan thus becomes
reconstituted as global citizen.
A Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996.
G Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter,
The Pegasus Foundation, Dallas, 1999, p. 17.
E Gonzalez, Is Globalization a Threat to the Nationalist Imagination in the
Philippines? Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City, 2000, p. 1.
J Tyner & O Kuhlke, ‘Pan-national identities: representations of the
Philippine diaspora on the world wide web’ Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 41,
no. 3, 2000, pp. 231-252.
Gonzalez, op. cit., p. 2.
I Woodward, G Kendall, et al., ‘Cosmopolitanism, Technology and the
Nation’ Nexus: Newsletter of the Australian Sociological Association, Inc.,
vol. 19, no. 3, 2007, p. 9.
F Carlos & T Tilos, Face2Face Exchange Trip 2006 Summary Report,
Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, Berkeley, 2007.
Cited in FACES, International Human Rights Day Media Release: ‘The
Philippines and Richmond: Residents Voice Outrage Against Chevron’s
Environmental Health Impacts, Filipino/American Coalition for
Environmental Solidarity, Berkeley, 2006.
Colloquial term for ‘Filipino Americans’.
G Agamben, The Coming Community. University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis, 1993.
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
A Breton, ‘Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)’ in A Breton (ed), Manifestoes
of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1972, p. 9.
Agamben, op. cit., p. 20.
Deleuze, G., Difference and Repetition. Athlone Press, London, 1994.
F Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Indiana University
Press, Bloomington, 1995, p. 103.
Agamben, G., The Coming Community, University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis, 1993.
Appadurai, A., Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996.
Bachelard, G., Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter.
The Pegasus Foundation, Dallas, 1999.
Breton, A., ‘Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)’ in A Breton (ed), Manifestoes
of Surrealism. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1972, pp. 3-47.
Carlos, F. and T. Tilos, Face2Face Exchange Trip 2006 Summary Report.
Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, Berkeley, 2007.
Deleuze, G., Difference and Repetition. Athlone Press, London, 1994.
FACES, International Human Rights Day Media Release: ‘The Philippines
and Richmond: Residents Voice Outrage Against Chevron’s Environmental
Health Impacts’. Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity,
Berkeley, 2006.
Gonzalez, E. T., Is Globalization a Threat to the Nationalist Imagination in
the Philippines? Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City, 2000.
Guattari, F., Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Indiana University
Press, Bloomington, 1995.
Tyner, J. A. and O. Kuhlke, ‘Pan-national identities: representations of the
Philippine diaspora on the world wide web’. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 41,
no. 3, 2000, pp. 231-252.
From Pan-Nationalism to Cosmopolitanism
Woodward, I., G. Kendall, et al, ‘Cosmopolitanism, Technology and the
Nation’. Nexus: Newsletter of the Australian Sociological Association, Inc.,
vol. 19, no. 3, 2007, pp. 9-11.
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology and Sociology
at the University of Western Australia. His work combines ethnographic,
philosophical, and historical approaches, and his research interests principally
revolve around globalisation, social movements, cultural identity, and postEnlightenment political philosophy. His current doctoral research concerns
post-Cold War politics in the Asia-Pacific region.
email: [email protected]
Section II
Home and Heimat
Identity, Social Roots and Empowerment:
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
Ghan Shyam
Studies on the migration of Indians to the West Indies as indentured labourers
have often focused on the formation of a collective, unifying identity
regardless of their original social or religious status in India. Thus, it appears
that many of these labourers tended to see their original homeland as a way to
affirm their identity, and as a source of inspiration and empowerment.
Nonetheless, an analysis of the social composition of all Indian migrant
labourers to various British colonies in the West Indies during the period
between 1838 and 1917 reveals that the majority of them belonged to lower
castes and most of them came from North India; a region well known for its
age-old rigid social hierarchy. Therefore, these migrants carried their social
baggage along with them in the various West Indian colonies which played a
very important role in their identity formation in the new land. The process of
Sanskritisation which was instrumental behind upward mobility among lower
castes was more successful in colonies than their original home land.
However, in the West Indian colonies, studies have shown that descendants
of lower castes still have relatively less advantages in comparison to upper
caste descendants of North India. In the post-independent India, lower castes
have emerged as important actors in Indian electoral politics, having greater
bargaining power because of their numerical strength. This is very clearly
visible in North India States, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where
members of lower castes have been holding power for more than one decade.
Thus, if caste has historically determined identity in the diasporic
community, the larger question which emerges today is whether the gradual
empowerment of lower castes in North India will lead to a similar sense of
empowerment among the descendents of these communities in the West
Indian diaspora.
Keywords: Caste, diaspora, empowerment, identity, indentured labour,
North India, Sanskritisation, social baggage, social roots, West Indies.
Policies concerning migration during the colonial period were
largely designed, developed and driven by the need to achieve certain goals
which would satisfy the economic greed and religious zeal of certain
individuals, groups and countries of that time. These policies have affected
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
human civilisations in myriad ways. As far as Indian migration during the
colonial period is concerned, it was started by British colonial government to
replace ex-slaves of its various colonies with Indian indentured labourers. It
is estimated that during the colonial period, starting from 1834 to 1917,
approximately over one million Indians migrated to various destinations as
indentured labourers. In the case of each foreign colony, the migration of
Indian labourers was governed by similar modes of contract and recruitment
policies set up by the British colonial Government in India.1
One often wonders under what circumstances such a large scale
migration took place in a country where there was a religious taboo on
crossing the ocean; especially among the upper castes, crossing the Kala Pani
(black water/sea) meant caste defilement and severe social ostracism.2 Indian
migration as indentured labourers started in the year 1834 with recruitment of
Hill coolies of Chota Nagpur, and gradually shifted towards other parts of
India. In the subsequent period, the majority of the labourers were recruited
mainly from what is today known as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The migrants
were recruited from all the religions as well as all the major castes residing in
the areas mentioned above. Therefore it becomes essential to give a brief
survey of the causes which must have affected the people from all walks of
life and led to mass migration.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries a combination of factors
created a favourable situation for mass migration. Out of these, famines are
considered to be the most crucial ones which affected millions of people all
over India.3 The pressure of the population on the land increased, especially
in the Gangetic plains and Bengal where many more people opted for
agriculture after losing their traditional occupation, which was destroyed due
to penetration of European manufactured goods into Indian villages. The
hand-made products simply could not compete with factory-made
manufactured goods. Consequently, patterns of trade and commerce were
greatly transformed and relocated.
The factor which affected the rural economy directly and
transformed the landlord-tenant relationship was imposition of British
policies for the collection of land revenue.4 Earlier, peasants paid a share
from their yearly yield as land revenue to the local landlords who were
regarded as representatives of local nobility. Introduction of the new law,
which ensured a fixed income to the government, had hit the peasants very
hard. Now, they were forced to pay a fixed amount in cash as land revenue
irrespective of the land’s production in any year. Many had to change their
crop patterns of cultivation to grow cash crops and often they were forced to
sell their crops at low prices simply to obtain rent money. Over the year land
revenue rates kept going up as revenue collection was auctioned for a year to
the highest bidder and those who could not pay their rent were evicted.5 In
Ghan Shyam
addition to the above mentioned factors, there were certain non-economic
reasons for migration, such as frustration with oppressive policies of the
government in the aftermath of the Mutiny of 1857, criminal proceedings,
social rigidity, caste prejudice, domestic violence and simply ‘the desire for
As it is mentioned above, Indians labourers were recruited to serve
in the plantations where earlier African slaves used to work. Out of over one
million Indians who migrated as indentured labourers, more than half a
million of them went to work in sugar plantations of various colonies in the
West Indies.7 The statistical data shows that among English speaking
colonies of the West Indies, British Guyana received the maximum
indentured labourers and their total number was 239,909; Trinidad 143,939;
Jamaica 36,412; St. Lucia 4,354; Grenada 3,003; St. Vincent 2,472 and St.
Kitts 337. Among non-English speaking colonies, the French colonies of
Martinique received 25,509, Guadeloupe 45,844 and French Guiana 19,276.
Surinam, which was under Dutch colonial rule, imported 35,501 immigrants
from India. While emigrants came from practically every province of India,
the bulk of them (approx. 80%) were drawn from the Gangetic plains of
North India; especially from two provinces of British India, namely United
Province and Bihar. Of these, again the majority came from eastern districts
of Uttar Pradesh (modern name of United Provinces) and western districts of
Bihar which are culturally and linguistically known as Bhojpuri and Awadh
regions. A small but significant number of emigrants came from Madras
(modern day Tamilnadu).
As far as religion and caste composition of the immigrants in West
Indian colonies is concerned, the majority of them were Hindus. However,
almost every religion, caste and community had its representation in the West
Indian diaspora.8 Among Hindus, who consisted 85 per cent of the total
immigrant population, about 12-13 percent were upper castes (Brahmans,
Kshtriya etc.); 35 percent agricultural castes (Koiri, Kurmi, etc); 6 percent
artisans and 32 percent low castes (Dalits and other menial castes). The
followers of Islam and other minority religions such as Christians and Sikhs
constituted approximately 15 percent of the total immigrant population.
Interestingly, the above mentioned religious, castes and community
composition just reflects the perfect cross section of North Indian society
from which they emigrated.9 Despite all these similarities with the mother
country, there was a severe discrepancy in the age and gender composition of
the immigrants. The majority of the immigrants were single, male and in the
prime age group of 20-35. The women constituted little less than 30 percent
of the total immigrant population; about 70 percent of them were listed as
single. It appears that family migration was not the norm, as only 15 percent
married couples and a very small number of children were listed in the
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
Out of slightly more than half a million Indian indentured labourers
who migrated to various colonies in the West Indies, more than 2/3 of them
went to work in the sugar plantations of British Guyana and Trinidad, as
mentioned above. Thus, this paper will focus mainly on these two territories,
where the Indian origin population has been substantial and has played an
important role in all aspects of life.
The divergent theories of “cultural persistence” and “creolisation”
have been mostly used to study the identities of all the diasporic communities
that settled in the West Indies, including the Indian one.11 The theorists of
cultural persistence stress that cultural identity is central to the process of
distinctive community and ethnic formation in the diaspora, and it is this
cultural identity that is transmitted largely through deeply embedded cultural
symbols and value systems. In the case of the Indian diaspora in the West
Indies, it is argued that wherever an Indian community was found in large
numbers, like British Guyana and Trinidad, deeply embedded institutional
patterns such as caste, religion and family values, which are often defined as
cultural baggage, were carried by the migrants to their new home land. These
cultural values were transplanted in new surroundings to create a similar
identity away from the mother land; at the same time, they also worked as a
resistance against the modernising forces of the host society. It is further
argued that persistence of cultural values of the home land in the diaspora
shaped the distinct ethnic identity of the diasporic community and prevented
their assimilation into the prevailing cultural norms of the new societies.
In contrast, the proponents of “creolisation” theory argue that
instead of cultural persistence, the migrant communities become more
adaptive towards the local culture and thus their original cultural values go
through a process of transformation. In the case of the Indian diaspora, sociocultural Institutions such as caste and family traditions gradually got diluted
through the experiences of migration and adaptation to new working and
social conditions. In this new environment, caste was no longer the
determining factor for one’s occupation and position in the society.
Nonetheless, neither of these theories could fully explain the identity
formation of Indian immigrants in the West Indies, as the Indian community
has not shown any set pattern. Starting from the early days until now, the
Indian diaspora does not represent a single unified identity. Indian diasporic
identity is multi-faceted and it can be understood only by analysing the
historical processes through which it has passed. Here, an attempt is being
made to historically examine the identity of the Indian diaspora in the West
Indies, mostly in British Guyana and Trinidad, through its social roots.
The massive Indian population which emigrated as indentured
labourers to various West Indian colonies reflects a perfect cross-section of
North Indian society, as mentioned above. The new identity formation of the
Ghan Shyam
emigrants would begin at the depot itself, where they had to wait at least
seven days to several weeks due to various reasons.12 During this period, the
only segregation that took place was between single men and single women.
There was no other separation on account of caste and community for those,
especially Brahmins and upper castes, who might have wished to observe
caste rules which forbid them to live and dine with lower castes. In fact it was
a sort of conditioning camp before they embarked on the ship for a long
voyage. Peggy Mohan in her book “Jahajin” gives a detailed description of
the activities of such people at Calcutta depot, who were recruited from
different religions and castes of North India.13
The depot played a great level playing field on Indian soil. Before
embarking the ship, each emigrant was dressed up in a particular fashion
which suited a month’s long voyage to an unknown land; men were given
woollen trousers, woollen jackets, red woollen caps, and shoes, whereas
women were given two flanked jackets, a woollen petticoat, worsted
stockings, shoes and a sari. The dilution of religious, caste and family
identities also started at the depot itself. A few depot marriages were held
without ceremonies and contrary to the dictates of caste requirements.
Sometimes, these depot marriages were held even across religious
lines.14However, it is wrong to presume that religious and caste identities
were no longer relevant to the emigrants once they boarded the ship. In fact,
the social baggage which emigrants carried with them remained visible in the
West Indian diaspora in the form of rituals, prejudices and community life,
although in a much more diluted and modified form. I will discuss this aspect
later in this paper.
Once they boarded the ship there was a mixed feeling among
emigrants as far as their identity is concerned. For some of them, crossing the
Kala Pani (black water), was supposed to have changed them forever, as the
sea had turned them into an outcaste15; some of them thought they would
never come back. On the other hand, for lower caste emigrants, probably it
was the first time in their life when they were treated at par with upper castes
and others who were superior to them in the caste social hierarchy. One such
example is cited by Dale Bisnauth in his book where, in response to a
Brahmin’s chiding, a lower caste Pariah said “I have taken off my caste and
left it with the port officer. I won’t put it on again till I come back”.16 Life on
the crowded ship was the same for everyone, irrespective of their caste and
religious identity. The upper castes such as Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Rajputs
ate and mingled with the lower castes such as Chamars, Dhobis and Doms. In
some cases, they even had to obey a lower caste Sirdar who was appointed by
the Surgeon Superintendent for maintaining discipline among fellow
emigrants. Under ordinary circumstances in India, these upper castes would
not have come into physical contact with lower castes, who were considered
untouchable in the contemporary social hierarchy17.
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
A long sea journey did create a sense of belonging among fellow
voyagers. Some of them became lifelong friends as they use to call each other
jehaji-bhai (ship-brother) and jehaji-behan (ship-sister) and many of them
maintained this relationship throughout their life for all practical purposes.
Thus, new experiences on a long voyage did help them to prepare for the
conditions under which they would work and live in the plantations of the
The Indian diaspora under indentureship created a complex mix of
multiple identities. For the planters, Indian immigrants were simply the
coolies who came to work in the sugar plantations as a replacement for the
ex-slaves. The condition of Indian indentured labourers in the sugar estates
was not much better than that of the ex-slaves whom they replaced. They
were forced to adopt almost similar conditions under which former slaves
worked and lived, as many features of plantation slavery still existed.18 In
principle, the indenture contract was agreed upon for five years, but it often
prolonged as immigrants were entitled for free passage to return to India only
after completion of ten years of the essential residential period in the sugar
estates. Since very few immigrants returned to India, small settlements or
villages of ex-indentured labourers grew around the estates; these immigrants
worked in the sugar plantations, as well as taking up several other
In the initial phases of Indian settlements, the identity formation of
the immigrants can be understood in the context of their nature of work and
new social setup, which was totally different from the experiences of the
mother land. They presented a unified Indian labour identity against the
plantation regimes, and this identity was asserted by groups as well as
individuals. One of such occasions was the public display of Moharram
festival, when a large number of Indians, Hindus and Muslims participated in
the processions in Trinidad and British Guyana. Through collective
performances, the Indian community showed its solidarity and sense of
belonging.19 Another example of unified identity was shown by individuals
like Bechu from Guyana who became the champion of indentured labourers’
rights. He wrote letters to the editors of several news papers, brilliantly
dissecting and exposing the facade of legality and claims to public good by
planters and the colonial state.20
Although with regard to plantation regimes, the Indian immigrant
community often appeared united around a common identity, at the same
time differences in individual social roots created several identities within the
indentured community itself. For instance, the gender imbalance led to intercaste and inter-community marriages, and caste was no longer relevant for all
practical purposes. Nonetheless, certain high caste individuals were unwilling
to work under lower caste Sirdars21 and they also felt a loss in their social
Ghan Shyam
status.22On the other hand, despite all hardship, many emigrants, especially
lower castes, did feel some improvement over their condition in India, given
their experiences back home where they were permanently consigned to the
fringes of rural Indian society as untouchable, tenants-at-will, and landless
labourers with little hope of betterment in life.23
Indian identities became stronger in the later phase of their
settlement, as now they started living as a community in the villages. The
Indian settlements were largely based in isolated areas, often a few miles
away from the nearest town. Fictive kin ties based on the Jahaji relationship
often played a role in determining post indenture settlements. Imams and
Pandits were the leading figures within the communities, and under rural
farming conditions the social structure of the villages was similar to
India.24In these villages certain types of informal social institutions also
existed in order to solemnise marriages, coordinate religious ceremonies and
celebrations.25Similar to Indian villages, there were Panchayats (village
councils) to settle local disputes. The members of these Panchayats were
affluent villagers who were chosen on the basis of their caste, intelligence,
education and even being a son of a wealthy family.26
In the post indenture period, Indian immigrants in colonies where
their population was very thin, like Jamaica, settled sporadically within
African dominated areas, as there was little land available for them. Other
colonies like Trinidad and Guyana, with high percentages of Indian
population, became the major centres of Indian social, political and economic
activities in the years to follow. The bulk of the immigrant population
remained in the villages where they had settled after expiry of their indenture
period. However, in both these countries, quite a few Indians had already
made a fortune through paddy and sugar cultivation in their privately owned
lands. Now they were upwardly mobile, migrating to nearby towns and, some
of them, converting themselves and their families into Christianity, as it gave
them access of better education for their children and a place for themselves
among local elites.
Upon their free settlement in the post-indenture period, Indian
identity remained complex. On one hand, Indian immigrants, being excoolies, were at the bottom of the ladder in the social hierarchy of the host
society and they now wanted equal treatment. On the other hand, they wished
to remain part of the social cultural body of India, as they still maintained
various religious, social and caste practices which they inherited.27
As a result of the Indian National movement in the mother country,
Indian diasporic identity tilted towards Hindu nationalist identity as many
prominent Hindu leaders visited these colonies and preached basic precepts
of Hindu religion. The effort of Hindu revivalism in West Indian colonies
was not new. In fact, attempts were made to establish Hindu orthodoxy in the
early days of the settlement and organisations such as Sanatan Dharm Sabha
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
preached the principles of Hindu orthodoxy, especially in Guyana and
Trinidad, since the late nineteenth century itself. However, in those early
days, they could not succeed, as the Hindu immigrant population was not
homogenous. It was predominantly rural and worshiped many different
deities which they had inherited from their ancestral villages in India. Like
their counterparts in India, they also became the followers of various sects
and cults. It is observed that there were four major sects, namely, Ramanandi,
Kabirpanthi, Shivnaraini and Aghori, which were popular among immigrants
since the early days of their settlement. All these sects were quite popular
among lower caste settlers, as their philosophy promoted egalitarianism,
inter-caste fraternity and social harmony. In addition to this, they also
worshiped Kali Mai, Dih Baba and Parmeshwarie28. These localised deities
were worshiped at the village level; Dih Baba was considered a protector of
the village from diseases and calamities and Pameshwarie was worshiped
mainly by lower caste Chamars.
However, in the post indenture period, a new wave of Hindu
revivalism, through various Hindu organisations, tried to create a single
Hindu identity. This mechanism can be understood in colonies such as
Guyana and Trinidad, where the large Indian immigrant population was seen
as a viable political force. In this whole process, Brahmins played a
significant role in standardising common beliefs and practices. The
performance of Pujas, Yagnas and holding of Kathas gradually became an
integral part of Hindu domestic life, especially among those who could afford
them.29 Thus, in the diasporic community, along with sanskritisation, a new
form of social hierarchy was established, where Brahmins retained their top
position in the society and hegemonic power, as their role was
institutionalised. Other middle castes, such as Kurmis, Ahirs, etc., felt
socially uplifted through the sanskritisation process, but what remained static
was mainly the position of lower castes such as Chamars.
Prejudices and discrimination against lower castes still exist to some
extent in the West Indian diasporic community. As one well-known West
Indian scholar, Moses Seenarine puts it, “growing up in the predominantly
caste Hindu Guyanese society during the 60s and 70s, from an early age I
was made to feel inferior, and lower caste, because of my family’s Christian
beliefs, dark skin colour, and lower class status.”30 Again, he mentions in a
newsletter that “growing up as a child in Guyana, I was aware of casteism
against Dalit groups such as Chamars, Bhangis and Christian Dalits.”31
Similar examples can be sought from Trinidad and other Caribbean countries
where lower castes still feel some sort of discrimination in their day to day
Max Weber and M.N. Sriniwas both defined caste as the
fundamental institution of Hinduism, hence it is impossible to detach
Ghan Shyam
Hinduism from the caste system.32 Nonetheless, the ways in which the caste
system operates within Hinduism differ according to the historical evolution
of each society. Thus, in the West Indian diasporic community, Indian
identity has travelled through several stages, beginning with the dilution of
caste identity in the indentured period, and transforming into a singular
Hindu identity in the post-indenture period, where the hierarchically highest
and lowest caste extremes, namely Brahmins and Chamars, continued to bear
important status value. The former retains the highest respect among the
diasporic community whereas the latter are often regarded with some degree
of dejection and disdain.33 This new form of Hinduism is neither based on the
principle of purity and pollution, on the basis of which the caste system was
originally practiced, nor is it similar to the current form of social hierarchy in
post-independent India, where lower castes are gradually moving upward
through attaining political power, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
As far as lower castes are concerned, in the diasporic community as
well as in their original homeland, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,
from where the maximum number of migrants went to various colonies in the
West Indies, they remain socially and economically at the bottom of the
ladder. In both places, they still face similar kinds of disdain, deprivation and
social neglect by caste Hindus. However, in North Indian society, the
sanskritisation process was not as successful as it was in the diasporic
community. Thus, middle castes (also known as “backward castes”) still
retain a separate identity from the upper castes, and constitute the majority in
North Indian society. The anti-Brahminical movement created a sense of
pride among non-Brahminical communities, who gained greater social
consciousness. This newly gained social consciousness among lower and
middle castes made them politically conscious at the same time. In the postindependent, democratic society, lower and middle castes have emerged as
important actors in Indian electoral politics, having greater bargaining power
because of their numerical strength. This is very clearly visible in the case of
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where members of lower and middle castes have
been holding power for more than one decade.
The Indian diaspora in the West Indies, which consists of a large
number of descendents of lower and middle caste migrants from this region,
can now easily associate themselves with new emerging power centres in
India where lower and middle castes are at the helm. The empowerment of
these castes in the home country has direct implications for the diasporic
community, as it has inherited the same social roots. Thus, if caste has
historically determined identity in the diasporic community, the larger
question which emerges today is whether the gradual empowerment of lower
and middle castes in North India will lead to a similar sense of empowerment
among the descendents of these communities in the West Indian diaspora.
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
S Vertovec, Hindu Trinidad: Religion, Ethnicity and Socio-Economic
Change, Macmillan Caribbean, London, 1992, p.3.
B Mangru, Benevolent Neutrality: Indian Government Policy and Labour
Migration to British Guiana 1854-1884, Hansib Publishing Ltd.,
Hertfordshire, 1987, p.57.
D Bisnauth, Settlement of Indians in Guyana 1890-1930, Peepal Tree,
Leeds, 2000, pp.37-38.
Vertovec, op.cit., p.8.
G S Arora, Indian Emigration, Puja Publishers, New Delhi, 1991, pp.33-35.
Vertovec, op.cit., p.9.
T C Mangar, ‘The Arrival of Indians in Guyana’. Horizons, 2006/2007, p.
Arora,, op.cit., p.48.
P P Mahapatra, ‘The Politics of Representation in the Indian Labour
Diaspora :West Indies, 1880-1920’. V.V.Giri National Labour Institute
Research Series Study, no. 48, 2003, p.3.
Arora, op. cit., pp. 96-100.
Mahapatra,, op.cit., pp.1-2.
Bisnauth, op. cit., p. 51.
P Mohan, Jahajin, Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2007, pp.23-32.
Bisnauth, op. cit., p.52.
Mohan, op. cit., p.33.
Quoted by Bisnauth, op. cit., p.53.
Bisnauth, op. cit., p. 53.
Mangru, op. cit., p. 139.
Mahapatra, op. cit., p. 7.
ibid., p.13.
Vertovec, op. cit., pp. 33-34.
Mahapatra, op. cit., p. 12.
B V Lal, On the other side of Midnight: A Fijian Journey, National Book
Trust, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 9-10.
N S Ramnarine, ‘The Panchayat System as an Early Form of Conflict
Resolution in Trinidad’ in Brinsley Samaroo and Ann Marie Bissessar (eds),
The Construction of an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora, The University of the
West Indies School of Continuing Studies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and
Tobago, 2004, pp. 222-223.
Vertovec, op. cit., p. 79.
Ramnarine, op. cit., pp. 224-227.
Vertovec, op. cit., p. 21.
Ghan Shyam
B Samaroo, ‘Reconstructing the Identity: Hindu Organisation in Trinidad
During their First Century’ in Brinsley Samaroo and Ann Marie Bissessar
(eds), The Construction of an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora, The University of
the West Indies School of Continuing Studies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and
Tobago, 2004, p. 53.
N Jairam, ‘The Politics of ‘cultural renaissance’ among Indo-Trinidadians’
in Bhikhu Parekh, Gurharpal Singh and Steven Vertovec (eds), Culture and
economy in the Indian diaspora, London, Routledge, 2003, p. 127.
M Seenarine, ‘Dalit Women: Victims or Beneficiaries of Affirmative
Action Policies in India – A Case Study’ paper presented at a Brown Bag
Lecture held by the Southern Asian Institute, Columbia University, on April
10th, 1996, Saxakali Publications, 6 May 2008, http://saxakali.com/SaxakaliPublications/dalit1.htm, p. 1.
M Seenarine, ‘Dalit Female Education and Empowerment’. Dalit
International Newsletter, vol. 2, no. 1, February 1997, Saxakali Publications,
6 May 2008, http://saxakali.com/Saxakali-Publications/dalitwo2.htm, p. 1.
Vertovec, op. cit., p.50.
ibid, p.36.
Arora, G.S., Indian Emigration. Puja Publishers, New Delhi, 1991.
Birbalsingh, Frank, From pillar to post: the Indo-Caribbean diaspora.
TSAR, Toronto, 1997.
Bisnauth, Dale, Settlement of Indians in Guyana 1890-1930. Peepal Tree,
Leeds, 2000.
Jaffrelot, Christophe, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in
North Indian Politics. Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003.
Jayaram, N., ‘The Politics of ‘cultural renaissance’ among Indo-Trinidadians’
in Bhikhu Parekh, Gurharpal Singh and Steven Vertovec (eds), Culture and
economy in the Indian diaspora. London, Routledge, 2003.
Jayaram, N. (ed.), The Indian Diaspora: Dynamics of Migration. Sage
Publications, New Delhi, 2004.
Lal, Brij V., On the other side of Midnight: A Fijian Journey. National Book
Trust, New Delhi, 2005.
A Study of the Low Castes Diaspora in the West Indies
ahapatra, Prabhu P., ‘The Politics of Representation in the Indian Labour
Diaspora: West Indies, 1880-1920’. V.V.Giri National Labour Institute
Research Series Study, no. 48, 2003.
Mangar, Tora C., ‘The Arrival of Indians in Guyana’. Horizons, 2006/2007.
Mangru, Basdeo, Benevolent Neutrality: Indian Government Policy and
Labour Migration to British Guiana 1854-1884. Hansib Publishing Ltd.,
Hertfordshire, 1987.
Mohan, Peggy, Jahajin. Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2007.
Parekh, Bhikhu, Gurharpal Singh and Steven Vertovec (eds), Culture and
economy in the Indian diaspora. London, Routledge, 2003.
Ramnarine, Natasha Sabina, ‘The Panchayat System as an Early Form of
Conflict Resolution in Trinidad’ in Brinsley Samaroo and Ann Marie
Bissessar (eds), The Construction of an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. The
University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies, St. Augustine,
Trinidad and Tobago, 2004.
Samaroo, Brinsley, ‘Reconstructing the Identity: Hindu Organisation in
Trinidad During their First Century’ in Brinsley Samaroo and Ann Marie
Bissessar (eds), The Construction of an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. The
University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies, St. Augustine,
Trinidad and Tobago, 2004.
Samaroo, Brinsley and Ann Marie Bissessar (eds), The Construction of an
Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. The University of the West Indies School of
Continuing Studies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, 2004.
Seenarine, Moses, ‘Dalit Women: Victims or Beneficiaries of Affirmative
Action Policies in India – A Case Study’ paper presented at a Brown Bag
Lecture held by the Southern Asian Institute, Columbia University, on April
10th, 1996, Saxakali Publications, 6 May 2008, http://saxakali.com/SaxakaliPublications/dalit1.htm.
Seenarine, Moses, ‘Dalit Female Education and Empowerment’. Dalit
International Newsletter, vol. 2, no. 1, February 1997, Saxakali Publications,
6 May 2008, http://saxakali.com/Saxakali-Publications/dalitwo2.htm.
Ghan Shyam
Vertovec, Steven, Hindu Trinidad: Religion, Ethnicity and Socio-Economic
Change, Macmillan Caribbean, London, 1992.
Ghan Shyam teaches history at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India.
His areas of research are diaspora studies and contemporary history.
email: [email protected]
Migration, Settlement and Identity:
A Cultural Theme of the Muslim Diaspora
after the Partition of India
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor
India experienced one of world’s largest population displacement and
Diaspora in 1947 at the time of partition of British India. The policy makers
and administrators of the time neither anticipated the magnitude and
repercussions of calamity nor could they pre-empt it through their will. On
the other hand people cut-across on religious lines became so antagonistic to
each other that they did not spare themselves from ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, partition of India bore a distinct characteristic because whole
provinces were included in one country or the other in addition to two
provincial partitions. It was characterised by a slow-moving, selective and
voluntary process of migration from different parts of India two the provinces
of Sindh and the Punjab. However, the nature of assimilation in both the
aforementioned provinces was different to each other. Diaspora population
was congenially assimilated in the Punjab (with some cultural retention of
identity) while it aroused differences of socio-political nature in Sindh.
Despite the fact that migration has got religious sanctity in Islam - the
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Mecca to Madina for the
purpose of preaching religion to the people of Madina who showed more
receptivity to the new religion - the Muslims of Pakistan use the term
Muhajir (one who undertakes migration) in derogatory sense. This cultural
theme can sufficiently be corroborated from the fact that the local population
in Sindh, as well as in the Punjab, does not like to marry with Muhajirs. More
so, people in the Punjab, in order to show themselves sons of the soil, speak
like: Mein koi muhajir haan? (Am I a muhajir), tu muhajir tan nahin? (Are
you a muhajir). These symbolic manifestations of chauvinism deepen the
differences between the communities and it hurts the diaspora population
Keywords: Diaspora, India, Muhajir, Pakistan, Punjab.
India experienced one of world’s largest population displacement
and diaspora in 1947 at the time of partition of British India. The magnitude
and repercussions of calamity were neither anticipated by the policy makers
and administrators of the time nor could they pre-empt it through their will.
Migration, Settlement and Identity
On the other hand people cut-across on religious lines became so antagonistic
to each other that they did not spare themselves from ethnic cleansing. Near
about ten million people faced dilemma of displacement and one million
were massacred. Moreover, partition of India bore a distinct characteristic
because whole provinces were included in one country or the other in
addition to two provincial partitions. It was characterised by a slow-moving,
selective and voluntary process of migration from different parts of India to
the provinces of Sindh and the Punjab. However, the nature of assimilation in
both the aforementioned provinces was different to each other. Diaspora
population was congenially assimilated in the Punjab (with some cultural
retention of identity) while it aroused differences of socio-political nature in
In spite of massive dislocation on both sides of the border, it is one
of the tragic ironies of partition that the birth of the Muslim state of Pakistan
brought about a division of the Muslim community of the sub-continent.
Such was gravity of the situation that:
there were areas in UP, Bihar and Bengal which were the
Muslim League strongholds and where large segments of
the Muslim population had spearheaded the movement …
who were left in midstream …for the new nation simply
provided a homeland for Muslims living in majority areas
but not elsewhere.1
At the time of partition, about thirty five million Muslims, almost
one third of its pre-partition population, remained in India either by choice or
circumstances. The migration of significant number of Muslims from India as
well as the influx of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan complicated the
demographic makeup of India in such a way that Muslims, who had been one
third of undivided India, were reduced to insignificant minority. In the same
vein, Hindus and Sikhs were also reduced to insignificance in Pakistan. Thus
the situation for all these communities became more vulnerable.
Despite the fact that migration has got religious sanctity in Islam the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Mecca to Madina for the
purpose of preaching religion to the people of Madina who showed more
receptivity to the new religion - the Muslims of Pakistan use the term
Muhajir (one who undertakes migration) in derogatory sense. This cultural
theme can sufficiently be corroborated from the fact that the local population
in Sindh, as well as in the Punjab, does not like to marry with Muhajirs. More
so, people in the Punjab, in order to show themselves sons of the soil, speak
like: Mein koi muhajir haan? (Am I a muhajir), tu muhajir tan nahin? (Are
you a muhajir). These symbolic manifestations of chauvinism deepen the
differences between the communities and it hurts Diaspora population
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor
psychologically. So, cultural and economic factors played more part in the
settlement of diaspora community although the migration was driven largely
on religious basis.
Historiography on partition has not yet focused the cultural and
psychological impact of the migration and diaspora. However, novel and
fiction writing has contributed its part in highlighting consequences of
partition. Thus the human dimension of partition needs to be explored
through physical and psychological impact of the experiences of violence,
abduction, migration and settlement. There are, nevertheless, some
biographical accounts that are very relevant and important in unfolding this
human drama.
While some writers have denoted economic interests as an important
factor which constituted the causes of partition, many opinion makers believe
that the history of Pakistan is history of the ongoing struggle and competition
on economic interests between the migrants and those of indigenous
inhabitants. Shahid Javed Burki, a notable Pakistani economist and a prolific
writer of history, elaborates his thesis in his celebrated book Pakistan: Fifty
Years of Nationhood.2 He opines that since partition power struggle has been
between the migrants and local people. Migrant community associated itself
with trade and commerce because majority of them did not have land for
cultivation, even for those who had been cultivators in India before partition.
On the other hand local people remained wedded to their land. Economic
policy making, as it was in the hands of bureaucracy in Pakistan’s initial
years, favoured trade and commercial activity. Resultantly, Pakistan’s
economy and economic hubs are presently in control of migrants and this fact
is resisted by the indigenous community: dominance of migrant community
in Karachi, Hyderabad, Faisalabad and Lahore is a corroborative case in
Partition left an indelible imprint on peoples, places and institutions
not only within south Asia but beyond it also. The massive demographic
upheaval that it generated uprooted an estimated eighteen million people.
Most of the refugees came from the North Western Frontier Province, Punjab
and Sindh in Pakistan and parts of northern India. Although most of the
demographic displacement occurred during 1947-48, refugees continued to
move across the India- Pakistan borders throughout the 1950s. For instance,
the two countries reported movement of over a million people across the
borders between 1951 and 1957.3
There is plenty of evidence that this uprooting led to a chain of
migrations, as individuals and families looked for safety, shelter and
livelihood. Families moved here and there in search of meaningful
opportunities regarding their rehabilitation. This resulted in a large scale
diffusion of refugees across large parts of India and Pakistan and beyond
subcontinent even. Different communities that were uprooted by this
Migration, Settlement and Identity
upheaval responded to this phenomenon in a variety of ways. Some were able
to rehabilitate themselves with remarkable success: an example of this is
farming groups that settled down in East Punjab. Others such as Namsudra
agriculturists from East Pakistan could never meaningfully settle down in
West Bengal.4
Two communities which showed an extraordinary propensity of
increasingly becoming diasporic, particularly after 1947, were the Sikhs and
Sindhis. Having been classified as a ‘martial race’ in the nineteenth century
by the British, the Sikh community had developed a tradition of migration.
They had been recruited in colonial army in large numbers and deployed
contiguously in military service on the far flung frontiers of sub-continent.
They had also been transported to other colonies like Malaya, Singapore,
Hong Kong and even parts of Africa, mainly for ward and watch service. The
Sikhs as community were among the worst victims of partition.5 They in
large numbers fled the districts of West Punjab to seek safety and shelter all
over northern India. Arriving with hardly any possessions except personal
belongings, they were welcomed and supported by their co-religionists in
East Punjab where they took initial refuge. Yet it took years of struggle for
these families to re-establish levels of well-being they had been accustomed
Like Sikhs, Sindhis are also known as diasporic South Asian
community. Although they are dispersed widespread yet they are connected
closely through extensive business network which operates on the basis of
kinship and trust. Among Sindhis, Karachites are particularly cosmopolitan
culturally because linked by trading networks; they had developed close
contacts with major Asian port cities such as Singapore, Shangai, Hong
Kong, Jakarta and Manila. Moreover, partition came as a turning point in the
fortunes of Sindhis.6 Unlike Punjab which witnessed unprecedented violence
in the second half of 1947, Sindh remained relatively calm as its premier city
Karachi became the capital of new born country. Nevertheless, as Muslim
refugees started pouring in from different parts of India into the province, the
Hindu Sindhi community felt increasingly insecure as their properties and
lives came under attack.
In Pakistan, the two cases of Punjab and Sindh represent the two
models of assimilation and non-assimilation as far as the settlement of
migrant communities is concerned. The Punjab accommodated 5.3 million
refugees which makes 25.6 per cent of its total population.7 Thus every fourth
person in West Punjab was a refugee from across the border. Refugees got
settled in a large number of villages, towns and cities so they profoundly
influenced the local population in terms of a heightened insecurity vis-a vis
India the relatively enhanced consciousness about Islam. This process of
acculturation was more facilitated by shared linguistic and cultural traditions
of locals and migrants. Another crucial factor in the successful integration of
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor
migrants with locals in West Punjab was the relative balance of power
between the two segments of society. Migrant community from East Punjab
had an edge in education and jobs in selective fields over the ‘locals’ who
dominated electoral politics, commercial agriculture in the canal colonies as
well as the army. This situation indirectly paved the way for smooth
settlement and assimilation in identity as no clash of interests developed
along sectoral, class, professional or institutional lines.
The scene of settlement of refugees in Sindh presented altogether
different picture. Unlike West Punjab where the bulk of refugees came from
East Punjab, refugees came from all over India speaking different languages
and representing different cultural outlook of life and on life. Almost all
refugees in Punjab were Punjabi speaking while no refugees in Sindh were
Sindhi speaking. Hamza Alvi, a perceptive scholar and linguist, claims that
Forty years ago the Punjabi ruling oligarchy ensured that
refugees from East Punjab (and only those) were settled in
West Punjab so that Punjab in Pakistan remained ethnically
homogeneous. All other refugees, mainly Urdu speaking
refugees from Northern and Central India, were settled in
Sindh. They were kept out of Punjab although Punjab is a
much larger province and had a greater capacity to absorb
the refugees.8
Another factor of their less assimilation was that they did not come en masse.
They came sporadically spread over a long time. Moreover, unlike Punjab
where administrative machinery handling the rehabilitation process was
being manned by officers originating from East Punjab facilitating their
brethren, migrants in Sindh were on the mercy of alien administration and
two sides had mutual mistrust as well.
Cultural theme in Muslim diaspora is particularly represented by
literature produced on this theme which is termed as ‘‘Human Drama of the
partition 1947’ by Ian Talbot.9 The contributions in English of Khushwant
Singh and Chaman Nahal, of Kartar Singh Duggal in Punjabi, of Bhisham
Sahni in Hindi, and Saadat Hasan Minto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Intizar
Hussain in Urdu are literary outbursts which reflect all the hardships born by
partition diaspora. The themes which emerge out of this literary treasure
house are: the searing reality of the agony of partition massacres and
migration at large scale; conflicting human emotions evoked by partition,
national pride and religious fulfilment with be bewilderment and sense of
loss; strong and lasting sense of the displacement brought by migration on
both sides of the border.
Cultural contours have been transformed by displacement of
population after 1947. Culture of those cities which received, accepted and
Migration, Settlement and Identity
assimilated diaspora population was changed and it carries imprint of cultural
traits they brought with them. For instance, accent of Urdu in Lahore is
altogether different from accent of Urdu speaking community in Karachi.
The differences which were cropped up by migrants and the locals against
each other were due to competition on resources. This competition has
recently been manifested in the shape of more electoral seats won by the
Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)—previously Muahjir Qaumi
Movement. Since early 80s, MQM has become a formidable political force in
Sindh province. It shares governance not only in their province but also in
national assembly. This fact is most often resented by the local Sindhis and
both the communities have developed many a proverbs against each other.
Moreover, culture of Sindhis is perceived by people of other provinces as
Hindu culture due to common cultural traits of Hindus and Muslims in Sindh.
An example of this is holy which is equally celebrated by all the religious
communities in Sindh.
Differences in communities are not as much real as they are
perceived. This realisation has been sharpened more by ad hoc and selfserving policies of successive authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes
have done irreparable damage to the social fabric of Pakistani society. They
have been playing upon these differences on two counts. First, driven by the
self-serving objectives e.g. perpetuation of rule. Second, authoritarian
regimes, due to their legitimacy crisis at home, have been playing in the
hands of imperialistic designs of super power. Pakistanis are already paying
heavy price of the damage done so far and it may add to the existing because
policy planners have continuously turned deaf ear to this critical issue.
Sindh government though it was sympathetic to the local population,
felt obliged to accommodate incoming Muslims refugees also. This led to
inconsistent official policies hitting commercial interests of Hindu
community and they got unnerved. More so, as the political leadership
manifested itself to be unable to control incidence of violence, especially
serious riots which erupted in Hyderabad and Karachi, the Sindhis were
forced to think of their unsafe future in Pakistan and they decided to leave
their homes. Their migration from Sindh was a planned evacuation using the
safer sea route. Their destination became business hub of Bombay but their
loss in overall terms was no less. With Sindh’s inclusion in Pakistan Sindhis
lost their ‘homeland’ to the new Muslim state and they were reduced to
refugee status with no territory which they could call their own or to which
they could identify in cultural terms.
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor
M Hasan, ‘Adjustment and Accommodation: Indian Muslims after
Partition’, in N Panikkar (ed), Communalism in India: History, Politics and
Culture, K. New Delhi, 1991, p. 61.
S J Burki, Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood, Pak Book Corporation,
Lahore, 1999, p. 55.
Ministry of Rehabilitation (India): Report, 1957-58.
T Y Tan and G Kudaisya, The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia,
Routledge, New York, 2000, p. 231.
They used Bombay, the business capital of India, as their base and many
were remarkably successful in establishing themselves where they were able
to fit into the new environment. Many of them looked for opportunities
abroad and through their kinsmen who were already abroad, they got impetus
for further migration and facilitated their settlement and acculturation in the
countries to which they migrated.
M Waseem, “Partition, Migration and Assimilation: A Comparative Study
of Pakistani Punjab” in Region and Partition: Bengal, Punjab and the
Partition of the Subcontinent, Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh (eds.), Oxford
University Press, Karachi, 2000, p. 211.
H Alvi and H John (eds), Sociology of Developing Societies, Macmillan
Education Ltd., London, p. 271.
I Talbot, ‘Literature and the Human Drama of the 1947 Partition’, in I
Talbot and G Singh (eds), Region and Partition: Bengal, Punjab and the
Partition of the Subcontinent, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2000, p.
Burki, S. J., Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood. Pak Book Corporation,
Lahore, 1999.
Hamza, A. and Harris, J. (eds), Sociology of Developing Societies. Macmillan
Education Ltd., London.
Hasan, M., ‘Adjustment and Accommodation: Indian Muslims after
Partition’ in K. N. Panikkar (ed.), Communalism in India: History, Politics
and Culture. New Delhi, 1991, p. 61.
Ministry of Rehabilitation (India): Report, 1957-5.
Migration, Settlement and Identity
Tan, Tai Yong, and Gyanesh Kudaisya, The Aftermath of Partition in South
Asia. Routledge, New York, 2000.
Waseem, Muhammad., “Partition, Migration and Assimilation: A
Comparative Study of Pakistani Punjab” in Region and Partition: Bengal,
Punjab and the Partition of the Subcontinent. Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh
(eds), Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2000, p. 211.
Muhammad Abrar Zahoor is Lecturer in the Department of History,
University of Sargodha, Pakistan. His interest areas are social and economic
history. email: [email protected]
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland:
Israel and Pakistan Compared
Theodore P. Wright, Jr.
The study of diaspora has neglected the type whose emigration has been
reversed by return to its claimed homeland, most notably the return of Zionist
Jews to Palestine since 1882 after an absence of almost two thousand years.
This case is seldom compared in its causes and consequences with the
migration of Indian Muslims (Muhajirin) to Pakistan in 1947. The two cases
are the only religiously defined nation states to emerge in the twentieth
century, although the movements which produced them were largely secular.
Some of the orthodox religious authorities in both Judaism and Islam
therefore initially rejected the new states as impious. The outcomes for the
two new states have been quite opposite. Israel, with huge help from world
Jewry and the United States, is a functioning democracy with a developed
economy, a well integrated Jewish majority and a record of success in war
with both its Arab neighbours and in suppressing Palestinian uprisings
(intifadeh), whereas Pakistan has suffered from poverty, recurrent military
dictatorships and lost wars with India including the secession of the eastern
wing of the country, now Bangladesh. Reasons for the contrast are found in
the smaller percentage of the Muhajirin in the total population, the much
lower percentage of literacy in Pakistan compared to Israel and the earlier
displacement of the immigrant leadership by a less developed indigenous
Keywords: Ashenazim, diaspora, Hebrew, Muhajirin, Pakistan, Sephardim,
Urdu, Zionism.
The call for papers to this conference lists every conceivable
category of analysis except the reversal of migration by the diaspora and its
return to its claimed homeland. One can think of a few historical cases,
depending on whether the definition includes a religious element or
encompasses all ethnic dispersals, as in this conference.1 The return of some
“moors” and Sephardic Jews, expelled in 1492, to Spain after 1974; the
reversal of the medieval “drang nach osten” of Ostdeutsch to Germany in
1945; the repatriation of Japanese colonials from Korea, Taiwan and
Manchuria, also in 1945; in some sense the plantation of Scots in Northern
Ireland in the 17th century from which their ancestors had emigrated a
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland
thousand years before to Pictland; and the return of some Calvinists from
New England to Old England in 1649-1660 and their remigration after the
restoration of King Charles II.
But the outstanding, even eponymous, case is the return (aliyah) of
European, Ashkenazi Jews to Palestine under the impulse of Zionism in
response to European, Christian anti-Semitism and the Nazi holocaust during
World War II, there followed the evacuation of endangered “oriental” Jews
(Mizrachim) to the newly founded Israel in 1948, and the return in the 1970s
of many highly secularised Soviet Jews.2 The return of so many diasporic
Jews to their historic home in Palestine and the creation for the first time in
two thousand years of a Jewish majority state, was only made possible by the
flight/expulsion of much of the pre-existing Arab population of Palestine,
Muslim and Christian, to the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and the Gulf
states.3 Less well known was the flight of a million or so Indian Muslims (the
Muhajirin, i.e. refugees) to Pakistan during the partition of British India in
1947-1950, balanced by an equal migration in the opposite direction to India
of most of the Hindu and Sikh population of what became Pakistan and the
slaughter of huge numbers on both sides.4
The two mass migrations and their justificatory ideologies, Zionism
and the Pakistan movement, produced the only two religiously defined states
of the twentieth century.5 There have been very few comparisons of Israel
and Pakistan because of the repugnance of both Jewish and Muslim scholars
to being compared with “the enemy”. A notable exception is the article by a
Hindu scholar, P. R. Kumaraswamy in 1997 while a research fellow of the
Harry S. Truman Institute of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.6 He lists a
few shared characteristics besides their religious self definition: that they
emerged amidst massive violence in the aftermath of the Second World War;
as a result of modern ideological rather than religious movements; attracted a
large return of diasporic immigrant populations pushed from their previous
residences and met with initial rejection by orthodox religious authorities in
the two faiths who regarded the foundation of a modern nation-state by
human agency as impious.
But the outcomes for the two new states have been quite opposite.
Israel is a functioning democracy with a developed economy and a well
integrated (80%) Jewish majority despite internal religious differences
between the Sephardim (Eastern origin) and Ashkenazim (Western origin)
Jews.7 It has been able to win all its wars with its Arab neighbours (1948,
1955, 1967 and 1973) and suppress two rebellions (Intifadeh) of the Arab
Pakistan, to the contrary, has suffered from recurrent military
dictatorships (1958-71, 1977-88, 1999-2007), continued mass poverty despite
spurts of gross economic growth, and a rising tide of domestic ethnic and
sectarian violence. It has been unsuccessful in its four wars with archenemy
Theodore P. Wright, Jr.
India (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999) over Kashmir and, worst of all, has
undergone a second partition of the country with the secession of the eastern
half, which became Bangladesh in 1971.8 The contrasting outcomes can be
explained in terms of other differences between the two cases.
First and foremost, the Pakistani Muhajiin, while initially dominant
like the Ashkenazim in Israel because of their historic role in the founding of
the Muslim League9 never constituted more than about ten percent of the
population until 1971 and thereafter twenty percent of the remainder,10
whereas European Jews were a 77% majority of the Jewish population of
Israel at independence and almost all of the Jews in Israel have immigrated
since 1882.11
Furthermore, there is an issue whether the ancestors of the bulk of
the Muhajirin, except perhaps for the Ashraf elite, ever lived in what is now
Pakistan. It is generally agreed that the ordinary (Ajlaf) Indian Muslims are
descended from low caste Hindu converts.12 The ideology of the Pakistan
movement, however, treated all Muslims as one umma (people) and, indeed,
Muslims in India tended to identify with the invading Turkish rulers. The
point of contrast is that the indigenous Muslims of North India are what I call
a “former ruling elite minority”13 whereas Jews of the diaspora have been
persecuted in varying degrees for 2,000 years and have been the archetypical
“middleman minority”.14 Muslims had ruled North India and what is now
Pakistan for seven hundred years (1191-1857) before the British raj. The
Muslims of what became Pakistan in 1947 (Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans,
Bengalis) joined the Muslim League only very late (1946) and soon
supplanted the immigrant leadership after the deaths of Mohammedali Jinnah
and Liaquat Ali Khan. The transfer of power in Israel occurred only after the
victory of the Likud coalition in 1977.15 It should be remembered that just as
the Muslim League did not win over most Muslims until just before partition,
Zionism did not triumph over socialism among European Jews until the
holocaust.16 In both cases the “push” of violence loomed larger in diasporic
motivation to return to the homeland than the “pull” of ideology.17
A correlate of the sharply differing percentages of the total
population which the returning diaspora made up, was the “modernity” of the
two new nations. By 1991, the median amount of education for adults was
twelve years for Western and Israeli born Jews in Israel; only 1% of
Ashkenazim and 16% of Sephardim had never attended school and were
presumably illiterate. On the other hand in Pakistan while 50% of the
Muhajirin, the cream of the community in India, were literate, only 8% of the
indigenous Muslim Sindhis were.18 (18) In fact, many of the most educated
and urban people in the provinces that became Pakistan were Hindus and
Sikhs who emigrated en masse to India in 1947-48. Literacy in Pakistan
(54%), especially of women (41%), is still far below Israeli levels (97.1%).19
(19) While Urdu (Hindustani) is the lingua franca and official language of
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland
Pakistan as Hebrew is in Israel, this has been much more controversial in the
former than the latter, especially in East Pakistan (Bengal) until 1971 and
Sindh since then.20
Pakistan nevertheless, does have an advantage in the small
percentage of remaining minorities after 1948 unless one counts the Shia,
Ahmadi and Ismaili as minorities.21 Israel has a considerable twenty percent
of Christian and Muslim Arab minorities even within its pre-1967 borders
and if one adds in the population of the occupied territories and Gaza and
factors in the higher Arab than Jewish (Theodore Wright 3) birth rate, the
country faces a potential loss of its Jewish majority which in turn poses an
existential threat for a religiously defined state.22 Since Orthodox Judaism is
not basically a religion of conversion, this deficit cannot be made up in that
Both Israel and Pakistan have an inherent contradiction between
their religious raison d’etre and the ideals of their founders: the socialism of
the European Zionists and the liberal, democratic goals of Jinnah.23 Some
orthodox elements in both indeed opposed the founding of the new nation
states by irreligious secularists.24 This anomaly manifested itself in
difficulties in framing the basic constitutions.25 Israel has had to eschew a
constitution altogether because of the controversy the process would provoke.
Pakistan for its part took eight years to draft its first constitution with the
Muslim League hectored every step of the way by the orthodox Jamiat-ulUlema and the revivalist Jama’at-i-Islami.26 The second, more secular
constitution imposed by President Ayub Khan, did not endure beyond his
regime, and the third constitution framed under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after the
secession of Bangladesh has been repeatedly amended first by the dictator,
Ziaul Haq and then by succeeding regimes including that of Pervez
Musharruf, himself a Muhajir.
Because of the very high percentage of Jewish returned diaspora in
the population of Israel within its pre-1967 borders, party structure and
voting is not distinctively split along returnee vs. indigenous lines, but rather
between European and “Oriental” immigrants. Palestinians who do have the
right to vote in Israel proper, tend to be represented by the Communist parties
which are not as committed to Zionism and have even accepted proposals for
a bi-national state.27 But parties are divided sharply along socialist vs
religious lines with the former, such as Mapai gaining more of the Ashkenazi
votes and the latter the Sephardic ones. As the latter grew in numbers because
of higher birth rate and later immigration, the pendulum swung in favour of
the conservative Likud coalition in 1977.28
In Pakistan, to the contrary, the Muhajrin, amounting to only a small
minority except in Karachi, suffered diminished representation once the
founding fathers departed the scene, though continuing to be found
disproportionately in the civil service and army officer corps. In the early
Theodore P. Wright, Jr.
years, they supported the Muslim League until it was eclipsed in East Bengal
by the Bengali-led Awami League in 1954 and by the Punjabi-led Republican
party in the West. Ayub Khan split the party by creating his own Convention
Muslim League. It is said that in their stronghold of Karachi where most of
the Urdu speaking refugees had settled, many voted for the Jama’at-i-Islami
of Maulana Maudoodi who hailed from Hyderabad, Deccan because his
movement preached a non-regional, pan Islamic political program.29 Bhutto’s
Pakistan People’s Party, which ruled the rump Pakistan in 1971-77 after the
loss of East Pakistan, was, like its founder, Sindhi-based but with a
significant Punjabi following. It instituted Sindhi language policies in Sindh
which alienated the Muhajirin.30 So, young Muhajirs, facing a bleak
employment future, established in 1984 the “M.Q.M” (Muhajir Qaumi
Movement) to defend their interests.31 This party has dominated the politics
of Pakistan’s biggest metropolis ever since despite bloody confrontations
with Sindhis Pathans and Punjabis and periodic military suppression. It has
sought not very successfully to hold the balance of power between the P.P.P.
and the Muslim League like the religious parties do in Israel.
One of the conflicts with Sindhi leaders has been over the proposal
to allow the Urdu-speaking “Biharis” of the then “East Pakistan” who had
defended Pakistan in the 1971 Bengali war of secession to emigrate from
their squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh to Pakistan. But since this would
tip the demographic balance in Sindh Province against the indigenous
Sindhis, they have successfully resisted it. Some Muhajirin have proposed the
separation of Karachi from Sindh into “Muhajiristan”32, but Sindhis are loath
to give up the country’s largest city and see their otherwise backward
province diminished. Comparable “numbers game” resistance in Israel is not
to further Jewish immigration, be it from Ethiopia, India or Russia in face of
the huge disproportion of the neighbouring Arab states’ populations, but
rather that all Israeli parties have stoutly rejected the return of any Palestinian
refugees but a token few.33 Thus the “reference group” differs in the two
cases: all other non-refugee “Indigenous” Muslims in Pakistan; and all Arabs
whether in Israel, occupied territory or neighbours in the case of Israel.
The displaced populations, be they Palestinians from Israel or
Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan provide some of the bitterest and most
unrelenting foes in the refugee camps of Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to
the government of the countries from which they fled or were expelled in
1948. They too provide recruits for terrorism, including suicide bombings. In
conclusion, the two cases of returning diaspora exhibit a combination of push
and pull motivations, but probably significantly more of the latter than most
mass, economically motivated migrations because of the religious element in
their ideologies. Otherwise why the insistence on return to these particular
locations? Zionists spurned Birobidjan and Uganda in the interwar period.
The Muslim League rejected confederation within India. That Israel has been
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland
so much more successful than Pakistan is due to the different degrees of
modernisation of the migrant and indigenous population before 1947, the
percentage of the population of the returning diaspora in the resulting nationstates and the massive financial and military support of American Jewry and
the U.S. Government since 1967. Indian Muslims are in no position
economically to aid Pakistan and if they did try to, their loyalty would be
questioned by other Indians.34
Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary, 1970, after three definitions
restricted to the Jewish historical phenomenon, gives “any dispersion
B Morris, Righteous Victims; a History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 18811999, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999.
Arthur Koestler in The Thirteenth Tribe presents the theory that many East
European Jews were descendants of Khazar converts in South Russia in the
7th century who therefore had no ancestors who lived in Palestine.
N D Palmer, The Indian Political System, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2d ed.
1971, p. 93.
Belgium, 1830, might be considered a third in that both Flemings and
Walloons are Catholic.
P R Kumaraswamy, “The Strangely Parallel Careers of Israel and Pakistan”,
Middle East Quarterly, June 1997.
D Peretz and G Doron, The Government and Politics of Israel, Boulder:
Westview Press, 3rd ed., 1997, pp. 50-54, “Ethnic Composition”
C Baxter, Y K Malik, C H Kennedy, and R C Oberst, Government and
Politics in South Asia, Boulder: Westview Press, 1987. p. 245
K B Sayeed, Pakistan, the Formative Phase, Karachi, 1960, pp. 208, 223
for domination of the Muslim League by U.P. Politicians.
T P Wright, Jr., “Indian Muslim Refugees in the Politics of Pakistan”, The
Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, XII, 2 (July 1974), pp.
S Smooha, “Class, Ethnic and National Cleavages and Democracy in
Israel”, in Israeli Democracy under Stress, E Springzak and L Diamond,
(eds), Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1993, p. 318.
G Ansari, “Muslim Caste in UP.”, Eastern Anthropologist, XIII, 2 (1960),
pp. 1-83
T P Wright, Jr., “Identity Problems of Former Elite Minorities”, Journal of
Asian Affairs, 2,(Fall1976),pp. 58-63
W P Zenner, Minorities in the Middle, Albany: State University of New
York Press, 1991
Theodore P. Wright, Jr.
Peretz and Doron, op.cit., p6.
B Johnpoll, The Politics of Futility, The General Jewish Workers Bund in
Poland, 1917-43, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968.
Peretz and Doron, opcit., p. 49 ;Theodore Wright 5
T P Wright, Jr., “Center-Periphery Relations and Ethnic Conflict in
Pakistan: Sindhis, Muhajirs and Punjabis,” Comparative Politics, XXIII,3
(April 1991), pp. 299-312.
Pakistan Times, July 15, 2004; CIA, World Fact Book.
R Jahan, Pakistan: Failure in National Integration, New York: Columbia
University Press, 1972
The status of the Ahmadis or Qadianis as Muslims is the most controversial
because of their belief in a new revelation. Baxter et al, op.cit, p. 176. In
Israel, “the relationship between the Falasha (from Ethiopia) and Judaism
was questioned by some Orthodox rabbis[...]”, Peretz and Doron, op.cit p. 49.
“Since 1948 their (Palestinian) number has increased as a result of one of
the world’s highest birth rates[...].with these rates, and assuming a zero rate
of Jewish immigration to Israel in the future, the number or Jews and Arabs
would become equal around the year 2015; [...]the political consequences for
maintaining Israel as a Jewish state are unclear.” Peretz and Doron, op.cit, pp.
Kumaraswamy, op.cit
Indeed, some of the most orthodox Muslim leaders, like Maulana Abul
Kalam Azad, and Zakir Husain, remained staunch Indian Nationalists and
were trusted enough to hold high political office in independent India.
A Lijphart, “Israeli Democracy and Democratic Reform in Comparative
Perspective” in Israeli Democracy under Stress, Ehud Sprinzak and Larry
Diamond, eds., Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1993, Chapter 6.
L Binder, Religion and Politics in Pakistan, Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1961. 27. Peretz and Doron, op.cit., Ch.3, “Political Parties
and Ideologies”, pp. 88, 95-97.
Peretz and Doron, op.cit., Ch.3, “Political Parties and Ideologies”, pp. 88,
However, the influx of more secular Jews from the Soviet Union in the
1970s may restore the balance in favor of the non-religious parties in the
T P Wright, Jr., op.cit (1974)
T P Wright, Jr., op.cit. (1991).
O Verkaaik, Migrants and Militants; Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan,
New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2005.
ibid. p. 158.
The Return of the Diaspora to the Homeland
At least one rightwing cabinet member and a member of the Knesset have
recently advocated ethnic cleansing (“voluntary emigration”) of the Arab
population of Israel in order to assure a permanent Jewish majority. (MK Uri
Ariel in Haaretz, April 28, 2008).
Verkaaik, op.cit., (p. 180) argues that the Muslim self identification as a
diaspora began in British North India in the late nineteenth century, but that
the Muhajirin in Pakistan despite their mass migration there, did not conceive
of themselves as a “nation in search of a homeland” until the 1990s along
with a growing pessimism about the possibilities of positive change for them
in contemporary Pakistan. Nichola Khan in “Mobilisation and Political
Violence in the Muhajir Community of Karachi”, Economic and Political
Weekly (June 23, 2007, pp. 2435-2443, offers a more psychoanalytic
explanation but without reference to the diasporic character of the
Theodore P. Wright is Professor Emeritus of Political Science Graduate
School of Public Affairs, State University of New York at Albany. His
research and publication since 1963 has been on the politics and sociology of
the Muslim minority in India since independence (1947) and on the Muhajirs
or Indian Muslim refugees in Pakistan. Nowadays it would fall under the
subheading of comparative ethnicity and political genealogy.
email: [email protected]
Palestinian Diaspora Goes Global through
American-Palestinian Prose
Wesam Al-Assadi
Although Diasporic literatures are common in today’s world, the
phenomenon is generally more manifest among Palestinians, not only
because their Diaspora was largely involuntary and remains extensive, but
also because of a continual emphasis on the motherland. The Palestinian
experience in the Diaspora and the narrative of their present actuality in
Said’s words “stem directly from the story of their existence in and
displacement form Palestine.” Part of the struggle for self-determination by
Palestinians has been to tell the truth about their experience as Palestinians
across geographical barriers.
For decades, the literature of the Palestinian Diaspora has been too
political, too academic and too elitist to attract the non-involved Western and
American reader. They lack the imaginative essence that can tempt the
readers’ souls and capture their minds, one that portrays Palestinians not as
victims, but as normal human beings with a personal history, faces and
names, and are more than the United Nations’ endless statistics that signify
the Palestinian cause. This paper examines the shifting location of the
modern Palestinian literature written in English by Americans of Palestinian
origin, rooted in Diasporic countries but focused in theme and content on
Palestine. The paper explores how these themes and settings function in a
selection of Palestinian-American novels and memoirs and highlights ways in
which contemporary Palestinian literature embodies the reality of today’s
Palestinian Diaspora.
Keywords: Al-ghurba, Anglo-Palestinian fiction, communal trauma,
diaspora, displacement, exile, memoir, Palestinian-American literature,
The year 1948 marks the beginning of al-ghurba (exile or Diaspora)
and al-nakba (disaster or calamity), words intensely resonant in the
Palestinian lexicon. After this decisive date, one can affix “pre-” or “post-” as
markers of an apocalyptic moment. In this cultural and political orbit, a new
spatial world took shape. In 1948, through a combination of expulsion and
flight, around 750,000 Palestinians became refugees in neighbouring Arab
countries. About 100,000 Palestinians remained in their homeland. And since
Palestinian Diaspora Goes Global
To be Palestinian is, in part by upbringing, in part by sensibility, to be a
wanderer, an exile, a touch moon mad, always a little different from others.
Our name, which we acquired after 1948, was not so much a national title –
we had had no nation – as an existential term.1
For decades, the Palestinian experience in the Diaspora and “the
narrative of their present actuality”- in Edward Said’s words- “which stems
directly from the story of their existence in and displacement form Palestine,
later Israel- that narrative is not [there].”2 Nonetheless, part of the struggle for
self-determination by Palestinians has been to tell the truth about their
experience as Palestinians across geographical barriers. Lisa Majaj, argues
that return “is not simply going back: it is also to go forward; to create a new
future from the fragments of a reclaimed past”3
Edward Said’s, and the other Palestinian intellectual figures’
seminal scholarly publications, formal public lectures, classroom teaching
and political discourse have played a pivotal role in changing the way in
which the Americans and others all over the world perceive the people of
Palestine and the Palestinian Israeli conflict. However their publications in
politics, history and economy of Palestine have influenced on the American
political, intellectual and cultural elite.
The typical American doesn’t get the opportunity to read the nonpolitical story of the Palestinians and the Arab World, because it is rare and
difficult to find. Arab American discourse usually comes in one packaged
form: dry, statistically correct, dissertations on Politics that any career
academic would love to read.
In order to steer the involvement of the American public and the
new generation of the Arab Americans, it is necessary to narrate the
collective past of the Palestinians using literary writing in which the
Palestinian trauma is given a human face and sensibility.
Beyond National Thresholds
Said’s memoir Out of Place, Shaw Dallal’s autobiographical novel
Scattered Like Seeds and Ibrahim Fawal’s novel On the Hills of God, among
other memoirs and works of fiction give the Palestinians in the Diaspora, and
in the United Sates in particular (the concern of this paper) the freedom to go
beyond the confining thresholds of national torpor; The freedom to
remember, to dream of a different reality, to deliver themselves into history’s
keeping. They are emblematic of a recent trend in Palestinian literature:
writing rooted in Diasporic countries but focused in theme and content on
By exploring the themes of identity and return, they highlight ways
in which contemporary Palestinian literature embodies the reality of today’s
Palestinian Diaspora. They typify the relationship of Palestinian exiles and
their descendants with their Diasporic countries (in this case the United
Wesam Al-Assadi
States) and with Palestine. These relationships are crucial to the realities of
the Palestinian Americans face in the twenty-first century; rendering the
physical, or political, estrangement a personal “exile,” or alternatively,
expressing the communal trauma in the terms of an individual’s internal
existential conflict. Since Palestine as a nation-state is as yet unrealised, the
name becomes a “cipher for existential ruminations on the nature of both
physical exile, and a more characteristically modernist personal “exile” in the
world.”4 This is part of a more general trend, in the years following on from
another devastating Israeli military victory in 1967, to personalise the
political, and clothe it in metaphor. Salaita argues that: Strong affinities
emerge between the fragmented individual typical of the Palestinian
Diaspora, and literary modernism, an aesthetic that, as a result, often
becomes the preferred form for Palestinian writing about land and
Identity and Cultural Schism in Diasporic Fiction
Said’s memoir Out of Place masterfully captures the heart and the
soul of the Palestinian tragedy. It portrays the Palestinians not as victims, but
as normal human beings who had and have lives, personal history and faces
and names. Out of Place is a memoir of youth, an intimate autobiography of
life, family and friends from Said’s birthplace in Jerusalem, schools in Cairo,
and summers in the mountains above Beirut, to boarding school and college
in the United States, revealing an unimaginable world of rich, colourful
characters and exotic eastern landscapes. Underscoring all is the confusion of
identity the young Said experienced as he came to terms with the dissonance
of being an American citizen, a Christian and a Palestinian, and, ultimately,
an outsider. Said has lived in a multi-cultural, multilingual environment since
he was born. He doesn’t remember which language he spoke first, English or
Arabic. He says that “the two [languages] have always been together in my
life, one resonating in the other sometimes ironically, sometimes
nostalgically, most often each correcting, and commenting on, the other.”6
Expressing his feeling towards his out of placeness, Said articulates:
I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing
currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self [...] These
currents [...] at their best; they require no reconciling, no
harmonising. They are “off” and may be out of place, but at
least they are always in motion.7
In reading Said’s memoir, one finds the presence of political crises provoked
by international events. He connects personal experience with geopolitics and
a critical attitude toward American foreign policy. Scattered like Seeds is
again an autobiographical novel. It explores the identity complexity of the
Palestinian Diaspora Goes Global
Palestinians in the Diaspora by telling the story of Thafer Allam, a
Palestinian American lawyer and nuclear physicist returning to the Middle
East. He is married to the Irish American Mary Pat, and a father of four
children. Thafer’s assimilation to the American society is called into question
after the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, when he must re-confront his identity
as a Palestinian.
At the Allenby Bridge (the crossing borders between the occupied
territories of the West bank and Jordan), Thafer is strip-searched and denied
entry to the West Bank to visit his aged mother. This trip is conforms a
turning point in Thafer’s ideological transformation. He is gradually made to
alter his philosophy to better suit the realities of the Arab world. Thafer
resisted this politicisation before finally capitulating to his new position as a
Palestinian nationalist
What happened at the [Allenby] bridge changed you, and
you know it[...]. It all began in Beirut, at the refugee
camp[...]. Then those encounters with Suhaila, your
countrywoman, awakened that slumbering passion hidden
within you. But it was the humiliation at the bridge and
your inability to see your mother that changed you
He remains confused, however, about both his identity and his role
in the struggle. His children’s struggles, on the other hand, are more
emblematic of Palestinian American life than anything Thafer experiences.
Consequently, their role in the novel indicates how the Diaspora has
transfigured Palestinians. It is not surprising that Colleen and Andrew, both
in college prefer to return to the United States while Katherine and Sean, still
teenagers, seek further fulfilment in the Middle East. They do not yet have
enough invested in the United States to consider it a living necessity. More
crucially, their actions signal a cultural schism between Palestinian
immigrants to the United States and American-born Palestinians.
Land in the Palestinian Fiction
In Scattered like Seeds, and On the Hills of God, Land, as in all
Palestinian literature, becomes central. Dallal infuses Palestine into the figure
of Suhaila, thus representing her with a metaphorical presence. Thafer’s
renewed dedication to Palestine is codified by his relationship with Suhaila, a
Palestinian working for OAPEC. The following scene illustrates how this
awareness becomes actualised: [Thafer] can’t go to sleep. It is as though he is
embracing his homeland. Hearing [Suhaila] breathe, he feels comforted and
protected by her presence. Her breasts remind him of the gentle hills of his
homeland, her smooth soft skin of its plants, and her long, light brown hair of
Wesam Al-Assadi
the rays of it sun.9 The symbolic merger of the body with the landscape has
long been a technique of male Palestinian authors. Women’s bodies have
often been invoked by writers to represent the land from which the
Palestinians are exiled assuming a forbidden quality that only increases their
desire to return; and the land which encapsulates the pride and honour of
Palestinians, who must suffer from afar while it is penetrated by a foreign
entity.10 Fawal, with more subtlety, does the same with Salwa in his novel On
the Hills of God. Yousif has been in love with her since he was a child, but
the strictures of Arab society do not allow them to pursue a romantic
relationship. Once the pursuit of Salwa becomes taboo, she is immediately
transformed into a symbolic icon of the statehood struggle. When her father
accepts an engagement offer from hotel manager Adel Farhat, Salwa
becomes even more taboo and unattainable, prompting Yousif to pursue her
with increased vigour.
Fawal’s choice of metaphor here is complex. If Salwa represents the
threatened land for which the Palestinians yearn, then Adel Farhat is the alien
presence intruding on the physical object of their love. Yousif fights furiously
to break the engagement, ultimately succeeding and marrying Salwa near the
close of the novel. The emotional attachment of Palestinians with their land is
thus crystallised. The marriage indicates that Palestine and its people will
always be symbolically united. Fawal’s novel takes us to Palestine during the
final year of the British Mandate, which Fawal call “Palestine’s last summer
of happiness.”11
Unlike Dallal’s Scattered like Seeds, Fawal avoids explicit
engagement with Arab American themes by fashioning an historical novel
focused solely on Palestinians. As a result, On the Hills of God complements
Scattered like Seeds in a critical framework; both cover different but equally
important issues while remaining confined to the same point of departure,
Palestine. The 1948 War provides On the Hills of God with its primary
theme. Much of the early plot follows the endeavours of Yousif, a Christian,
and his two best friends, Isaac Sha’lan, a Jew, and Amin, a Muslim. Fawal
employs this tripartite religious dynamic in order to mirror the demographics
of Mandatory Palestine and, more importantly, to depict a community that at
the time privileged national culture over religious lines. In On the Hills of
God, Zionism is not an alien Jewish force that disrupted and then destroyed
the lives of Palestinians; rather, it is an alien European force that disrupted
and then destroyed the lives of Middle Easterners, Palestinian Jews included.
The Safis, Sha’lans, and other residents of Ardallah may be the actors in the
text, but Zionism is the story.12
The novel ends with the dispersal of the residents of Ardallah.
Yousif and his mother, evicted from their year-old house, join the human
caravan into Transjordan. On the way, he and Salwa are separated. He vows
to find her, and in so doing, it is implied, return to Palestine. Isaac appears
Palestinian Diaspora Goes Global
later as a Zionist spy and land surveyor. His contingent is captured in
Ardallah by armed fighters and he is murdered. Yousif, watching the death of
his best friend, reinforces his dedication to diplomacy over warfare.
Countering this ethic is his cousin, Basim who believes in the armed struggle
for liberation and retention of identity. Fawal never manages to find a
resolution to these opposed philosophies. Instead, he allows the story to
conclude with both Basim and Yousif clinging to their different styles of
resistance. The conflict between nonviolent action and armed struggle is
perhaps the most pronounced development in the text.
The Hills of God’s setting, as a novel which setting is limited to the
land and history of Palestine, coupled with American publication and,
presumably American readership indicate the cultural dynamics of the
Palestinians. Fawal’s novel setting, and its publication in America for
American readership, denotes that the cultural dynamics of the Palestinian
society have taken its root in the Diaspora.
For the last sixty years, since the date of al-nakba, the Palestinian
question lost the common understanding of the average American and denied
the human face of the agonies of the Palestinians inside the Palestinian
occupied territories and in the Diaspora due to the fact that the Palestinian
question was constantly addressed in a rigid, dry and detached political
discourse and elitist academic research.
Recently, a number of Anglophone and Palestinian American
writers have recognised the pivotal role of memoirs and novels in giving the
Palestinian political question a soul and spirit. The American Palestinian
writers have utilised the tools and aesthetics of literature to narrate directly
the experience of displacement Palestinians in the Diaspora share across
geographical borders and linguistic barriers. A recurrent theme among all
these works shows how the Diasporic communities share the same identity as
Palestinians despite the lapse of sixty years and the different geographical
Palestinians in the Diaspora identify and collectively remember in
their narratives the lost home. Looking at their artistic production, one major
element that categorises their works is the symbols used to address their
collective identity as Palestinians.
The retention of a Palestinian identity in the United States is a
marker of the Diaspora; the literature produced under its guise, then,
embodies the ambivalent modern Palestinian condition. Diasporic writing
adopts American poetics and explores the complexities of America’s cultural
landscape, but Palestine simultaneously remains the pivotal source of
inspiration. Such textual evolution is the typical outcome of displacement.
The emphasis on Palestine, though, is a result of revived political awareness.
Wesam Al-Assadi
Palestine is therefore in constant transit, and has been carried to all areas of
the world where its people have taken up residence.
F Turki, Exiles Return: The Making of a Palestinian American, The Free
Press, New York, 1994, p 272
E Said, The Politics of disposition – The Struggle for Palestinian Self –
determination, Vintage books, New York, 1995, p. 90
L Majaj, ‘On Writing and Return: Feminism Race and Transnationalism’,
Meridians, vol. 2 No. 2, 2001, pp. 99 - 103
S Salaita, ‘Scattered Like Seeds: Palestinian prose goes global’, Studies in
the Humanities, vol. 30, issue: 1-2, June, 2003, p. 46
E Said, Out of Place, Knof, New York, 1999, p. 4
E Said, The Politics of disposition – The Struggle for Palestinian Self –
determination, p. 251
S Dallal, Scattered like Seeds, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1999, p.
ibid, p. 190
J Harcourt, ‘Foreword’, Scattered like Seeds, Syracuse University Press,
Syracuse, 1999,
I Fawal, On the Hills of God, the Black Belt, Montgomery, 1998, p. 9
S Salaita, op. ct., p48
Ashcroft, B., and Ahluwalia, P., Edward Said. Routledge, London and New
York, 2001.
Bhabha, H. (ed.) Narration and Nation. Routledge, London and New York,
Dallal, S., Scattered like Seeds. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1998.
Elad-Bouskila, A., Modern Literature and Culture. Frank Cass, Portland,
Fawal, I., On the Hills of God. The Black Belt, Montgomery, 1998.
Majaj, L., ‘On Writing and Return: Feminism Race and Multinationalism’.
Meridians. vol.2, No. 1, June 2001, pp. 113 – 226.
Palestinian Diaspora Goes Global
Paul, A. (ed.), Edward said and the Work of the Critics: speaking Truth to
Power. Bove Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2000 .
Said, E., Out Of Place. Knof, New York, 1999.
Said, E., The Politics of Disposition – the Struggle for Palestinian Self –
determination. Vintage Books, New York, 1995.
Salaita, S., ‘Scattered like Seeds: Palestinian prose goes global’. Studies in
the Humanities. vol. 30, issue: 1-2, June, 2003, p. 46.
Shlaim, A., and Eugene, R. (eds.), The War for Palestine. Cambridge
University Press, 2001.
Turki, F., Exile’s Return: the Making of a Palestinian American. The Free
Press, New York, 1994.
Wesam Al-Assadi is teaching Arabic and translation courses in the
Department of Arabic and Translation Studies in the American University of
Sharjah. Her research and writing is devoted to the Arab writings in the
Diaspora: Analysis of Arab Diasporic literature in English (ALE).
email: [email protected]
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue:
The Case of Africans and Europeans in London
Ursula Troche
In this paper, I am concerned with African-European (intercultural) dialogue,
and how our understanding of diaspora is confusing and obstructing this
dialogue. Further, in this dialogue, we are dealing with a double-issue, which
is, in part, inseparable: on the one hand there is what Gordon calls the ‘blackwhite duality’, and, on the other hand, the diversity of diasporas that can be
involved in this encounter. The ‘Diaspora Enquiry’ has come out of the field
of race relations, and ‘race’ and diaspora are mostly being dealt with in
tandem. In the British context, for example, Africans / black people are
assumed to have come from ‘outside’ and whites assumed to be English. I,
the researcher, am breaking this assumption by being a white person but a
foreigner. My presence brings up questions around where I belong, a question
that has usually been an issue for black people. Fryer shows that black people
came to Britain before the English, therefore questioning who belongs to
Britain and who is of the diaspora and, consequently, what belongs to whom and further, who is who? These questions influence African-European
dialogue, as I shall show below.
Keywords: Africa, belonging, dialogue, diaspora, Europe, history, race
relations, social theory.
Introduction: The Diaspora Revolution
The topic of Diaspora has been theorised increasingly in recent
decades, so much so that many of us have become familiar with some of the
concepts and notions developed within the Diaspora Enquiry. These would
include ‘dislocation’, ‘displacement’, transculturality, ‘belonging’.
Dislocation and displacement suggests the effect of rupture that living in
diaspora causes, transculturality refers to the mix of cultures that living in
diaspora causes. Finally, belonging refers to the attempt to feel at home in
diaspora and the difficulties involved in declaring diaspora as home.
Feelings of displacement and the difficulties involved in declaring
Diaspora as home have dominated the lives of people from the Jewish
diaspora – which is where the word originates from, as we know. However,
the theorization of diaspora has been taken on most vigorously by academics
of the African diaspora. This may be explained by the situation that people
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue
from the African diaspora find themselves in, which, of all peoples in
diaspora, is arguably most severely marked by racism. In fact, the diaspora
enquiry is closely related to fields of study around migration, ‘race’, racism
and race relations.
Because they highlight racism and migration as determinants of our
existence in and experience of society, these are important additions and
challenges to our repertoire in social theory. Due to their novel and critical
nature, they had to develop in disciplines that are equally novel and critical
nature, such as postcolonial studies and women’s studies, for which the
diaspora enquiry, especially for the postcolonial studies field, has become a
central pillar.
The new discourse was aided by the earlier ‘academic revolution’
across the social sciences, namely the heorization of ‘race’, gender and
class as always being intersected with each other in the analysis of our
situation in society as well as our experiences. The intersections of ‘race’,
gender and class came to be known as the ‘triplet’, or the ‘matrix’. In fact, the
discourse around diaspora is, to a large extent, a development from this
earlier revolution.
The Inclusion of ‘Original Space’
Why I am describing this as a revolution here is because the
theorisation of diaspora made space for a broader view of the wider view of
the world. The thought that came to enter the canon of social theory has been
predominantly the thought by male academics of the western world.
Theorising diaspora brought in space from the ‘outside’ for discussion.
The space from the ‘outside’ is in fact the original space for
academics living in a diaspora. In the narrow sense of the word, this is
physically a different space, a different country but in the wider sense this
can be a marginalised and ignored space within that what is known. Such
spaces can have different belongings, different histories and ‘different
people’ in the perception of those who live in the main space without
awareness of the ‘other space’ - indeed, without awareness of the ‘other’.
‘Black spaces’, i.e. the African diaspora, are such spaces, which differ from
‘white spaces’ because of their immediate links with Africa and their creation
largely through slavery. Such spaces have been explained to the wider world
through literature, i.e. Toni Morrison and through social theory, i.e. W.E.B.
Du Bois. In his ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ Du Bois describes the difference
and distance between black and white, and how these spaces are separated
and segregated by the ‘colour line’.
There have been other ‘other’ spaces, all of which are marked by
marginalisation. These spaces are diasporas, though the marginalisation of
women, too, represents an internal ‘other’ space which is not a diaspora.
However, ‘race’ and country/regional origin - especially in their respective
Ursula Troche
diasporas - have always played the strongest roles in the labelling and
identification of people.
The ‘Double Issue’: Diaspora and the Colour Line
Considering the African diaspora, we are exposed most clearly with
the fact that we are dealing not just with being diaspora here but also with
being black. So there is diaspora and colour at work here, not just diaspora.
That this is, in fact, a double issue becomes clearer when we consider the
white section of the population in relation to the black section of the
population. Not all the whites are natives: hence they also live in a diaspora.
In this sense, we have a situation of a multitude of coexisting diasporas. Of
those, some people are black and some people are white. Hence the line of
division is primarily not drawn according to whether one belongs to a
diaspora or not, but it is drawn according to one’s skin colour.
This may sound like a contradiction: to be black anywhere outside
of Africa means to be part of the (visible) African diaspora. However, there
are many ways of understanding diaspora: diaspora, as mentioned earlier,
may mean relocation in one’s lifetime. If we go by that and consider the
American example, we find that many African Americans have been born in
America for generations, whereas some white people have only migrated to
America within their lifetime. In this sense you have ‘black natives’ and
‘white foreigners’.
The presence of ‘Black natives’ and ‘white foreigners’ does not
mean that African Americans do not share in the African diaspora, however,
this does not mean that white people do not belong to a Diaspora - a Diaspora
which may be younger than the African Diaspora and which might, in
individual cases, have occurred in one’s lifetime. In the American case, in
particular, white people are as much from diasporas as black people are,
because unlike in Europe, whites do not ‘belong’ to America in the same
sense. America is the country of their ‘first nation peoples’ (see, e.g. Laduke,
2003), the native Americans; the difference between black and white
diasporas here being that white people migrated to America of their own
accord whereas black people were forced there as slaves (though there were
some cases of Africans having sailed to America on their own accord as well:
see Van Sertima. In addition, once black people (Africans) had arrived in
America, they continued to be brutalised by white people. The power
relations between black and white people in America were therefore unequal
from the time of their arrival and though both groups were diaspora
communities, black people’s diaspora status became more visible because
they were actively made to feel marginalised and displaced, their culture was
being questioned (as opposed to the culture of the white people, who,
‘established themselves’ (literally) as the questioners). Informing, developing
and reinforcing this unequal power relationship was racism. As much as
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue
racism obscures the ordinary relationship between people, it also obscures the
recognition on who is diaspora and who is not.
The case of Britain is different from the case of America but the
same applies in different ways. On the one hand there are black people who
were born in Britain and on the other hand there are white people who
migrated to Britain in their lifetime. The author of this article is one of the
Both these notions may militate against the generally held view endorsed by not only the outspoken racists but also by the general media and
public understanding that white people ‘belong’ to Britain, whereas black
people ‘have joined’ this island at some later stage. However, the existence of
British born black people as well as people like myself, i.e. foreign-born
whites show most clearly that this is a distorted view.
The view is distorted because ‘white’ is being equated with ‘native’.
Hence we have an obscure situation here: although ‘natives’ has been a
description for black or dark peoples who live in traditional ways, at the same
time whites, too, seem to want to occupy the position of ‘native’ - at least in
Europe, America and Western Asia.
In Britain, in the discussion on race relations, those people named as
‘whites’ are in fact English, whereas whites from a diaspora community are
not described as ‘white’ but rather by their country of origin (i.e. Irish,
Cypriot, East European). Such inconsistent ‘practices of description’ has a
confusing effect on who and what is (perceived to be) Diaspora.
Part of the answer is that some groups are subject to racialisation
whereas others are not. In fact, the only group that does not seem to be
subject to racialisation is the group that has claimed, in any given area,
belonging and ‘native status’ - and has therefore rejected the notion of
Diaspora for itself. In the case of London these are the English.
However, this conception ignores the question of origins. The
English, in England, assume that they are the ‘original people’, and there the
enquiry ends. This assumption takes white as a skin-colour for granted as
much as Englishness. This does not mean that ‘Englishness’ is clearly
defined, however, it is taken for granted that an Irish, German, Polish,
French, Mexican, or so, is not English - therefore English must be ‘something
else’ than anybody from all of these other countries. There is hence a colourbar and a country-bar to Englishness, whilst questions on the origins of ‘the
English’ are not asked.
In relation to the African diaspora - and in relation to Europe, as we
shall see – I would like to advance three different ways of understanding.
Ursula Troche
A Three-fold African Diaspora
I have conceptualised this three-fold scheme of looking at what is the African
diaspora in relation to Britain - though the same would be true for other
European countries.
In my conception of three ways of understanding the African
diaspora, the third will be most familiar to us, the second will be less familiar,
and first will be the most consistently forgotten way of conceptualising the
African diaspora. Since the ways of understanding diaspora are getting easier
‘towards the end’ of my categorisation, I will start with what in my scheme is
the ‘third African diaspora’.
In my categorisation of waves of the African diaspora then, the
‘third diaspora’ is the labour- and forced migrations of the post-war period:
Africans, at first mainly from the Caribbean, coming to live in Britain mainly
because Britain needed workers. That diaspora is on-going until the present
day. Within this third diaspora, there are changing dynamics: in the
immediate post-war period, mainly African Caribbeans would be literally
asked to come to Britain whereas today the migration of mainly Africans
from the continent represents a migrations of a different kind, namely that of
economic and political ‘refugees’, the former being ‘refugees from
globalisation’, to some extent. What this diaspora has in common is that these
are the black people that we are most aware of and indeed, many black
people today trace themselves to the post-war diaspora. Though the post-war
period starts 1945, a common starting point of the African (Caribbean)
diaspora in Britain is 1948, which marked the arrival of the famous SS
Empire Windrush.
If the third diaspora starts after the war, the second diaspora ‘ends’
in the war-period, with those often forgotten ‘war veterans’ from the
Caribbean and Africa, who fought for the British. Before this time the
‘second diaspora’ goes back to the beginnings of Empire, the beginnings of
the slave trade and even before that. For many centuries, black people mainly
arrived in Britain due to the slave trade. Ron Ramdin and Peter Fryer are
some of the people that have traced the black presence in Britain at this time.
Fryer also goes further back than that and mentions the black presence in
Britain at the time of the Roman Empire. Van Sertima has also done
groundbreaking work in this area.
Van Sertima, at the same time, goes as far back as the first African
diaspora. The first African diaspora in Britain, indeed in Europe at large, is,
perhaps ironically, Europe itself. This is true of course only if we look
beyond history itself and move into prehistory. Archaeological evidence has
proven that mankind as such originated from Africa. Therefore other
continents, such as Europe, do not have a separate human origin. This
inevitably means that every continent outside of Africa is an ‘African
diaspora’. Though this is indeed going back a long time, our genes still show
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue
clearly that we have more in common then what separates us from one
another. There are different theories how what was to be become a
‘European’, took on a different skin colour and slightly different features,
which are too numerous to go into here in detail. However, I make mention
of Europe as belonging to the first African diaspora, so as to show the first
possible meaning of diaspora as well as the interconnections between Africa
and Europe by way of diaspora. In this sense, too, Europe is a ‘child of
Of all the ‘three waves of African diaspora in Britain, the third is the
easiest to trace. The second one is more difficult as the further back we go,
the more likely it is that this diaspora has been absorbed into the white
population through intermarriage. To the first diaspora the question of tracing
does not apply because we are, in that meaning of diaspora, all of the African
diaspora of Europe. However, if identified as ‘European’, our skin colour is
white – a circumstance where ‘black’ and ‘African’ no longer coincides.
The dialogue that takes place between Africans and Europeans has
little to do with the first African diaspora - only in the sense that Africans of
the second and third diaspora may sometimes get irritated if Europeans deny
their African origins. The African origins of Europe, indeed, are part of what
is usually referred to as ‘black history’. The perceived relatively widespread
failure among white people to acknowledge ‘black history’ usually presents
one of the obstacles to dialogue between Africans and Europeans.
History, thus, is a contentious issue. Often more prominently than
this early common history, it is the divisive history since the transatlantic
slave trade that is viewed as an obstacle to dialogue. The transatlantic slave
trade has created a situation of inequality between Africa and Europe - and
due to its far-reaching nature and consequences, between Africans and
Europeans as individuals as well - that has created a deep rift between what
came now to be perceived as ‘different’ people: black and white people. This
system of exploitation was continued by other means in the form of
However, the way black people have suffered from this - and
continue to suffer - is often not seen and/or not acknowledged by white
people. Not surprisingly, this creates tensions and thus definite obstacles to
In my interviews on their assessment of African European dialogue,
black people usually refer to the duality that this situation has created. White
people, on the other hand, usually do not refer to this duality. However, this
is more likely to be due to a lack of awareness of it rather than an absence of
it. Hence one of the greatest obstacles to African European dialogue has been
the issue of lack of awareness. Much of it, in fact, has to do with knowledge:
Ursula Troche
black people have their social world of which they have knowledge and white
people have their social world of which they have knowledge. However, in
addition to this, black people are made to live in and around (global) power
structures that have been put in place by some white people since the
transatlantic slave trade - therefore black people do not only know their own
social world but also the social world of the system in which they have to
live, i.e. the ‘white system’, also referred to as ‘white supremacy’.
The racial demarcation here is somewhat broken down by other
indicators of division, such as gender and class. However, race has
persistently proved to be the most pervasive division. This can be seen, once
again, from history: history, i.e. slave trade and colonialism - ‘twins’ that are
often equated with history as such, especially by those who have been ‘on the
receiving end’ of both of these ‘twins’ - has developed different realities for
black and white people. History, in this sense, has also developed the African
diaspora in the Caribbean, the Americas, whilst it has underdeveloped those
same areas and people economically.
Again this may be a matter of perception, however, my research
shows this to be so as well as the conditions for dialogue in themselves:
without an acknowledgement of the impact that the transatlantic slave trade
and colonialism on the present for both black and white people, dialogue will
always be subject to tensions - or perhaps not even take place, for fear of
misunderstanding and lack of willingness to validate what has frequently
been labelled a ‘black perspective’. Book titles such as Richards’ ‘The Way
we see it’ may suggest a so-called black perspective, though in fact the book
aims to speak to white people about the situation black people find
themselves in, so that dialogue and understanding can begin.
In everyday communication, history is often not discussed however, it plays a role by implication. On the face of it, however, what is of
greater relevance is the question around diaspora and belonging, with black
people in Britain (and Europe, and/or the West in general) assumed to not
belong. However, diaspora – in this case any ‘wave’ of the African diaspora –
presents the connecting link between history and belonging here: the second
and third diaspora shows that black people’s contribution to Britain whereas
the first diaspora shows that white people ‘were once black’.
The analysis of diaspora has come into social theory through the
race relations field. This also meant that ‘race’ and diaspora have often been
treated as being the same. However, these are two sets of divisions, which are
also at work in African European dialogue: one is the black-white set, the
other one is the ‘native-non-native set. These sets overlap but they also
contradict one another, depending on how diaspora is being interpreted:
whether we are talking about an African diaspora or whether we are also
Diasporas, Difference and Dialogue
considering internal European diasporas and thus further challenges to
perceptions around belonging - all of these play a role when dialogue takes
place. All of these can also create tensions, especially when there is a lack of
awareness of what diaspora means for black people and its influence on
history and belonging - and further, on marginalisation and inequality. My
research shows that an awareness of the significance, the means of and
reasons for the creation of African diasporas and their functions is essential
for successful African European dialogue.
Du Bois, W.E.B., The Souls of Black Folk. A.C. McClurg and Co., Chicago,
Fryer, P., Staying Power. The History of Black People in Britain since 1504.
Pluto Press, London, 1984.
Gordon, G., Towards Bicultural Competence - Beyond Black and White.
Trentham. Stoke-on-Trent, 2007.
Laduke, W., The Winona Laduke Reader - A Collection of Essential Writings.
Voyageur Press. Stillwater. Minnesota, 2002.
Morrison, T., Beloved. Picador, London, 1988.
Morrison, T., The Bluest Eye. Plume, Penguin, New York, 1970, 1994.
Ramdin, R., Re-imaging Britain. Five Hundred Years of Black and Asian
History. Pluto Press, London, 1999.
Richards, S., The Way We See It. Trentham. Stoke-on-Trent. 2008.
Van S., They Came Before Columbus, The African Presence in Ancient
America. Rutgers, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1976.
Van S., “African Presence in Early Europe”. The Journal of Ancient African
Civilisations. Rutgers, NJ. Transaction Publishers, 1985.
Ursula Troche studied Politics, African Studies and Intercultural Therapy.
She is interested in pre- and non-colonial traditions of thought and the built
environment in Africa and Europe and their similarities, with a focus on
Ursula Troche
dis/location and gender. She is a poet and author of the book ‘Discovering
London’ which is coming out in Germany soon.
email: [email protected]
The Formation of Stereotypes about the Cuisine of the
Armenian Diaspora among Armenians who Live in Armenia
Evgenia Guliaeva
Today’s Armenia is only a small part of historical Armenia, a territory which
is usually divided into east and west as a result of the incorporation of these
two parts into the territories of various states over the centuries. This political
division has been deepened further by ethnographic differences between the
eastern and western Armenians. After the genocide of 1915-1916, the
western Armenians lost their homeland and a major part of the Diaspora was
formed. It might thus be suggested that for many of today’s western
Armenians, eastern Armenia is the symbolic rather than real homeland of
their ancestors. As a consequence, the differences between eastern and
western Armenians are projected onto the relations between the Diaspora and
the Republic of Armenia. This presentation is concerned with the stereotype
existing among Armenians who live in Armenia, which holds that the
western Armenian diaspora has preserved its culinary traditions better than
the eastern Armenian diaspora and even those living in the country itself. It
also suggests that features of the cuisine of the western Armenian diaspora
have been associated by Armenians who live in Armenia with the old panArmenian traditions now forgotten by the easterners. The following
discussion attempts to address the question of why this stereotype has
Keywords: Armenian Diaspora, culinary traditions, cultural stereotypes.
In August 2007, I carried out fieldwork in Armenia, which involved
conducting interviews on the subject of culinary skills and Armenian
identity.1 I was interested to know what my informants had to say about
Armenian cuisine. I hoped that an ‘insider’s’ view of Armenian culture
would help me to understand its diversity, and would allow me to encounter a
range of regional traditions. It turned out that the Armenians of Armenia were
eager to talk not only about the variations of their local culinary traditions,
but also about the cuisine of the Diaspora. In this report I shall try to
generalise my impressions of that field trip and to answer two questions:
1.) How do the Armenians of Armenia (‘Hayastants’i’) relate to the
cuisine of the Diaspora?
2) What are the reasons for these relations?2
The Formation of Stereotypes
My discussion is made up of three parts; the first focuses on how the
Armenian diaspora is imagined by Armenia-based Armenians; the second
reviews the existing stereotypes; and the third advances some explanations of
how were these stereotypes formed. In conclusion, I will attempt to present
the specific features of culinary culture. It should nevertheless be noted that
the conclusions forwarded by this paper are of preliminary nature and require
further research.
The Armenian Diaspora
The term Diaspora, strictly speaking, refers to all Armenians who
live outside of Armenia. Yet today’s Armenia is only a small part of the
historical territory, that is, traditionally divided into the west and the east as a
result of its incorporation into the states of Turkey and Russia respectively,
over the centuries.3 Besides the political division there were also differences
of an ethnographic character between the Armenians of the west and the east,
plus two distinct literary languages.4
The main part of the Diaspora was created following the genocide of
1915-1916, as a result of which most western Armenians were killed and the
survivors ended up scattered around the countries of the Near East, western
Europe and America (the third and fourth generations are still living there
today); this part of the Diaspora is known as spyurk (Armenian colonies
overseas), whereas the rest of the Diaspora is known as gaght’avayr/
gałt’avayr (colony/ exile).5 It can be suggested that, for the people of spyurk,
today’s Armenia (the eastern part of the historical territory6) constitutes more
of a symbolic motherland than the actual homeland of their ancestors.7
Eastern Armenians migrated mainly within the territory of the
Soviet Union, so it can be said that they were, at first, domestic migrants.
They became a Diaspora only with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They
have strong ties with their homeland; there was never an iron curtain to
separate them from their relatives. Over the last 20 years, which have
witnessed the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, the events in Karabakh, and the
economic blockade of Armenia by Azerbaizhan and Turkey, the number of
Armenians in the countries of the CIS has increased significantly.8
The number of eastern Armenians in western countries is relatively
insignificant and there is limited contact between eastern and western
Armenians within the diaspora.9 That said, between 1946 and 1948 around
100,000 western Armenians of the Diaspora returned to Armenia, followed
by another 26,000 in 1962-1973. Most of these returnees settled in Yerevan
(many in fact returned to America and Europe at a later date).10 The
repatriates to Armenia from different countries – the original western
Armenians – formed a sub-ethnic group called akhpar (from akhper, a
colloquial term for eghbair, or brother).11
Evgenia Guliaeva
The Armenians living in Georgia cannot be strictly referred to as
Diaspora, since Tbilisi has always been a cultural centre for eastern
Armenians and Georgia is geographically very close to Armenia and there
has been continuous settlement of Armenians across the region. The same
can be said about the Armenians of Karabakh – historically Karabakh was
once a part of Armenia, and today it is de-facto part of the country. All this
shows that the Armenian diaspora is far from homogenous, and that it can be
divided into two distinct groups: the western Armenians and the eastern
The following discussion is based on the interviews I carried out
with Armenians from the Armenia (15), as well as the Armenians of the
Russian (5), Lebanese (1), and American (1) diasporas. My key informants
also introduced me to more informants. Of the total 22 interviews, 8 of the
interviews were individual, and the others were conducted in a group. This
report is an attempt to interpret the data I collected from the interviews.
Diaspora Cuisine Stereotypes
During my interviews, the informants constantly compared the
recipes of the western Armenia, including those brought back by repatriates,
to those of eastern Armenians. In addition to this, my informants said that the
Diaspora (the western Armenians) have preserved their traditions, including
the culinary ones, much better.
They [the spyurk] have preserved their cuisine, and I can
tell you they generally preserved all Armenian traditions
much better. Here [in Armenia] people live on, you see [...]
Look, they don’t mix, just Armenians with Armenians, they
do everything traditionally, the old way, not like us, who
have a lot changed here, you know[...]13
It is interesting, on the one hand, that, in terms of national identity,
that the culinary tradition in modern Armenia is prospering. Toomre writes
that although the official Soviet policy was opposed to “normal” expressions
of “Armenianness”, the culinary sphere remained a stronghold of national
traditions despite outside influences.14
On the other hand, researchers have suggested that the traditions of
Diasporas, who exist side-by-side with other ethnicities, are strongly
influenced by them (unless the Diaspora settles in complete isolation). There
is usually a substantial loss of authenticity to the cuisine, especially among
third and fourth generations growing up away from their homeland.15
Nonetheless, my informants maintain that the cuisine of the western
Armenians of the Diaspora has been preserved better than theirs. They also
add that the modern day eastern Armenians living in Russia and the CIS are
The Formation of Stereotypes
rapidly losing their culinary traditions, and that, in fact, today’s Russian
Armenians are the ‘least real’ Armenians.16 This claim contradicts the fact
that about 50 percent of the Armenians living in Russia today is made up of
recent migrants and that, according to the information I have collected from
Armenians born in Armenia and living in Russia for the past 10-30 years,
their culinary traditions are quite stable and play an important role in defining
their ethnicity.17
The culinary traditions of the western and eastern Armenian
diasporas are, in fact, perceived quite differently.18 The following is an
attempt to address the question of why the stereotype has been formed that
the western Armenians have preserved their traditions whilst the eastern
Armenians are losing theirs and that Armenians of Armenia are somewhere
in between.
The Formation of Stereotypes about the Cuisine of the Diaspora
The interaction between the Armenians of Armenia and the
Diaspora has led to the formation of the idea that one of the sides is losing
their culinary culture whilst the other has preserved it. Eastern Armenians
have always maintained contact with members of the Diaspora living in
Russia and the CIS, in most cases first or second generation arrivals, who
have maintained the same culinary traditions as the Armenians of mainland
Armenia today. Yet, the western Armenian diaspora were removed from their
homeland as a result of the genocide, and they were also separated from
eastern Armenia as by the Iron Curtain. Thus, as the repatriates started
arriving in Armenia after the Second World War, an opportunity emerged to
compare the various local culinary traditions.19 It should be pointed out here
that the repatriates brought with them recipes that never existed in eastern
Armenia, but that nonetheless spread quickly among the local population,
resulting in the locals considering them as part of their Armenian tradition.20
It can therefore be suggested that the local traditions of the
Diaspora, who found itself a part of modern-day Armenian culture were seen
as old traditions that, for some reason, had been forgotten by the easterners.
In other words, there is an apparent trend to consider everything the western
Diaspora has brought back with it an archaic “real thing” or a pan-Armenian
tradition. Following the largest wave of repatriates after the Second World
War, another wave of ethnic Armenians were repatriated after Armenia
became independent from Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. This resulted in an
analogous phenomenon; the features of the cuisine of these new arrivals
supported the stereotype about the conservativeness of the culinary culture of
the Diaspora. My informants repeatedly mentioned that the most conservative
traditions are to be found among the Armenians from the Muslim countries,
where the majority of Armenians are western, except in Iran.21
Evgenia Guliaeva
This idea is also supported by the Diasporas themselves. On one of
my trips to Armenia I met a high-ranking member of the clergy, an Armenian
from the US, who told me that there was no traditional cuisine in modern day
Armenia. Among spyurks this opinion about the loss of local traditions would
appear to be widespread.22 It may be suggested that, having come across a
local tradition, the spyurks have assumed that it simply hasn’t been preserved
Besides, the Diaspora is very conservative when it comes to changes
and innovations, as, for them, cuisine is something static and fixed in the past
(members of Diaspora always try to completely preserve culinary practices).
Naturally, all changes to culinary traditions are seen to be a result of the
Soviet influence, something which is considered to be totally alien to
Armenian culture.23 The opinion of western Armenians can be expressed as
follows: ‘the Armenians of the spyurk have preserved the traditional
Armenian cuisine’. Such an opinion can be understood in the context of the
importance, for the Diaspora, of supporting its own identity through the
image of themselves as keepers of tradition.24
But the local factor is just one explanation for why this stereotype
has formed. Among Armenians, there is also the idea of a certain internal
hierarchy. At the top of this hierarchy are located the western Armenians of
the Diaspora, since they suffered from the genocide; the genocide is central to
the Armenian self-identity, resulting in its direct victims being located at the
top of the hierarchy. Other reasons for such a conclusion are that during the
Soviet period, everything western was assumed to be prestigious, and
westerners today are financially supporting Armenia, which increases their
status in relation to the Armenians of Armenia.
The Armenians of Armenia nevertheless appear to play a secondary
role. Their only ‘advantage’ is that they have permanently inhabited the
historic fatherland, a fact which might explain why the role of culinary
traditions in their self-identification is less important. When some attributes
of ethnicity are lost (like the fatherland in the case of western Armenians)
other factors become more important for the expression of ethnic identity;
food may thus have become the last bastion of Armenianess, when the
Armenians of the Diaspora have forgotten their mother tongue and do not
attend the Armenian Apostolic Church etc.25
In conclusion I would like to point out that, although it is the
stereotype about the preservation of culinary traditions that have
distinguished Armenians of the west from those of the east, Armenians living
in Armenia have nonetheless included western Armenian meals in their diet
along their own “old Armenian” ones, thus making them part of the
Armenian identity. Culinary traditions thus appear an interesting area of
The Formation of Stereotypes
study since ideas are being realised by everyday practices, and, in this way,
cuisine is different from, say, the attitude to the languages of western and
eastern Armenian literature. It turns out that the easterners, despite praising
the western Armenian language for being beautiful and closer to ancient
Armenian, have not started to use it.26 And this is true in spite of the fact that
the reformation of eastern Armenian spelling for the purposes of drawing it
closer to that of western Armenian has been actively discussed in Armenia
since the 1980s.27 This is also indicated by the fact that western Armenians
from the Diaspora now hold key positions in the Armenian internal hierarchy.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that studying the mutual
stereotypes of the Diaspora and the ‘homeland’ allows us understand the
relations between these two in the context of problems of identity.
The collection of data was possible thanks to grants received from the
European University at St. Petersburg.
There are many articles devoted to the cuisine of the Diaspora, but there is
only one that I know of that has examined the problem of the correlation of
the cuisines of the homeland and that of the Diaspora (Y.R. Oum,
‘Authenticity and representation: cuisine and identities in Korean-American
Diaspora’. Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2005, pp. 109 – 125.). This
article is about differences in the imagination / construction of national
Korean cuisine.
It is common to associate Historical Armenia with the territory of Greater
Armenia – the state which once existed on the territory of the Armenian
plateau (Eastern Turkey) in II century BC – IV AD. At its peak this territory
stretched from the Caspian Sea up to the river Jordan and the Mediterranean
G G Sarkisyan, Population of Eastern Armenia in XIX – beginning of ХХ
century, Yerevan, 2002, p. 17 – 19.
L Abrahamian, ‘Armenian Diaspora’, Diaspora, N 1 / 2, 2000, pp. 60 – 61.
Western Armenians are those who were born or whose ancestors have been
born on the territory of Western Armenia.
L Abrahamian, Armenian Identity in a Changing World (manuscript). With
the exception of those western Armenians whose ancestors have resettled
directly on the territory of Eastern Armenia in 19th – beginning of 20th
century. The latter were never considered a Diaspora. For more details see:
Sarkisyan G.G., Population of Eastern Armenia in XIX – beginning of ХХ
century, p. 243.
Evgenia Guliaeva
In Russia the numbers grew from 532,000 to 1,130,000 between 1989 and
2002, according to Armenians, Faces of Russia, information agency
‘Rosbalt’, viewed on 1 June 2008, http://www.rusnations.ru/etnos/armayn.
The situation has been changing since the collapse of Soviet Union.
A E Ter-Sarkisyants, Armenians: history, ethnocultural traditions, Russian
Academy of Science, Eastern Literature, Moscow, 1998, p. 34.
L Abrahamian, ‘Armenian Diaspora’, p. 68.
Unfortunately, the statistics concerning the number of Armenians in the
world are rather variable (from 6 to 12 million), but, in any case, the number
of Armenians living in Diaspora is greater than the number of Armenians
living in Armenia (3 million). The numbers of the western and the eastern
Armenian Diasporas are almost identical.
Armenia2007_D_104, Armenia2007_N_11, 55, 59.
J Toomre, ‘Food and National Identity in Soviet Armenia’ in Food in
Russian history and culture, M Glants, J. Toomre (eds), Indiana University
Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1997, p. 206.
Y R Oum, ‘Authenticity and representation: cuisine and identities in
Korean-American Diaspora’. 2005, pp. 109 – 125; Bakalian A., ‘Armenian
Cuisine’ in Bakalian A. Armenian- Americans: From Being to feeling
Armenian, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick and London, 1993, p.
Terms such as Armenian, western Armenian or eastern Armenian cuisines
are abstract; they are the result of an outsider’s view of the culture, which
ignores its internal diversity. This is the way that Armenians living in
Armenia see the Diaspora, and vice-versa.
L Abrahamian, Armenian Identity in a Changing World (manuscript).
For instance lomadjo, basturma, sudjuk, imam baldy etc.
Armenia2007_N_11, Armenia2007_D_028, 053, 074, 100.
Among my informants there where only two people from the western
Armenian Diaspora, but their point of view was shared by other informants
with whom I have worked.
There is a parallel here with the cultures of music and dance. Levone
Abrahamian, in his unpublished work devoted to Armenian identity, writes
that western Armenians have preserved ‘classical’ dances (which are now
taught in special schools), whereas in Armenia an improvisational music style
called R’abiz appeared. For more details see: Abrahamian L., Armenian
Identity in a Changing World (manuscript).
The Formation of Stereotypes
It is notable that for Diaspora it is common to speak about cuisine in terms
of authenticity and cultural and historical continuity (see for instance
Holtzman J., ‘Food and Memory’. Annual Review of Anthropology, № 35,
2006, pp. 361 – 378. Oum Y.R., ‘Authenticity and representation: cuisine and
identities in Korean-American Diaspora’, pp. 109 – 125. Avakian A. V.,
‘Shish Kebab Armenians?: Food and the Construction and Maintaince of
Ethnic and Gender Identities among Armenian American Feminists’, in From
Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and
Food, A. V. Avakian, B. Haber (eds.), University of Massachusetts Press,
Amberst, Boston, 2005, pp. 257 – 280.). For this reason, it is possible to
suggest that the discourse about “real”, “authentic” Armenian culture has
arrived to Armenia from the Diaspora.
A V Avakian, ‘Shish Kebab Armenians?: Food and the Construction and
Maintaince of Ethnic and Gender Identities among Armenian American
Feminists’, pp. 278 - 279.
L Abrahamian, Armenian Identity in a Changing World (manuscript).
Armenia2007_D – field data collected by author in Armenia in summer 2007.
ArmPeterburg2007_D – interviews of Armenians taken by author in St.
Petersburg in 2007.
Armenia2007_N – author’s field notes made during expedition to Armenia in
summer 2007 and in St. Petersburg in autumn - winter 2007/2008.
Armenians, Faces of Russia, information agency ‘Rosbalt’, viewed on 1 June
2008, in Russian, http://www.rusnations.ru/etnos/armayn
Abrahamian, L., ‘Armenian Diaspora’, Diaspora, N 1 / 2, 2000, pp. 52 – 76,
in Russian.
–––, Armenian Identity in a Changing World (manuscript). This book must
have been published in 2006 (L. Abrahamian, Armenian Identity in a
Changing World, Armenian Studies Series, No. 8, Mazda Publishers, Inc.
Costa Mesa u CA, 2006, 406p.), paid for by the grant of Fesjian Publication
Fund at Columbia University, but it hasn’t been published yet. Its electronic
version was kindly given to me by the author.
Evgenia Guliaeva
Avakian, A. V., ‘Shish Kebab Armenians?: Food and the Construction and
Maintaince of Ethnic and Gender Identities among Armenian American
Feminists’. in From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical
Perspectives on Women and Food. A. V. Avakian, B. Haber (eds.), University
of Massachusetts Press, Amberst, Boston, 2005, pp. 257 – 280.
Bakalian, A., ‘Armenian Cuisine’ in Bakalian A. Armenian- Americans: From
Being to feeling Armenian. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick and
London, 1993, pp. 360 – 368.
J. Holtzman., ‘Food and Memory’. Annual Review of Anthropology, № 35,
2006, pp. 361 – 378.
Oum, Y. R., ‘Authenticity and representation: cuisine and identities in
Korean-American Diaspora’. Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2005, pp.
109 – 125.
Sarkisyan, G. G., Population of Eastern Armenia in XIX – beginning of ХХ
century, Gitutyun,Yerevan, 2002, p. 212 , in Russian.
Ter-Sarkisyants, A. E., Armenians: history, ethnocultural traditions, Russian
Academy of Science, Eastern Literature, Moscow, 1998, p. 397, in Russian.
Toomre, J., ‘Food and National Identity in Soviet Armenia’ in Food in
Russian history and culture, M Glants, J. Toomre (eds), Indiana University
Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1997, pp. 195 – 214.
Evgenia Guliaeva is a postgraduet student at St. Petersburg and a Junior
Research Fellow in The Russian Museum of Ethnography (St. Petersburg,
Russia). Her current research and writing is devoted to the St. Petersburg
Armenian Diaspora.
email: [email protected]
My Red, Gold and Green Bindi:
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity
and Ownership in Multicultural Canada
Naki Osutei
The title of this paper refers to the hybridisation of symbols traditionally
associated with Jamaican (red, green and gold) and Indian (bindi) cultures
respectively, an act often construed as a consequence or celebration of
multiculturalism. However, the political pre-text that lends itself to this
interpretation is, at times, in conflict with the lived experience of
multiculturalism. How then can notions of sharing and preserving culture, as
suggested in Canada’s Multiculturalism policies, be reconciled? Employing
cultural and semiotic theories, and highlighting Toronto-based exemplars of
this phenomenon, an argument is made for the disengagement of essentialist
modes of culture, particularly those which construe skin as a determinant of
cultural membership or ownership. The author proceeds to consider how the
physical and social relocation of peoples affect how “authentically” culture
can be re-produced and re-presented. An understanding of these challenges
will figure greatly into negotiations of sharing and preserving cultural
symbols. Thus, not only is this study an important contribution to the
multiculturalism discourse, it is critical to furthering our understanding of
social cohesion and the Canadian identity.
Keywords: Belonging, Canada, cultural hybrids, cultural membership,
cultural ownership, cultural preservation, diasporas, multiculturalism,
semiotics, Toronto.
After almost half a century since Canada re-imagined itself as
‘raceless’1 many of us no longer look at foreign foods with apprehension;
instead we now explore opportunities to fuse the myriad available cuisines.
Where we once shied away from participating in unfamiliar cultural rituals,
many of us seek opportunities to mix and match cultural rites, fulfilling the
post-modernist’s dream. Yet, amidst this sharing of culture, we maintain
ideas of belonging that relate to phenotype. Certain skins are deemed more
Canadian, Indian or Jamaican than others. At the same time, rather
schizophrenically, our multiculturalism policy pushes us to abandon these
essentialist notions and engage in the unknown.
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity and Ownership
With an influx of immigrants whose skin is not white, whose
religion is not Christianity, we are faced with questions relative to the limits
of cultural sharing. Is the Canadian multiculturalism policy a license to
borrow cultural symbols at will or is it a legislative device for depicting
cultural symbols as sacred for use only by those deemed “members” capable
of reproducing culture authentically? How are cultural owners and members
identified? Who is responsible for labelling a cultural reproduction authentic?
As Canada’s biography is shaped, who becomes the “we” in the grand
narrative? How does the struggle to both share and preserve culture challenge
ideas of belonging?
The title of this paper (which is excerpted from a longer, more
comprehensive study) refer to two interrelated aspects of the study: 1) The
sharing of cultures that often results in new hybridised re-presentations of
cultural symbols; and 2) The case studies used to frame a discussion around
the challenges associated with the lived experience of multiculturalism.
The red, gold and green colour combination is found on the flags of
many African countries and is usually interpreted as red - the blood of the
people, gold - economic wealth and green - lush lands. The link between this
colour combination and Jamaica began with Bob Marley’s popularisation of
Rastafarianism, a religion/philosophy that adopted, among other symbols of
traditions, the Haile Selaisse Ethiopian flag and its colours. Marley often
performed in, or was otherwise seen wearing these colours. Subsequently, as
he grew in popularity and as a symbol of Jamaican-ness, the colours became
part of the island’s iconography. Likewise, the holy dot or bindi is literally a
red dot of make-up typically worn by Hindu girls and women on their
foreheads. The term is derived from bindu, the Sanskrit word for a dot or a
point. Considered a blessed symbol, a bindi can signify female energy and is
believed to protect women and their husbands.2
This paper will provide brief overviews of three models of cultural
membership, position the skin as an imprecise measure of cultural
membership, ownership and authenticity, and using two case studies,
examine how these models impact the manner in which we read
reproductions of culture outside of the “authentic” space. I will conclude with
a summary of how these ideas affect notions of Canadian-ness.
Models of Culture
Culture as Embedded in Ethnicity
Theorists such as Michael Ignatieff and Anthony D. Smith proffer
an essentialised view of culture, insisting that cultural symbols and traditions
are inextricably linked to a particular ethnicity and a distinct homeland.
These symbols and traditions mark the boundaries for non-members and
serve to unite members, structuring their relations and activities.3 Ignatieff,
whose writings deal primarily with the Anglo-Franco Canadian question,
Naki Osutei
insists these structures (consequences of accidents of birth) are deeply
embedded in one’s cultural and national identity.4 Under the essentialised
model, only recognised (often through the soma) members of say, the Indian
nation, should have access to and can speak for the culture.
Culture as a Way of Life
In Imagined Communities, Anderson provides an alternative to
culture as ethnically exclusive. He argues, “communities are to be
distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they
are imagined.”5 Membership into a cultural group is based on agreed upon
mores and a common imagination, which results in active participation in the
community. This collective participation produces a way of life imagined as,
for example, Canadian. This model relies heavily on what Margalit and Raz
describe as informal acknowledgment of belonging by others generally, and
by other members specifically.
Culture as a Disposable Way of Life
Theorist Will Kymlicka describes an ideal society where everyone
would be free to choose the life he or she thinks best from a rich array of
possibilities offered by the cultural landscape.6 Kymlicka cites Schwartz who
argues that cultural structures provide people with a context of choice but
does not believe that people are bound, in a constitutive way, to any
particular culture. Cultural membership, much like in the preceding model, is
based on participation in a particular landscape, however, social
constructionists, like Kymlicka and Foster, take it one step further in situating
culture as disposable, with no static membership to speak of; one may
participate in one landscape for a moment then discard it and adopt another
culture. In this argument, there are no real Others.
Case Studies
Case Study 1: Bollywood Cowboy
Bollywood Cowboy was the 2005 theme for the annual AIDS
fundraising gala organised by Fashion Cares and the AIDS Committee of
Toronto (ACT). The organisers described it as “Eastern magic meets Western
bravado…two colourful cultures collide for one great cause”. The
promotional materials featured, among several other characters, a woman of
fair-hue, nude except for strategically placed crystals. She appeared to be an
interpretation of the Hindu god Lakshmi as she sits cross-legged, her four
arms moving rhythmically. For all intents and purposes, these characters
were symbols and signs read in various ways by event attendees and
passersby who may have taken in the adverts. A review of the media
coverage revealed several themes related to cultural membership, ownership
and authenticity.
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity and Ownership
Who Owns Bollywood?
Critics of Bollywood Cowboy’s promotional materials questioned
the right of non-Indians to reproduce Indian culture. Opponents alleged that
despite the Bollywood theme “South Asians were largely absent from the
show…”7 Tushar Unadkat, owner of a Toronto advertising agency informed
the Toronto Star that he was “horrified to see…white models dressed as
Krishna and Radha, handing out postcards of Hindu gods and goddesses.”8
Further examination of his grievance reveals that Unadkat maintained an
essential imagining of South Asian Hindu-ness wherein skin is a determinant
of belonging. In fact, none of the articles reviewed provided an example of a
critic who drew the membership line in at a different point.
The Indian film industry, now known as Bollywood, has been in
existence since the dawn of the 20th century. The lack of verbal dialogue was
advantageous for some of the industry’s earliest big stars including renowned
Sulochna. An actress who by all accounts appeared to be an Indian woman,
Sulochna was born Ruby Myers to Jewish parents. Heralded the “queen of
the silents and the early talkies” she grew to share in and participate in the
culture of the Indian people around her; Sulochna identified and was
recognised by others as Indian.9
Jews who discover their connection to Bollywood may decide to lay
claim on the film genre as a constituent of their culture since one of their own
was central to its early development. Upon discovering their roots, the
“Indian” offspring of the Jewish actresses (there were many aside from
Sulochna), may act on that knowledge and reclaim their Jewish-ness. In this
tangled web of culture, where does one’s Jewish-ness end and another’s
Indian-ness begin? Skin is not a fail-proof method of discerning membership
and will become even less so in Canada as more people follow Sulochna’s
example and become active participants in cultures to which they have no
blood lineal connection.
Perhaps Unadkat and others did not rule out the possibility of a
white-skinned Hindu, their comments intimate that representation of brownskinned Indians is important. Their concerns are exacerbated by the threat of
cultural co-opting wherein culture is reproduced and those who consider
themselves owners are shut out of its presentation.
The Bollywood Cowboy organisers seem to be employing the third
model of culture to very negative consequences. The South Asian
communities with whom they are hoping to share cultural symbols are
employing what appears to be a rather essential form of culture. However, in
their request for further consultation, the South Asian community groups
seem willing to accept the fact that once culture enters the public sphere, its
symbols become part of the Canadian landscape; however they maintain
specific rules couched in syntagmatic (the possible ways signs can be
Naki Osutei
combined) and paradigmatic (the narrative, the fiction, the ideology)
Barthes’ famous example employs fashion to illustrate this
difference. Syntagmatic relations were those between different elements of
dress that could be worn together, for example, jeans-shirt-jacket, while
paradigmatic relations existed between those elements which could not, such
as hat-veil-hood.10 Perhaps the South Asian communities opposed to the
campaign would have been content to simply have these relationships
adhered to. An understanding of these relations would require participation in
the cultural landscape as theorised by Anderson. That said, this line of
reasoning maintains the assumption of a particular cultural owner.
On Cultural Ownership
In Contemporary Political Philosophy Will Kymlicka offers a
position on self-ownership that builds on the property ownership theory
offered by Nozick. Nozick argues that property ownership can only come
from either legal rights or rights originating from the creation of an object
using personal talent. Assuming that the only thing a person can truly own is
him or herself, only the creator of that culture can own it.11 This begs the
question: can culture exist in the hands of one person? Eagleton’s view of
culture suggests “ [...]culture is a network of shared meaning…common
culture involves the collaborative making of such meanings.”12 The second
person, by virtue of their participation, their interpretation of the culture,
contributes to its creation. Thus, an individual cannot create culture much
less own it. A collective may own culture provided one ascribes to a model of
culture that contains a notion of distinguishable membership. This distinction
will be vital to the analysis of our cases, especially our review of the Roots
Canada campaign.
Case Study 2: Roots Rock Reggae
In April, while the Bollywood Cowboy campaign was experiencing
its early backlash, Roots Canada’s newest campaign, Roots Rock Reggae,
was being presented as a tribute to an over 30-year relationship between
“Canada’s most famous brand” and the Caribbean’s largest English-speaking
island. According to their website, Roots founders Don Green and Michael
Budman have always been inspired by the island, its culture and “vibe”. The
campaign featured a collection of outerwear, jackets, sweatshirts and t-shirts,
sporting the Jamaican flag and the Jamaican-associated, red, gold and green
colour scheme. My Roots Rock Reggae media review presented several
themes, however I will focus on those related to readings of the Roots
Canada brand.
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity and Ownership
Designing Authenticity
Roots Canada went to great lengths to present their brand as
authentic and utilised the cultural participation model as a measure. The
articles related to the campaign consistently referred to the relationship Roots
founders have held with Jamaica and its celebrity contingent. Roots Canada
also employed a second tactic to demonstrate their authenticity. Unlike the
Bollywood Cowboy campaign, the advertisements for the Roots Rock
Reggae line feature a full-frame shot of a woman who could be identified as
Black. Supporting the new line were a series of fashion shows and parties
where models who could be identified as Black strolled up and down the
catwalk wearing t-shirts with “Jamaica” emblazoned on the front and “Roots”
on the back, and a replica of the Jamaican flag and on the breastplate. At the
official launch of the line, Roots Canada enlisted the assistance of Torontobased Ritz Caribbean restaurant, reggae DJs and recording artists and invited
Jamaican Consul General Vivian Betton and members of the Jamaican
Tourism Board. It may be argued that Roots wanted to ensure that people
attending or reading about that event would view it as authentic because they
would read the black bodies as authentically Jamaican and thus transfer that
authenticity to the Roots Rock Reggae campaign. Yet, like the Sulochna, the
skin is not the final determinant of cultural membership, as the story of Chris
Blackwell will tell.
A blonde haired, blue-eyed boy born to an English father and a
Sephardic Jewish Jamaican mother in Jamaica spends his formative years
“finding himself” through odd jobs. Upon meeting his mother’s friend Ian
Fleming (creator of the James Bond series) stationed in Jamaica while
filming the 1962 Bond film Dr. No, the young man considers a career in the
entertainment industry. In 1964, now a music producer, he has his first bona
fide hit with a sixteen year-old Millicent Small who became internationally
renowned with the song “My Boy Lollipop” produced by his Island Records
label. The gentleman in question is Chris Blackwell who went on to sign Bob
Marley, the Maytals and the Skatalites to his label.13 Chris Blackwell with his
fair-skin, straight hair and light-coloured eyes does not fit the some essential
definitions of a Jamaican but would, at least at that point in his life, selfidentify as Jamaican. Blackwell’s story is not an anomaly yet knowledge of
Jamaica’s full spectrum of phenotypes does not assuage the Jamaicans-asblack-skinned-people theories. In fact Roots Canada employs this to assure
their campaign is read as authentic.
Reading Roots Rock Reggae
Roots Canada appeared to be aware of the struggle to share and
preserve culture and walked the line between the various models of culture.
In ensuring the presence of Black bodies in the campaign and subsequent
promotional events, they were recognising that people still read Jamaican-
Naki Osutei
ness as Black skin. However, in sharing in the Jamaican culture for over
thirty years, they demonstrated a sustained participation that could, using
Anderson’s theory, identify the founders as members. Lastly if we present
Roots Canada as a Canadian institution, as representing itself with the image
of a Black woman with the Jamaican flag as an emblem on her clothes, we
may be attempting to demonstrate that within the Roots-imagination of
Canada, anyone can be Canadian. The question then begs, does that
imagination go beyond Roots Canada and into general Canadian
consciousness; can anyone truly be read as Canadian?
Institutions as Purveyors of Culture
Claiming that all sense of nationhood is narrativised, Bhabha argues
that institutions, including those that produce and maintain a specific
narrative, are critical to manufacturing and preserving a culture across
generations. He refers to such “authenticating cultural canons” or national
objects of knowledge – “Tradition, People, the Reason of State, High
Culture” - as the means by which a nation is scripted and perpetuates its own
image.14 Institutions such Roots Canada and the ACT play a similar role.
Recognising that opposition to said institutions exists, Bhabha reminds us of
the recesses of national culture from which alternative constituencies emerge
and create their own meanings. These recesses are the sites of tension, the inbetween spaces “through which the meanings of cultural and political
authority are negotiated.”15
If the ACT, a long-standing Canadian organisation (founded in
1983), can be viewed as an institution, the press conference held by the
Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention is one such recess. The attendees
of the press conference used that venue to investigate their role in
perpetuating what they would consider authentic representations of their
culture. However, would their Alliance be considered an institution
associated with national life and culture? There are a few ways of responding
to this question. First, we can relegate the Alliance to the private sphere and
suggest that their quest for justice, related to their representation, is in vain.
ACT’s role is to bolster a national image and perhaps that image is one that
fuses cultural symbols into a new imagining of Canada. The members of the
Alliance and other opponents of Bollywood Cowboy may need to be content
with the opportunity to create private institutions that will be responsible for
perpetuating the kinds of images they deem authentic.
Another response to the above question is to suggest that the
Alliance is part of a national narrative and that promoting an accurate
representation of Bollywood and South Asian cultures broadly speaking, is
the responsibility of all institutions. However, if one accepts this response, it
follows that we would have to find an authentic rendering of South Asian
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity and Ownership
culture that all who identify as such could agree upon. As we have seen, this
does not appear to be possible.
The case studies themselves fall into what Bhabha refers to as the
in-between spaces as they resulted in new struggles for understanding. Over
time, these struggles for ownership, membership and the quest for
authenticity may become non-issues as people resign the notion of ownership
and create new forms of measuring authenticity; forms that reflect their
presence in a new “inauthentic” land.
Canadian multiculturalism proposes that Canada is a place where
one may chose who he or she wishes to be rather than be imprisoned by the
soma. The lived experience however, illustrates a post-modern thought caged
within a modernist script. If we believe we are a nation of minorities who
desire to live in a land where all peoples are recognised and included, this
means bringing our whole selves (our cultures and symbols) into the public
sphere at one point or another. In course of doing so, these symbols become
open source to institutions attempting to include newer cultures and enjoy
economic gains by employing newly marketable symbols. Though the joy of
having one’s culture recognised as part of the Canadian landscape is
undeniable yet so too is the pain of seeing one’s culture represented in a
manner that one might conceive of as degrading. This threat leaves some
retreating to the safety of cultural enclaves, providing ammunition to
multiculturalism opponents who argue it encourages self- segregation. Hence
we return to the paradox: the very things required to share culture inhibit its
So then how can we move forward? At the time of writing, CBC
Television, a national public broadcaster, has premiered a new television
program, Little Mosque on the Prairie. The show revolves around a small
Muslim community in the fictional prairie town Mercy, their wary nonMuslim neighbours and the comedic conflict between orthodox and moderate
Muslims. Like the Bollywood Cowboy and Roots Rock Reggae examples,
the show presents a new Canadian imagining and while some Muslims have
already expressed distaste with the program’s portrayal, we cannot disregard
the importance of efforts like this to the narration of this nation. All of these
symbols, the bindi, the red, gold, green colour combination, and the mosque
must become part of the Canadian landscape and should be available to all
people, with one caveat: new “users” should make an effort to understand the
systems of connotation traditionally linked to these symbols. New “users”
may not necessarily adhere to them but an understanding of the systems
historically linked to them will assist and prepare them for reactions from the
recognised “membership”.
Naki Osutei
This paper has explored the primary arguments for the conditions
required for sharing, hybridising and preserving culture, both longestablished and recently introduced. To borrow a Marxian term, Canada can
be a site of “cultural liberty”16 if, as Nozick argues, we abandon the notion
that cultures can be owned by one particular person and agree to make
cultural symbols, regardless of their assumed origin, available to all peoples.
Second, trading essential renderings of culture for a model of culture where
membership can be established vis à vis participation in the imagined
community is vital. This is important for cultural communities who may find
it difficult to recognise members who do not meet skin colour requirements;
this challenge is presented to “new” and “old” Canadians alike. Third, quests
for authenticity that harken back to the “homeland” must be abandoned for
the environment and institutions mandated to support and perpetuate these
“authentic” presentations of culture, may not be available in Canada’s public
sphere. Furthermore, the case studies and anecdotes illustrate how futile the
search for authenticity can be due to the degree of variation within cultural
communities and the fact that supposedly reliable mechanisms such as the
soma, do not tell the full story of culture.
Finally, to answer the question of whether cultures can be both
shared and preserved, I will take a cue from Bhabha. Cultures themselves
cannot be preserved as they are constantly edited by participants, however,
we can preserve histories. If we are able to preserve the histories of all
peoples, both in our personal locations of knowledge and in our national
narratives, we begin to fulfil the promise of multiculturalism and again I refer
to Foster who optimistically writes …”in the end, all members of society will
be sharing Canada’s culture of sharing. This will be their main identity.”17
This discussion can be found in C Foster, Where Race Does Not Matter,
Penguin Canada, Toronto, 2005 pp. 1-56.
K Kamat, ‘Great Indian Forehead Decoration’ in Kamat’s Potpourri, viewed
on October 25, 2005 <http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/women/bindi.htm.>.
A Smith, ‘The Rise of Nations’, In Nationalism, J Hutchinson and A D
Smith (eds), Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p. 168.
M Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism,
BBC Books, London, 1993.
B Anderson, Imagined Communities, Verso, New York, 1991, p.6.
For a fulsome discussion see W Kymlicka, Contemporary Political
Philosophy. Oxford University Press., New York, 2002.
P Yelaja, ‘For Hindus, it’s fashion careless’. Toronto Star, June 9, 2005, p.
The Semiotics of Identity, Authenticity and Ownership
P Yelaja, ‘Hindu community cites ‘callous disregard’’, Toronto Star, July 1,
2005, B7.
D Raheja and J Kothari, Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga, Roli Books,
New Dehli, 2004, p. 12.
R Barthes, The Semiotic Challenge, Hill and Wang, New York, 1988, p.
Even the idea of culture is problematic for Nozick for culture involves a
joint ownership and as a libertarian, Nozick privileges only individual
T Eagleton, The Idea of Culture, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, 2000
p. 119.
T Pryor, ‘Guest DJ: Chris Blackwell. The man who discovered Bob
Marley’ in National Geographic World Music, viewed on October 14, 2005
This discussion can be found in H Bhabha, ‘Introduction: narrating the
nation’. In Nation and Narration, H Bhabha (ed), Routeledge, New York,
This discussion can be found at K Marx, ‘The Jewish Question’. In
Identities: Race, Class, Gender and Nationality, L M Alcoff and E Mendieta
(eds), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, 2003, pp.17-28.
Foster, Where Race Does Not Matter, p. 173.
Anderson, B., Imagined Communities. Verso, New York, 1991.
Barthes, R., The Semiotic Challenge. Hill and Wang, New York, 1988.
Bhabha, H. K., ‘Introduction: narrating the nation’, in Nation and Narration.
H. K. Bhabha (ed), Routeledge, New York, 1990.
Eagleton, T., The Idea of Culture. Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts,
Foster, C. Where Race Does Not Matter. Penguin Canada, Toronto, 2005
Hall, S., Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices.
Sage Publications, London, 1997.
Naki Osutei
Hooks, B., Black Looks: Race and Representation. Routeledge, New York,
Ignatieff, M., Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism.
BBC Books, London, 1993.
Kamat, K., ‘Great Indian Forehead Decoration’ in Kamat’s Potpourri.
viewed on October 25, 2005
Kymlicka,W., Contemporary Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press.,
New York, 2002.
Margalit, A. and Raz J., ‘National Self-Determination’, in The Rights of
Minority Cultures. W. Kymlicka (ed), Oxford University Press, New York,
Marx, K., ‘The Jewish Question’. In Identities: Race, Class, Gender and
Nationality, L. M. Alcoff and E. Mendieta (eds), Blackwell Publishing Ltd.,
Oxford, 2003, pp.17-28.
Pryor, T., ‘Guest DJ: Chris Blackwell. The man who discovered Bob Marley’
in National Geographic World Music, viewed on October 14, 2005
Raheja, D. and Kothari, J., Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga. Roli Books,
New Dehli, 2004.
Smith, A. D., ‘The Rise of Nations’, in Nationalism. J. Hutchinson and A. D.
Smith (eds), Oxford University Press, New York, 1994.
Yelaja, P., ‘Hindu community cites ‘callous disregard’’. Toronto Star. July 1,
2005, B7.
-----, ‘For Hindus, it’s fashion careless’. Toronto Star, June 9, 2005, p. B2
Naki Osutei graduated from the University of Guelph with an M.A. degree
in Sociology. She was the recipient of the University of Guelph’s Kim Prize
for outstanding M.A. paper and finalist for the Governor General’s Academic
medal. email: [email protected]
Section III
Diaspora - Performances and the Imaginary
Border-crossing Witnesses:
Life Narrative as Testimony in the Tibetan Diaspora
Julie Fletcher
The Tibetan diaspora consists of the approximately 130,000 Tibetans who
have fled, and continue to flee, their homeland since its occupation in the
1950s by Chinese forces. Since the beginning of the Tibetan diaspora in
1959, English language life narratives - ranging from personal oral accounts
to full-length autobiographical texts - have emerged as a central form of
literary, cultural, and political practice. In this development, personal stories
have become increasingly gathered, translated, produced, published and
disseminated transnationally, frequently as part of the political and rightsbased activities of the Tibetan independence movement. The post-World War
Two period has been described as the age of testimony, where, according to
Felman and Laub, testimony has become the literary mode par excellence.1
This same period has been characterised as the “third age” of human rights,
with institutional frameworks emerging for the hearing of the rights claims of
individuals and peoples against state actors.2 At the same time, in recent
years, an increasing number of scholars have begun to examine the
“conjunctions” between the telling of (life) stories, and global human rights
movements and claims.3 This paper examines the emergence of modern
Tibetan testimonial literature and practices, considering the ways in which
the Tibetan experience of diaspora, occurring during this Post-War period,
has given rise to the development of Tibetan testimony. In and through
diaspora, Tibetan refugees have been exposed to modern rights-based
political concepts and practices. The liminal spaces of exile have produced
contact zones for the formation of important relationships of collaboration
between Tibetans and non-Tibetans, and given rise to key acts of bordercrossing witnessing and testimony central to the emergence of this form of
literary, cultural, political and juridical practice within Tibetan refugee
Keywords: Diaspora, political action, refugees, social movement, testimony,
Tibet, witnessing.
Difficult crossings
In April 1959, following an unsuccessful popular uprising in March
in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, the young Dalai Lama crossed the Indo-
Border-crossing Witnesses
Tibetan border to seek asylum in India. He was followed soon after by 80,000
Tibetan refugees. This iconic border-crossing stands as a key symbol and
marker of the beginning of the Tibetan diaspora, and a refugee flow that
continues to the present. Forty-eight years later, in September 2006, a group
of international mountain climbers witnessed, filmed and photographed
Chinese border troops open fire upon a line of Tibetan refugees attempting to
escape across the Nangpa-La Pass into Nepal, killing two Tibetans. Those
killed, Kalsang Namtso, a seventeen year old nun, and Kunsang Namgyal, a
twenty year old man, were among a group of young Tibetans, including a
number of children, escaping across the glaciated high Himalayan pass that
marks the border between Tibet and Nepal.4 The route the Tibetans take
across Nangpa La passes near the advanced base camp of Cho Oyu, a
significant Himalayan mountaineering destination. While international
mountaineers frequently encounter groups of Tibetans crossing the border, it
is rare for them to witness Tibetan refugees being gunned down by border
patrols. Within days, first-person witness accounts and photographs of this
“dangerous crossing”, sent out from Cho Oyu advanced base camp via
satellite mobile phone technology, were circulating in world media.
Witnessing in this way is a difficult act. The mountaineers involved were
“interviewed” by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu; many did not speak
out until they had left the region; those who did attempted to maintain their
anonymity to protect others still in the Himalaya, and preserve their chances
of being granted future climbing permits.5
This border crossing speaks of a number of key things about the
contemporary Tibetan situation. Firstly, it highlights the reality that Tibetans
are still crossing the border at a rate of a few thousand a year to seek lives as
refugees in the diaspora, a simple fact that challenges the legitimacy of
Chinese rule in and “ownership” of Tibet each time it occurs. It also speaks
of the state-sanctioned and justified use of lethal violence against innocents.
Importantly in terms of this paper, the Nangpa-la incident highlights the
significance of human rights-based witnessing across borders, and the role of
the foreign witness, in the modern Tibetan situation. In the face of multiple
and powerful forms of silencing employed by the Chinese state, Tibetans in
the diaspora have successfully developed transnational testimonial narrative
practices that are able to evade this silencing and breach China’s political
taboos surrounding the issue of Tibet.
One of the circulated photographic images of the Nangpa-la incident
shows an expanse of snow across the glacier, a deep track through that snow,
and two dark shapes in the snow, some distance apart. The larger of these is
the body of the young teenage nun; the other is her small bag of belongings.
This image of the maroon-robed body in the snow evokes an important form
of what Robert Barnett calls “embodied politics” emerging in Tibet since the
late 1980s, that has strong links with testimonial and witnessing practices in
Julie Fletcher
the diaspora.6 In the last few decades, Tibetan nuns have become central
figures of resistance in Tibet, through their engagement in non-violent
political protests in Lhasa. This political action has only become known to
the world through a range of border-crossing accounts: smuggled stories and
tapes, the witness accounts of foreign travellers, and the testimonies of
refugees who have escaped into India. In significant ways, border-crossing
testimony has become the complement, and diasporic counterpart, of this
embodied politics within Tibet.
Life Narrative in the Diaspora
The Tibetan diaspora consists of the approximately 130,000
Tibetans who have fled, and continue to flee, their homeland since its
occupation in the 1950s by Chinese forces. While a small number of Tibetan
refugees have been resettled in the West, most remain in South Asian camps
and settlements primarily in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal, and in
the south of India. These settlements are administered by the Central Tibetan
Administration or “government in exile”, based in Dharamsala, a small
former British hill station in the remote northern Indian Himalayan state of
Himachal Pradesh. For the government in exile, beyond providing for the
immediate and longer term needs of the community, the primary goals have
been the preservation of Tibetan culture, and an ultimate return to a selfdetermined Tibet.
Since the beginning of the diaspora, English language life narratives
- ranging from personal oral accounts to full-length autobiographical texts have emerged as an important form of cultural, literary, and political practice.
In this development, personal stories have become increasingly gathered,
translated, produced, published and disseminated transnationally, often as
part of the political and rights-based activities of the Tibetan independence
movement. These various “narratives of marginal experience” have become a
central means by which Tibetan refugees speak to outsiders of the situation
within Tibet.7
The Tibetan literary corpus includes a well developed
auto/biographical tradition. While sharing some continuity with the
traditional practice, life story telling in exile has taken a very different,
testimonial and contestatory turn. These narrative practices breach the
multiple forms of silencing imposed by the Chinese occupation, to reclaim
Tibetan voice, narrate the collective and national experience, and make
human rights and political claims internationally and transnationally. For
political philosopher Hannah Arendt, political power (as opposed to force,
might, or violence) arises between people acting in concert, in public. In what
follows I will outline the ways in which members of the very small Tibetan
diasporic community have “acted in concert” in the formation of various
government in exile and non government institutions engaged in the
Border-crossing Witnesses
production and circulation of testimonial narrative accounts, in the small
Himalayan settlement that has become the symbolic capital of the diaspora,
known as “little Lhasa in exile”. These developments have enabled a small
community of refugees to utilise what Jan Magnusson refers to as the
culturally-based “soft power resources” of the Tibetan community, to counter
the might of the PRC in a discursive “contestation of representations”.8
Increasingly, the human rights paradigm has offered possibilities for this
narration as well as an interpretive framework within which this can be
Testimony and Human Rights
Testimonial narrative is a particular kind of life-story telling: a
collective and politicised form that presents “narratives of marginal
experience” across cultural (or other) boundaries, with the implicit or explicit
aim of generating recognition of rights violations, political injustices,
atrocities and suffering, and in the hope of achieving rights-based,
normatively grounded political outcomes.9 This form of narrative practice has
drawn increasing academic attention in recent years, primarily within literary
and cultural studies, but also increasingly within the social sciences.
The post-World War Two period has been described Felman and
Laub as “the age of testimony”.10 This same period has been characterised by
Geoffrey Robertson as the “third age” of human rights, where institutional
frameworks have emerged for the hearing of the rights claims of individuals
and peoples against state actors.11 At the same time, in recent years, scholars
have begun to examine what Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith refer to as the
“conjunctions” between the telling of (life) stories, and global human rights
movements and claims.12 These scholars examine the ways that diverse life
narratives are deployed in a range of formal and informal venues, making
rights claims that call forth an “ethics of recognition” and a politics of
response. At the same time, while the human rights system remains an
incomplete project of modernity, testimonial practices can be seen to emerge
in the gap – the disjunctions – between established political norms of right
and justice, and the actual lived experiences of people in diverse national and
international situations. In this, testimonial accounts, as both evidentiary and
contestatory, are mobilised to speak not only against atrocities and violations,
but also speak to the normative system of laws and rights “in the world”.
Tibetan Testimonial Practices
In the Tibetan diaspora, the decades of exile have given rise to the
development of a wide range of testimonial texts and practices, including
first-person performed testimony in formal and informal settings, brief
published testimony in pamphlets, newspapers and other small publications,
as well as larger collections of testimony, oral history projects, museum
Julie Fletcher
display, photographic archives, film and documentary, electronic web-based
testimonial forms, and full length auto/biographical texts. These practices
have emerged in situations of contact, and frequently collaboration, with
foreigners. In the diaspora, encounters with “others” have produced the need
for a means by which the Tibetan community can translate their experiences
across linguistic, cultural, experiential and geographical boundaries, in order
to “tell the world” of their situation. Further, these encounters have
increasingly engaged foreigners in relationships and networks of witnessing
that speak, in contestatory and evidentiary ways, to those aspects of the
modern Tibetan situation that are hidden, erased, silenced or contested. The
following discussion briefly traces the development of what Schaffer and
Smith refer to as the “networks and meshworks” of action and advocacy
engaged in rights-based “fact finding in the field” relating to the production
and circulation of brief forms of testimony in the Tibetan diaspora.13 These
practices have become central to modern forms of political action in the
Tibetan diaspora. While they have gained increasing prominence since the
1980s, these practices emerged at the outset of the diaspora.
The gathering, translation, publication and dissemination of Tibetan
refugee testimonies began in the early camps of 1959 and 1960. As refugees
were still arriving into the tent camps along the Indo-Tibetan border,
members of the Tibetan community became engaged in human rights “factfinding in the field” gathering the first-person accounts of the experiences of
recently arrived refugees.14 These accounts were translated, collated and
provided to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), to form the basis of
this organisation’s 1959 and 1960 reports on the Chinese invasion and
occupation of Tibet.
Following the publication of the ICJ reports, the Tibetan
“government-in-exile” continued these practices. Offices of Tibet were
established in Geneva and New York, and the Information and Publicity
Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was created in Dharamsala. An
important function of this office was to continue the “fact-finding in the
field” activities, gathering the first-person accounts of newly arrived
refugees, translating, publishing, and circulating them, via the Offices of
Tibet, to the UN, world media, political leaders, and interested members of
the international legal community.15
In subsequent decades, this government activity has been
supplemented by the testimonial work of emerging Tibetan NGOs. The first
of these, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), emerged in the 1970s as a
radicalised (but loyally oppositional) political force within the refugee
community. Influenced by secular educations received in exile, Indian
political traditions, and the global youth and political culture of the 1960s and
1970s encountered in the Indian Himalaya through friendships with foreign
travellers, the young Tibetan members of TYC became engaged in the
Border-crossing Witnesses
publishing of Tibetan refugee narratives for dissemination within the
transnational public realm in a “new social movement” style of activity. The
Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) was formed soon after, and like the
Youth Congress, also became involved in the production of testimonial
publications. These publications, often produced with the collaborative
assistance of young foreign volunteers, include collections of testimony,
pamphlets, and human rights reports based upon first person testimony.
In the late 1980s, a second wave of major Tibetan resistance
occurred in Lhasa, centred upon the protests of monks from the major
monasteries, and the non-violent public protests of nuns (as mentioned
above). These were followed by brutal crackdown and a wave of arrests,
imprisonments and tortures. Significantly however, both the initial protests
and the state response were witnessed by a number of independent foreign
travellers who, caught up in the crisis, spontaneously organised a network for
the gathering and dissemination of evidentiary material from within Tibet.16
The second uprising, and its paradigmatic witnessing, had a marked
impact on testimonial production in the diaspora. Following this, a particular
focus of TWA’s testimonial activity became the protest activities, political
imprisonments, torture and human rights abuses of nuns and laywomen in
Tibet. By the 1990s, two more NGOs: Gu-Chu-Sum Organisation of Former
Political Prisoners, and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
(TCHRD), had emerged and become engaged in the testimonial production in
Dharamsala. Gu-Chu-Sum produces some publications, but most importantly
arranges speaking events for former political prisoners. The Tibetan Centre
for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is engaged in professionalised
full time human rights fact-finding, publication and advocacy, utilising
formal UN avenues for appeal wherever possible, replacing the former
Human Rights Desk of the “Government” Department of Information and
International Relations.
This same period saw the spread of “Tibet Support Groups”,
international advocacy organisations operating on “new social movement”
lines. These groups serve as global outlets for the transnational circulation of
Dharamsala publications, as well as sponsoring and organising activities such
as speaking tours of former political prisoners. At the same time, the Tibet
Information Network (TIN) was formed by some of the foreign travellers
who had witnessed the 1987 protests. Until recently this organisation engaged
in highly professionalised gathering, verification, compilation and publication
of witness, testimonial, and documentary material relating to the situation in
Tibet. TIN produced its own reports and publications, in print and electronic
form, as well as providing the Tibetan NGOs with testimonial and other
evidentiary material.
From the mid 1990s onward, there has been an exponential growth
in life narrative practices in Dharamsala and the diaspora, from first-person
Julie Fletcher
“post-torture” performed testimony (in formal and informal settings),
publications, museum display, film and documentary, electronic web-based
testimonial forms, and full length auto/biographical texts. At the same time,
an informal “culture of telling” has developed on the streets of Dharamsala.
Tibetans met on the streets or in tea shops will tell their own, or the collective
story, to foreigners. For young Tibetans in the diaspora, “telling the true story
of Tibet” to outsiders is seen as a form of patriotic - political - activity that
they can engage in within the constraints of exile.17
Witnessing Across Borders
In the diaspora, encountering “others” has set in motion the need to
find a form within which Tibetan experiences and claims can be
communicated internationally and transnationally; within which Tibetans can
speak not to Nangpa - insiders, “one of us” – but to outsiders. Increasingly,
the human rights paradigm has provided opportunities and forms for this
narration. In and through diaspora, Tibetan refugees have been exposed to,
and become skilled at utilising, modern rights-based political concepts and
practices. Encountering others has also given rise to relationships of
collaboration with those able to serve as intermediaries between cultural,
experiential and linguistic worlds, and produce texts capable of crossing
multiple borders.
Testimony is a “border crossing” genre that attempts to convey,
however partially, provisionally, and imperfectly, the experiences of those
inside a situation, to those outside. In the Tibetan diaspora, testimonial
practices have emerged as central forms of political action that can be seen as
the complement and counterpart of the “embodied politics” occurring within
Tibet. Transnationally circulated testimony is a form able to evade and
breach the silencing that can occur at national and international levels, in
order to engage “others” in relationships of witnessing. As the Nangpa-la
incident shows, the role of the foreign witness, whether in the first-person or
through the considerable textual archive, remains a significant one in the
transnational Tibetan struggle.
S Felman and D Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature,
Psychoanalysis, and History, Routledge, New York, 1992.
G Robertson QC, QC. Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global
Justice, Penguin, London, 2002, p.xxxiii.
K Schaffer and S Smith, Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of
Recognition, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004.
Border-crossing Witnesses
T Choephel, “Nangpa La Shooting – first mountaineers reporter’s eye
witness account”, Phayul – Tibet News, 2006. Retrieved 17th June 2008,
R Barnett, “Women and Politics in Contemporary Tibet” in Gyatso, J., and
H. Havnevik (eds) Women In Tibet. Columbia University Press, New York,
2005, pp285-366.
S Stone-Mediatore, Reading Across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges
of Resistance, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003.
J Magnusson, “A Myth of Tibet: Reverse Orientalism and Soft Power” in P.
Christiaan Klieger, (ed) Tibet, Self, and the Tibetan Diaspora: Voices of
Difference, PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: proceedings of the Ninth Seminar
of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. Brill,
Leiden, 2002, pp. 195-212.
Stone-Mediatore op cit.
S Felman and D Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature,
Psychoanalysis, and History, Routledge, New York, 1992.
G Robertson, op. cit., p.xxxiii.
K Schaffer and S. Smith, op. cit.
For an example see Information and Publicity Office, 1976.
These were a group of young professionals of various nationalities,
including a journalist, a doctor, and a social scientist, with some background
in human rights work. Aware of the constraints of human rights fact-finding,
they were careful from the outset to maintain independence and objectivity.
P. C. Klieger, “Engendering Tibet: Power, Self and Change in the
Diaspora,” in P. Christiaan Klieger (ed) Tibet, Self and the Tibetan Diaspora:
Voices of Difference, PIATS 2000 Tibetan Studies Proceedings of the Ninth
Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000.
Brill, Leiden, 2002, pp.139-154.
Arendt, H., On Violence. Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London, 1970.
Barnett, R., “Women and Politics in Contemporary Tibet” in Gyatso, J., and
H. Havnevik (eds) Women In Tibet. Columbia University Press, New York,
2005, pp285-366.
Julie Fletcher
Barnett, R., “Violated Specialness: Western political representations of
Tibet”, in Dodin, T., and Rather, H., Imagining Tibet: Perceptions,
Projections, and Fantasies. Wisdom, Boston, 2001, pp. 269-316.
Choephel, T., “Nangpa La Shooting – first mountaineers reporter’s eye
witness account”. Phayul – Tibet News, 2006. Retrieved 17th June 2008,
Coady, C.A.J., Testimony: A philosophical study. Clarendon, Oxford, 1992.
Cubilie, A., Women Witnessing Terror: Testimony and the Cultural Politics
of Human Rights. Fordham University Press, New York, 2005.
Diehl, K.M., Echoes From Dharamsala: Music in the lives of Tibetan
refugees in North India. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002.
Dodin, T., and Rather, H., Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections and
Fantasies. Wisdom, Boston, 2001.
Information and Publicity Office, Tibet under Chinese Communist Rule: A
Compilation of Refugee Statements 1958-1975. Information and Publicity
Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, 1976.
Information Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibetans in Exile 19591980. Information Office Central Tibetan Secretariat, Dharamsala, 1981.
Information Office of the State Council of The People’s Republic of China,
Tibet – Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation, Information Office of the
State Council of The People’s Republic of China, Beijing, 1992.
International Commission of Jurists, The Question of Tibet and the Rule of
Law. A Preliminary Report. Document 20. International Commission of
Jurists, Geneva, 1959.
International Commission of Jurists, Tibet and the Chinese People’s
Republic: A Report to the International Commission of Jurists by its Legal
Inquiry Committee on Tibet. Geneva, International Commission of Jurists,
1960, p. vii.
Border-crossing Witnesses
Klieger, P. C., “Engendering Tibet: Power, Self and Change in the Diaspora,”
in P. Christiaan Klieger (ed) Tibet, Self and the Tibetan Diaspora: Voices of
Difference. PIATS 2000 Tibetan Studies Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of
the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. Brill, Leiden,
2002, pp.139-154.
Magnusson, Jan, “A Myth of Tibet: Reverse Orientalism and Soft Power” in
P. Christiaan Klieger, (ed) Tibet, Self, and the Tibetan Diaspora: Voices of
Difference. PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: proceedings of the Ninth Seminar
of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. Brill,
Leiden, 2002, pp. 195-212.
Robertson, G. QC. Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global
Justice. Penguin, London, 2002.
Scarry, E., The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.
Oxford University Press, New York, 1985.
Schaffer, K and S. Smith, Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of
Recognition. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004.
Schwartz, R., “Travellers Under Fire: Tourists in the Tibetan Uprising”,
Annals of Tourism Research. Vol. 18, 1991, pp. 588-604.
Schwartz, R., Circle of Protest: Political Ritual in the Tibetan Uprising.
Hurst and Co., London, 1994.
Stoddard, H., “Tibetan Publications and National Identity” in Barnett and
Akiner (eds), Resistance and Reform in Tibet. Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1994. pp. 121-156.
Stone-Mediatore, S., Reading Across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges
of Resistance. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003.
Julie Fletcher is Research Assistant for Illuminating the Exegesis, in the Arts
Academy, University of Ballarat, Australia and is a PhD candidate at Deakin
University, Melbourne, within the School of Communication and Creative
Arts. email: [email protected]
Securing Justice for Economic Refugees
Through Unionisation
Mitch Avila and Edgar M. Medina
In this paper we argue that unions are a pragmatic and practical response to
moral and economic problems posed by forced economic emigration and the
resulting diaspora. From the point of view of justice, undocumented
international migrant labour is unjust because of routine human rights
violations, the absence of effective means of legal representation, the
prevalence of dangerous and exploitive working conditions, and the absence
of democratic participation. In short, while reasonable citizens extend fair
terms of cooperation to all members of society, undocumented workers are
normally excluded from institutional structures that secure reciprocity and
fairness. From the point of view of economic efficiency, undocumented
labour externalises costs (such as job safety, health care, retirement, family
support, and social safety nets) onto competing host country firms and onto
the home country’s social network. We demonstrate that these concerns can
be addressed in a morally defensible and economically efficient manner by
(a) legally authorising union membership for any persons, foreign or national,
independent of citizenship in host country, and by (b) legally authorising
employment of any union member regardless of citizenship. Essentially, we
are proposing replacing ‘labour contractors’ and ‘guest worker programs’
with ‘international unions’. Unions would provide a practical and pragmatic
means of redressing the most serious problems of undocumented labour,
acting as a democratic representative, providing legal protection, and
securing just compensation, health care, and retirement. Union interests are
also advanced insofar as membership will grow and unions prosper when
they pursue social justice broadly defined (as opposed to merely the
membership’s financial interests). While argued for in the context of the vast
Central American diaspora in the United States and the corresponding
undocumented labour market, we propose this as a useful strategy for any
host country seeking to treat forced economic refugees justly.
Keywords: Economic refugees, Mexico, political liberalism, unauthorised
immigration, undocumented workers, unions.
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
What do peoples who value reciprocity, fairness, and equality owe
to economic refugees? In this paper, we address this problem from two
standpoints: from the standpoint of normative political theory and from the
standpoint of offering a practical and pragmatic response to the immense
Central American diaspora in the United States, specifically in Southern
California. As a project in normative theory, we advocate for the superiority
of Political Liberalism as a theory of international justice over the competing
views including human rights positivism and ‘cosmopolitanism’.1 As a
project in applied political theory, we argue that unions are a pragmatic and
practical response to moral and economic problems posed by forced
economic emigration.
Normative Framework
Refugees, whether political or economic, pose a special problem for
theories of global justice because by definition refugees lack traditional rights
associated with citizenship and yet their status clearly results from injustice
and thus falls within the scope of normative political theory. While time
limits our ability to explain in detail why we believe it to be the case, we
advocate for what is called ‘political liberalism’ as a fully-adequate,
normative theory of global justice. Rawls is the leading representative of
political liberalism, although we mean any theory of political justice that
values fairness and reciprocity in a context of personal liberty. Unlike human
rights and cosmopolitan approaches to global justice, which typically
characterise justice as a relation between individual persons, political
liberalism conceptualises global justice as a matter between ‘peoples’, which
is an honorific term referring to minimally just societies, one that is meant to
avoid the historical connotations of the terms ‘nation’ and ‘state’. Rawls
distinguished between two kinds of peoples, liberal and decent peoples, a
distinction that is relevant to our normative framework. Essentially, both
liberal and decent peoples (1) do not have aggressive aims and respect the
independence of other peoples and (2) have a developed sense of domestic
justice, although only liberal peoples have a fully developed conception of
justice.2 A so-called ‘reasonable liberal people’ values reciprocity and
extends fair terms of cooperation to all citizens and thus, on the one hand,
secures basic rights and liberties, including the fair equality of political
liberties, for all, while, on the other hand, structuring its background
institutions to guarantee fair equality of opportunity while maximising the
status of the least advantaged members of society.
Reframing our primary question, we now ask, ‘What do liberal
peoples, who value reciprocity and fairness, owe to economic and political
refugees within their borders?’3 Our response depends on what we call the
Principle of Minimal Reciprocity:
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
In situations that fall outside the scope of ideal theory,
liberal peoples are obligated to act both domestically and
internationally according to the minimum standards they
otherwise expect of decent peoples.
In short, we begin by asking what a liberal people can reasonably and
minimally expect of non-liberal, but decent, peoples, and then hold ourselves
to that standard. This provides us a principled way of determining minimal
political obligations. In general, this includes at the very least what Rawls
called a ‘decent scheme of political and social cooperation’4 comprised of:
(1) an independent legal system guided by a common good idea of justice,
that is, one that takes the fundamental interests of all members of society; (2)
respect for basic liberties, which includes freedom from serfdom and slavery
and the right to personal property; and (3) institutional structures that insure
representation through consultative procedures.5 (We have argued for this
elsewhere and won’t repeat that argument in this context.)
The Central American Diaspora
So what do liberal peoples owe economic refugees? To bring the
argument down from the realms of abstraction, we consider this question
within the context of the vast Central American diaspora now residing in the
United States. The size and scope of this diaspora community is truly
stunning. As of March 2007, there were approximately 11.3 million
undocumented immigrants living in the US, an increase of at least four
million since 2000.6 Of this population, approximately 57% are from Mexico
and another 11% from other Central American countries, constituting 6.4
million and 1.2 million persons respectively. (The rest of Latin American
contributes ~1.3 million or a total Latin American diaspora in the US of 8.9
million). Overall, close to 80% of all unauthorised immigrants in the US are
Mexican or Latin American.7 California alone has 2.8 million undocumented
immigrants and one third of those reside in Los Angeles County, where
approximately one in every ten inhabitants and one in seven members of the
workforce are an undocumented immigrants. Each year since 2000, ~575,000
Mexico immigrants have entered the US and of these, ~485,000 (85%) are
undocumented. As a result, approximately one of every eleven Mexicans8
now resides in the US, half of them without documentation. By 2050,
estimates are that 39 million Mexicans or their direct-descendents will reside
in the US, 30% of the total Mexican population of 130 million (or 1 in every
3.3 Mexicans).9
Employment Characteristics
Not surprisingly, undocumented workers tend to be over-represented
in fields that do not require advanced training or education. These include
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
construction, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality. In some sectors, the
numbers are staggering. Of the total US population, 27% of all drywall
installers, 25% of butchers, 22% of cement masons; 23% of agricultural
workers, 24% of dishwashers, 22% of maids, and 26% of gardeners are
undocumented. Because so much of the undocumented population is centred
in a few states and localities, such as Southern California, the percentages in
these regions are substantially higher.10
Justice for Economic Refugees
In the popular mind, economic refugees from Central America are
both ‘illegal’ and ‘alien’. We reject this view and ask instead ‘What does
justice require for economic refugees?’
From the point of view of political liberalism and a liberal people,
economic refugees from Central America in the US raise the following
considerations. First, there is the absence of democratic representation or
even the minimum, consultative institutions capable of representing their
interests. Second, although these workers participate in the social pattern of
cooperation that produces wealth, their wages and working conditions fall
below minimally acceptable standards.11 This is especially true for
unauthorised women; for example, in Los Angeles County, unauthorised
women workers earn a per capita income of about $7,630, only 46% earned
by their male counterparts,12 although they do benefit from some public
goods, such as policing, the transportation infrastructure, and so forth.13
Third, these individuals have only an extra-legal, informal status as moral
persons. This can be seen from their inability to use such basic services as
banking (including checking accounts and credit accounts), difficulty in
obtaining government issued identification (including social security numbers
and drivers licenses), and inability to file tax returns.14 In short, they have
insufficient legal standing, failing to reach the minimum liberal peoples
expect of decent societies. Fourth, they encounter inordinate difficulty in
exercising autonomy and freedom in their personal lives. It is difficult to
freely structure their family lives according to their own interests and there
are many obstacles to personal property ownership. Fifth, labour performed
by undocumented workers is below market wages precisely because many of
the associated costs are externalised. For example the cost of health care is
born by the general public, the costs of education by the host country, and so
forth. Not only is this economically inefficient (failing to create a market
where wages are reflective of actual cost), it is violates a liberal peoples
commitment to fairness since it allows some persons—those willing to
purchase labour from the informal labour market—to benefit at the expense
of others.15
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
Possible Responses
Before presenting our proposed solution, we want to reject two
alternative solutions. First, economic refugees in the US, especially in
Southern California, cannot be simply returned to their home country. Not
only are the costs exorbitant, but it is also unlikely to prove effective in the
long term since control of the US-Mexico border has thus far proved
extremely difficult. Such a policy would also be socially divisive, especially
given the number of undocumented workers in the US who are from mixed
families. Moreover, a liberal people recognises the duty of assistance and
hospitality, and if it is fair to characterise the Central American diaspora as
economic refugees, then it is simply unconscionable to return them. Second,
nor is it reasonable to simply give legal status to all undocumented workers
(i.e., give them work visas). This would neither stem the flow of future
economic refugees nor automatically improve working conditions. The
greatest advantage of this policy is that it would give these workers legal
status, allowing them access to banking and the legal system for example.
But the social costs would be high, as would the economic costs. Moreover,
past attempts to do this, including the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control
Act, ‘did not change long-term patterns of undocumented immigration from
A Reasonably Just Response
We believe that unions provide a practical and morally defensible
means of fairly treating economic refugees. In the particular case at hand, we
propose the following policy.
1) Unions in the countries who host or are likely to host
economic refugees should be given the legal authority to
include in their membership citizens of any country that is
economically burdened and whose citizens are or likely to
become economic refugees in the host country.
2) Legal authority should be given to hire any union
member regardless of that member’s citizenship or visa
status and when employed these individuals should be free
of the threat of deportation.
We imagine, in the particular case at hand, unions in the US recruiting
undocumented workers in the US, but also in Mexico and Central America.
One of the primary reasons we believe this would be an effective policy is
that most undocumented workers in the US are employed in fields that are
already unionised, such as construction, janitorial and maintenance,
agriculture, and manufacturing. (Since we have personal experience with
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
brick and stonemasons, we estimate that about 80% of the block and stone
work in Southern California is done by undocumented workers from Mexico
and Central America. In general, even experienced stonemasons who are
undocumented have hourly wages that are 75% below union wages and
without benefits.) Notice that the sectors in which undocumented workers are
over-represented are precisely those sectors that have experienced declining
union membership over the last several decades.
A Fair and Just Policy
Most importantly, we believe this proposal would result in just and
fair treatment of these workers while providing broad social benefits.17
Consider the following five reasonably expected results. First, unions could
provide a ready-made structure providing effective consultative
representation. Unions have in place effective means of representing their
workers to management and could easily adapt to provide representation at
other levels including local and regional governments. Moreover, unions are
at least nominally committed to democratic processes and egalitarian values
(although they often fall short of these ideals in practice). In short, unions
could provide an effective legal means of representation and an effective
public advocacy group.
Second, unions are well equipped to insure that working conditions
meet minimal standards. This includes not simply wages, but important
benefits such as retirement and health care. Unions can also insure worker
safety by insuring that workplace safety rules are implemented. We know
from firsthand experience that many undocumented workers are exposed to a
wide array of unsafe conditions, including exposure to carcinogens and
dangerous equipment. While it is already illegal for any worker, unauthorised
or not, to work in such conditions, these laws are rarely enforced. Unions
could and would insure that these laws are enforced.
Third, we believe this structure could begin to provide greater
personal autonomy for undocumented workers both in terms of personal
property and family life. For example, wages could be paid directly to bank
accounts in the host country, as could benefits. If given greater flexibility to
travel, unauthorised workers would be more likely to maintain family
relationships in their host country. Those with mixed families would benefit
from improved working conditions and lessened threat of immediate
Fourth, economic refugees that are union members would be given
legal standing and recognition. Although it would be less than that afforded
to citizens or immigrants with work visas, it would, in our view, meet the
standard of being minimally decent. Again, while current laws do afford
undocumented immigrants a wide range of legal protections and legal
standing, without some modicum of insurance that they will not be deported,
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
such laws are in practice of little value, especially in those states where courts
have ruled that an unauthorised immigrants have committed fraudulent or
abusive acts or that the employment contract was not enforceable.18
Fifth, our proposed policy would result in fairer economic
exchanges because it would sharply reduce cost externalisation, that is, the
price of unauthorised labour would more closely reflect its true costs as
opposed to the current situation where the costs are externalised onto other
sectors of the host and home countries.
Additional Benefits
For these reasons, we believe such a policy would help a liberal
people fulfil its obligation to act in a morally decent way to all persons, in
this case to economic refugees. In addition, beyond insuring minimal fairness
and justice, there are other positive benefits. One benefit would be the growth
of union power, precisely in those sectors of the economy where union
membership has been weakening.19 In addition, it would contribute to the
internationalisation of unions. It could only be a positive benefit, we believe,
if unions in Mexico gained strength. This would indirectly benefit US
workers by increased wages and greater coordination and cooperation while
workers in Mexico would benefit directly and indirectly from increased
unionisation. Unions, in the construction trades, provide members a great
deal of basic education in fundamental skills, along with continuing
education. These skills are transferable and again would indirectly aid the
economy of the host country. Overall, it is not difficult to imagine a wide
range of benefits for both the host country and for the broader diaspora
community, including host-country citizens and authorised immigrants.
Initial Objections
To further support our view, we want to consider three objections.
The first objection is that such a policy would be unacceptable to current
union members who are either citizens or legally authorised to work, since
their numbers would be diluted and their earning power lessened. This
objection ignores, we think, the fact that union members have an incentive to
expand their membership and to increase the share of the labour they
perform. Unions are weak precisely because they compete with unauthorised
workers. The only effective remedy is to expand worksites and
membership.20 Moreover, we imagine unions with mixed voting membership,
that is, with members from both host and home countries, and we think that
there are various mechanisms that could be utilised to insure that the valid
interests of citizens and authorised workers are protected.
A second objection is that our proposal is economically unfeasible
because it would increase costs of goods and services. Here we have several
responses. We agree that while our proposal would redistribute costs, raising
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
costs in certain sectors (such as construction), it would lower costs in other
areas. If it is correct, as many conservatives argue, that unauthorised
immigration is a net drain on the economy, then by mitigating the
externalisation of costs, our policy would promote greater economic
efficiency. On the other hand, if the objection is to unions themselves and to
the power of unions to demand wages beyond what the market would
otherwise bear, we believe that this misrepresents the power of unions at the
bargaining table. Open union-contractor negotiations can be reasonably
supposed to result in weakly Pareto optimal outcomes, especially when
employers have alternative labour pools and if all externalities are accounted
for. Unions are well aware of the added value their employees bring to the
jobsite, but at the same time cannot reasonably demand wages that undercut
their ability to secure employment for their members.
Finally, it might be objected that our proposal will result in
economic apartheid with one class of persons occupying a second-class social
status, harkening back to the days of Jim Crow. Why is this something other
than mere legalised serfdom? If this were true, it would be a serious
objection. In response, we note the following. First, economic and social
segregation is already the norm in US, especially in border states, and most
especially in Southern California. We must take action to address the
economic apartheid that already exists.21 Second, we reject the claim that all
persons residing within a nation’s borders are due the same treatment and
should be afforded the same civil and economic liberties. Political Liberalism
rejects the cosmopolitan view that no distinction between persons can be
made in these matters and that citizenship is irrelevant. On the other hand,
Political Liberalism affirms a minimal standard of treatment due all persons
and we believe our proposal meets that minimal standard. But third, at some
point, those who participate in what political liberalism calls the ‘shared
pattern of social cooperation’ acquire the right to be afforded full rights of
citizenship. We do not know when this line is crossed and when one stops
being an economic refugee and begins being a fully cooperating member. We
have intended our analysis to be appropriate only to economic refugees,
although we certainly recognise that when that label is no longer appropriate,
another set of more robust obligations become binding on liberal peoples.
Conclusion: The Power of Unions
Most importantly, however, what is central to our proposal is
precisely that unions - and not labour contractors - are the ones who hire and
represent unauthorised workers. Labour contractors are committed to profits
first, but to worker well-being only insofar as it is cost-efficient to do so.
With a virtually unlimited labour pool to draw from, labour contractors in
such fields as construction, agriculture, and maintenance have little incentive
to advance worker welfare. Indeed, exorbitant profits can be achieved by
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
externalising the costs of worker welfare, usually onto the home country. Past
attempts to give workers from Mexico temporary worker visas, the so-called
Bracero Program, failed precisely because it put profits before employee
welfare. Unions, in contrast, have a long and proud history of advancing
worker welfare. One of the most successful examples was the Service
Employees International Union ‘Justice for Janitors’ campaign in Los
Angeles County, which successfully organised over 8000 immigrant workers,
many of whom were women and unauthorised.22 It is precisely the added
value that unionisation brings—the increased wages, improved working
conditions, job training, worksite safety, and effective representation—that
corrects the injustices and unfairness of unauthorised workers in the US.23
By ‘human rights regime’ we mean any approach which takes international
human rights standards as in practice secure and known. This view is often
held by NGOs who emphasise that in practice human rights standards have
wide agreement. Representative cosmopolitan theorists include Beitz,
Nussbaum, Singer, Pogge, and Caney, among others.
C Beitz, ‘Rawls’s Law of Peoples,’ Ethics, vol. 110, 2000, p. 674.
Note discussing the problem of immigration from Rawls’ point of view and
how his ideal theory doesn’t seem to actually address these problems on
transitional justice. See J Rawls, The Law of Peoples, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999, pp. 8-9.
Rawls, p. 65.
These basic concepts are from Rawls, pp. 59-78. See also M Avila,
‘Defending a Law of Peoples: Political Liberalism and Decent Peoples,’ The
Journal of Ethics, 11:1, 2007.
S Camarota, ‘Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America’s
Foreign-Born Population,’ Centre for Immigration Studies, November 2007,
viewed on May 1, 2008, www.cis.org, pp. 3-4. When put into global
perspective the total Central American diaspora population in the United
States is more than the population of 196 countries, including Australia,
Canada, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, North Korea, Singapore, Sweden,
Switzerland, and Taiwan. Moreover, it is growing rapidly. The Hispanic
immigrant population living in the US will double in less than 42 years and
current projections are Hispanic immigrants will comprise 50.1 percent of the
total population growth in the United States by the year 2050, at which time
they will comprise 24 percent of the total US population.
Camarota, p. 4; J Passel, ‘Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and
Characteristics,’ Pew Hispanic Centre, June 14, 2005, viewed on May 1,
2008, www.pehhispanic.org, p. 4.
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
‘Mexican’ is defined as ‘born in Mexico.’
Passell, pp. 36-40.
Passell, p. 27. California has three of the top six counties with Mexican
immigrants in the country including Los Angeles County, Orange County,
and San Diego County. Put into perspective, there are more Hispanics living
in the County of Los Angeles (~4.5 million) than in any other county or city
in the world except for Mexico City (~18 million).
This is a well-established conclusion. For one egregious example, see ‘VII.
Immigrant Workers in the Meat and Poultry Industry,’ Human Rights Watch,
2005, viewed May 2008, www.hrw.org/reports/2005/usa0105/7.htm.
Undocumented workers play an important part in many sectors of the US
economy. In Los Angeles County, an astounding 14% of the workforce is
comprised of undocumented immigrants (nearly one in every 7 persons); in
California as a whole, ~10%; in Arizona, 12%. In states with a high
percentage of undocumented workers, per capita income is generally only 1/3
of the native population. For example, in Colorado, undocumented workers
earn $8,232 per year or 26% of that non-immigrant population; in LA county,
the figure is ~37% ($12,799 vs. $34,009). Some of this wage discrepancy can
be accounted for by the fact that undocumented workers are overwhelmingly
less educated than their US-born counterparts, although they may be better
educated than their host-country counterparts. Regardless, approximately 1 in
5 undocumented immigrants lives in poverty and in nearly every state, the
majority of undocumented workers live in or near poverty: 69% in Arizona
and Colorado; 58% in California. (These statistics are difficult to interpret
because as percentage of the total population of impoverished persons,
undocumented workers represent only a small fraction and legal immigrants
are also in or near poverty. The addition of US born children, citizens by
definition, complicates this picture.)
In terms of economic contribution, undocumented workers from Mexico
collectively earn approximately $124 billion annually, of which they send
less than 2% back to Mexico as remittances. They contribute ~$16 billion in
taxes each years, including $7 billion in social security payments (that they
will never receive). Some estimates put the net contribution to government as
about ~$5 billion. Other sources, suggest that the net cost to the federal
government (excluding state and regional governments) is actually $10.4
billion. (Taken in context, these are relatively small figures.)
For supporting evidence, see Camarota, ‘Immigrants in the United States,’
pp. 31-32; A Barnard, ‘Myths and Realities of Illegal Immigration,’ Points of
Migration, June 25 2007, Center for Migration and Development, Princeton
University, Princeton, pp. 1-3; S Camarota, ‘The High Costs of Cheap Labor:
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget,’ Centre for Immigration Studies,
August 2004, viewed on May 1, 2008, www.cis.org, pp. 27–32.
R Vogel, ‘Harder Times: Undocumented Workers and the US Informal
Economy,’ Monthly Review, July 2006, viewed May 2008,
www.monthlyreview.org, pp. 7–8.
Passell, 26-30; Camarota, pp. 31–38; S Camarota, ‘The High Costs of
Cheap Labour,’ pp. 27–32.
F Lipman, ‘The Taxation of Undocumented Immigrants: Separate,
Unequal, and Without Representation,’ Harvard Latino Law Review, vol. 9,
Spring 2006, pp. 1–58.
Many argue that externalised costs are born by the US federal government;
see Camarota, ‘The High Costs of Cheap Labour,’ pp. 27-32. Others argue
that immigrant workers are a net tax gain for the federal government,
especially for the social security program. See A Barnard, pp. 1-3; D Bacon,
‘Employer Sanctions—the Political Economy of Undocumented Immigration
in the US,’ LaborNet News, May 2001, viewed May 2008,
www.labornet.org/viewpoints/dbacon/sanctions.html, p. 2.
P Orrenius and M Zavodny, ‘Do Amnesty Programs Reduce
Undocumented Immigration? Evidence from IRCA,’ Demography, Vol. 40,
no. 3, August 2003, p. 437.
This issue is further complicated by the historical relationship between the
United States and immigrant labour from Mexico. From early exclusion
policies to later inclusion policies, Congress often geographically targeted
specific people to fill labour vacuums in the United States. The Immigration
Act of 1917, however, created an ‘Asiatic Border’ by excluding most of Asia
and the Pacific (as well as the mentally ill and the ‘slow to assimilate’). In a
controversial decision in response to mounting pressure from agribusiness,
the federal government waived entry requirements for Mexicans, resulting in
an influx of Hispanics. In 1942, World War II created additional strains on
the labour market. The unemployment rate was less than 1%. In part because
of a high number of ‘extreme cases of intolerable racial discrimination’ in
Texas, the United States Congress adopted the ‘Good Neighbour Policy’ with
Mexico, an appeal to Mexico to help out the war effort in exchange for
classifying Mexicans as ‘white’ (Lopez, 188). At the same time Congress,
under pressure from agribusiness, created the Federal Braceros Program
which legalised the hiring of Mexican migrant workers with temporary work
visas. Unfortunately ‘braceros were the perfect exploitable underclass,
willing to work for low wages and in deplorable conditions. ‘The Bracero
program (1942 through 1964) allowed Mexican nationals to take temporary
agricultural work in the United States. Over the program’s 22-year life, more
than 4.5 million Mexican nationals were legally contracted for work in the
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
United States (some individuals returned several times on different
contracts). Mexican peasants, desperate for cash work, were willing to take
jobs at wages scorned by most Americans.’ The Bracero program had a
lasting effect on US agriculture and at the same time essentially
institutionalised circular migration patterns from Mexico to the US (See
Lopez; and Garcia, 119).
While our proposal would bring US law into line with the UN’s
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant
Workers and Members of Their Families, which protects the rights of migrant
workers to organise and bargain collectively, that is not the motivating reason
for proposing it. Rather, we regard this as a reasonable and just policy that
implements core commitments of liberal peoples and political liberalism.
While international conventions are useful mechanisms for monitoring state
compliance, they are not in and of themselves morally or politically sufficient
T Lee and D Lloyd, ‘Review of Workers Compensation Coverage of
Illegal Workers,’ Journal of the International Association of Industrial
Accident Boards and Commissions, 2007, viewed May 11, 2008 from
workingimmigrants.com, pp. 1-2. Regulations vary from state to state. Many
states with the highest unauthorised workforce, such as California, have
workplace safety laws designed to protect such undocumented worker rights
as minimum wage, overtime, health and safety. See ‘Undocumented worker
rights,’ www.dir.ca.gov/QAundoc.html. On the federal level, in Hoffman
Plastic Compounds v NLRB, a case where an unauthorised worker was fired
for participating in union organising, the US Supreme Court held that
undocumented immigrant workers do not have the right to receive back pay if
illegally fired.
Unions in the US have changed their position on unauthorised immigration
several times. For example, in 1986 the AFL-CIO pushed for employer
sanctions; in 2000, it called for the repeal of sanctions and for a legalisation
program. See Bacon, p. 4.
L Duncan, ‘The Role of Immigrant Labor in a Changing Economy,’ pp.1618.
For an overview of the increasingly severe restrictions on immigration of
Mexican-nationals since 1965 and the practical effects of creating Mexicanidentity as ‘illegal’, see N De Genova, ‘The Legal Production of
Mexican/Migrant ‘Illegality’,’ Latino Studies, vol. 2, 2004, pp. 160-185.
Duncan, pp.16-17; S Nazario, ‘For this Union, It’s War,’ The Los Angeles
Times, August 1993, available at SEIU.org, viewed May 2008.
For a comparison of guest worker or ‘contract labour schemes’ and official
AFL-CIO positions, see Bacon, pp. 5-6.
Mitch Avila & Edgar Medina
Avila, M., ‘Defending a Law of Peoples: Political Liberalism and Decent
Peoples,’ The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 11, 2007.
Bacon, D., ‘Employer Sanctions—the Political Economy of Undocumented
Immigration in the US’, LaborNet News, May 2001, viewed May 2008,
www.labornet.org/viewpoints/dbacon/sanctions.html, p. 2.
Barnard, A., ‘Myths and Realities of Illegal Immigration,’ Points of
Migration, June 25 2007, Center for Migration and Development, Princeton
University, Princeton, pp. 1-3
Beitz, C. ‘Rawls’s Law of Peoples,’ Ethics, vol. 110, 2000, p. 674.
Camarota, S., ‘The High Costs of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the
Federal Budget’, Centre for Immigration Studies, August 2004, viewed on
May 1, 2008, www.cis.org, pp. 27–32.
–––, ‘Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America’s ForeignBorn Population’, Centre for Immigration Studies, November 2007, viewed
on May 1, 2008, www.cis.org, pp. 3-4
De Genova, N., ‘The Legal Production of Mexican/Migrant ‘Illegality’,’
Latino Studies, vol. 2, 2004, pp. 160-185.
Human Rights Watch, ‘VII. Immigrant Workers in the Meat and Poultry
Industry’, 2005, viewed May 2008,
Lee, T. and Lloyd, D., ‘Review of Workers Compensation Coverage of
Illegal Workers,’ Journal of the International Association of Industrial
Accident Boards and Commissions, 2007, viewed May 11, 2008 from
workingimmigrants.com, pp. 1-2.
Lipman, F., ‘The Taxation of Undocumented Immigrants: Separate, Unequal,
and Without Representation,’ Harvard Latino Law Review, vol. 9, Spring
2006, pp. 1–58.
Nazario, S., ‘For this Union, It’s War,’ The Los Angeles Times, August 1993,
available at SEIU.org, viewed May 2008.
Securing Justice Through Unionisation
Orrenius P., and Zavodny, M., ‘Do Amnesty Programs Reduce
Undocumented Immigration? Evidence from IRCA,’ Demography, vol. 40,
no. 3, August 2003, p. 437.
Passel, J., ‘Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics,’ Pew
Hispanic Centre, June 14, 2005, viewed on May 1, 2008,
www.pehhispanic.org, p. 4.
Rawls, J., The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1999.
Vogel, R., ‘Harder Times: Undocumented Workers and the US Informal
Economy,’ Monthly Review, July 2006, viewed May 2008,
www.monthlyreview.org, pp. 7–8
Mitch Avila is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State
University Fullerton.
Edgar Medina is a graduate of the philosophy program at California State
University Fullerton and member of the International Union of Bricklayers
and Allied Craftworkers.
email: [email protected]
Justice and Immigration:
Are Constraints Unjustifiable?
A Global Luck Egalitarian Account*
Orsolya Reich
Despite the fact that by now virtually no European country recruits
immigrants, immigration is emerging as a key issue across the continent. In
this paper I investigate the question whether a commitment to global luck
egalitarianism, a global version of a currently central strand of distributive
justice theories, would involve a call for an immediate abolition of
restrictions on immigration. Global luck egalitarianism holds that morally
arbitrary facts should not play a role in the individuals’ life prospects. Since
the place of birth currently plays a decisive role in one’s chance to live a
good life, it might seem that global luck egalitarians should hold that no
restriction on free movement is allowed. I argue that this would be a rather
hasty conclusion. Even though affluent nation-states have, from the point of
view of global luck egalitarianism, comprehensive duties toward those in
need regardless of their country of origin they nonetheless can be morally
justified in rejecting outsiders.
Keywords: Global government, global
egalitarianism, nation-state cosmopolitanism.
Luck egalitarianism is a strand of egalitarian thought which
currently plays a central role in debates about distributive justice. According
to the luck egalitarian core intuition, inequalities deriving from unchosen
features of people’s circumstances − including, for instance, the wealth of the
family into which one is born and natural factors like one’s native abilities
and talents − are unjust and should be compensated for. Those inequalities,
however, which emerge as a result of people’s choices are held fully
legitimate and are not considered to be flattened by any institution. In other
words, luck egalitarians hold what Brian Barry calls ‘the principle of
responsibility,’ by which Barry means ‘the principle that unequal outcomes
are just if they arise from factors for which individuals can properly be held
responsible, and are otherwise unjust.’1 Although luck egalitarians commonly
restrict the scope of their theories to the nation state, their core intuition,
Justice and Immigration: Are Constraints Justifiable?
associated with an impartialist commitment, is equally applicable on a global
My concern in this lecture is to show that not even such a radically
impartialist theory as global luck egalitarianism involves a call for immediate
abolition of all restrictions on immigration. The luck egalitarian and
impartialist perspective is compatible with the moral permissibility of
restraints, albeit this compatibility is cautious and qualified.
My lecture will consist in four parts. First (Section 2), I will shortly
introduce the basic intuition of the theory I investigate, as applied to the
domestic scale. Second (Section 3), I will show how the main idea of this
theory can be applied on the global scale. Third (Section 4), I will explore
what this ‘extended’ theory would require in terms of immigration policies.
Finally (Section 5), I will conclude.
Luck Egalitarianism
Luck egalitarianism is a relatively newborn approach to distributive
justice which aims at neutralising luck; it is in fact a view inimical to luck
concerning the way how resources are to be divided, in accordance with the
principle of showing equal concern and respect for all citizens. The
representatives of this theory (following Ronald Dworkin’s idea) usually
distinguish two kinds of luck: brute luck and option luck. On the one hand,
brute luck covers those circumstances in our life for which we cannot be held
properly responsible. For example, we cannot be held responsible for what
kind of family we born into, for this was not our choice. Option luck, on the
other hand, comes as a result of our choices. We might choose to gamble and
either we lose or we win. Luck egalitarians aim at eliminating brute luck
effects on our life, but they regard option luck effects as fully legitimate.2
The luck egalitarian doctrine, as Samuel Scheffler has pointed out,
partly overlaps with, and partly diverges from, the prevailing political
morality in most liberal societies, both with respect to the unacceptability of
inequalities emerging as a result of unchosen circumstances and with respect
to the acceptability of inequalities deriving from people’s choices. On the one
hand, luck egalitarians insist that no unchosen circumstances could be basis
for legitimate inequalities. The prevailing morality agrees to a certain extent
– it holds that discrimination and the consecutive inequality based on certain
unchosen circumstances (e.g., class, race, sex) are unjust. However, the very
same morality is prepared to tolerate inequalities based, for instance, on
talents, which also classify as unchosen circumstances or brute luck. On the
other hand, while luck egalitarians believe that it is wrong to interfere with
those inequalities that result from people’s voluntary choices, the prevailing
political morality finds nothing morally reprehensible in taxating e.g.,
gambling. Thus, luck egalitarianism is at the same time more egalitarian and
less egalitarian than the prevailing political morality. What is unique to the
Orsolya Reich
doctrine is the exceptionally strong emphasis it places on luck and
Although luck egalitarians commonly restrict the scope of the theory to the
nation state, their core intuition, associated with an impartialist commitment,
is equally applicable to the global scale.4 After all, the doctrine’s core
intuition is that it is unfair if some people are worse off than others due to
factors outside of their control. As Thomas Nagel puts the idea,
[...] the accident of being born in a poor rather than a rich
country is as arbitrary a determinant of one’s fate as the
accident of being born into a poor rather than a rich family
in the same country.5
Now, if we do think that every person’s interests should be given the
same consideration, regardless of the special ties we have with them (that is,
if we are impartialists), then we cannot say that we should compensate our
compatriots for their bad brute luck, but should not to do the same to
Global Luck Egalitarianism and Institutions
As it was established previously, the luck egalitarian theory is
relatively newborn. Even the domestic versions can be regarded as works in
progress – and until this point nobody has proposed a full-fledged account of
its global extension. I myself know of only one article that applies the core
intuition to the global scale and investigates some of its implications. This
article is written by Christian Schemmel, and he argues there (among other
things) that the global luck egalitarian principle would rule out the legitimacy
of substantial democratic decision making on a sub-global level, that is, it
would call for global government.7
If it were true, then my question, the question of justifiability of
different immigration policies, would be beside the point. In a global state
there would only be one kind of membership, the membership in humankind.
The gist of immigration – changing membership – would just be impossible.
Nevertheless, I think, at this point Schemmel is mistaken. Global luck
egalitarianism does not automatically rule out sub-global authorities. If the
global administration of the principle of responsibility turns out to be more
efficient with a nation-state system than without, or if global government
turns out to be simply not feasible, global luck egalitarianism does not have a
ground to reject the existence of states. The doctrine fits perfectly with the
instrumentalist justification of the nation-state system, according to which the
nation-state system (where polities have special responsibilities toward their
own citizens) is justifiable, insofar states serve as, with Robert Goodin’s
words, ‘devices whereby the moral community’s general duties get assigned
Justice and Immigration: Are Constraints Justifiable?
to particular agents,’ and such an assignment of special responsibility is the
most efficient way to discharge general duties globally.8
It cannot escape notice, however, that in the present world, where
deep global inequalities are characteristic, the general duties to ensure for the
entirety of humankind that brute luck effects will not influence one’s lot in
life are clearly not best discharged in a way where rich nation states equalise
these effects among their citizens and the poor do the same. Even if all
governments do their best in achieving the condition where brute luck effects
are equalised, there will obviously be a huge inequality between those people
who were born in an impoverished state and those who were born in an
industrialised one. For this reason, it seems that global luck egalitarianism
calls for a roughly equitable allocation of resources (between states) first,
taking into account the number of persons within each state. When the
misallocation among the national resources is folded up, it is the states’
special responsibility to take care about the equalisation of domestic brute
bad luck. One of the possible means of achieving the morally appropriate
allocation is immigration from states that are, taking into consideration the
proportional availability of natural resources relatively overpopulated to
those that are relatively under populated.9
Global Luck Egalitarianism and Immigration
It might be concluded now that a global luck egalitarian
commitment requires one to argue that since nation states are legitimate and
desirable so long as they are more efficient in administering justice than a
global state, but for that a right allocation of resources is needed - affluent
states should now open their borders (completely). After a certain period of
time the just allocation of goods per capita will be achieved, but until the
allocation is unjust, no restriction of immigration can be justified. This,
however, and this is my central claim, is a rather hasty conclusion.
Let me investigate first a pessimistic scenario. Some professionals
claim that if affluent countries were to open their borders abruptly, the
consequent level of immigration would be many orders beyond the current
level. Immigration would not stop automatically at a healthy equilibrium. As
a consequence, open borders introduced immediately would result in the
breakdown of the public spheres, the institutional systems and economies of
wealthy states. If this really happened, the formerly wealthy liberal states
would become incapable of administering justice. On this ground, I think,
global luck egalitarians can oppose open border policies, or, in other words,
the doctrine can regard certain (provisional) restrictions to be justified.
Consider now a different, more optimistic scenario. Suppose that as
a consequence of open border policies introduced, poor people in high
numbers would enter into wealthy countries. Further, suppose that the
collapse of the respective economies would not happen, and equal allocation
Orsolya Reich
of resources (per capita) among states would occur after a certain period. I do
think that the aptness of this second (optimistic) forecast does not compel
global luck egalitarians to the immediate introduction of open border policies,
Here is why. It seems reasonable to claim that resource is the
currency of egalitarian justice, which should be strived for equalising on the
long run.10 According to the doctrine, in an ideal world each and every person
has the equal amount of the resources available initially, for which family or
state they were born into was not up to them, thus they do not deserve more
or less.
Yet, I believe, the call for the manifestation of this ideal in the real
world could be plausible only if it were not in clash with the core intuition of
the luck egalitarian doctrine. In the real, non-ideal world some people were
born with serious disabilities. Their life can be terrible if they are not given a
bigger share of the resources than others. Now, in my understanding, if the
disabled, out of their brute bad luck, would suffer under a resource luck
egalitarian scheme, the whole doctrine would lose its intuitive appeal. Hence,
luck egalitarianism should take into account those differential efficiencies in
turning resources into welfare that came about by brute luck.
As one is not responsible for having higher needs as a disabled
person, one might not be genuinely responsible for having higher needs for
other reasons. In the actual world, characterised by deep inequalities, people
are born with an access to bigger or lesser amounts of resources. They
develop a taste in their early childhood that is influenced by their respective
accessible goods. Later, they elaborate life-plans based on that taste. It is
painful and burdensome for them if those conditions that were the basis of
their life-plans were eliminated. While it can be plausibly argued that it is not
legitimate to demand a bigger share of the resources on the basis of expensive
tastes and people who were born to a relatively wealthy background should
just change their tastes, it should be recognised that (a) this change is
burdensome for the agent, and (b) it has a natural limit.
Consequently, the equal amount of resources per capita achieved as
an outcome of open border policies might result in a considerable difference
in welfare between the newcomers and the original members. Therefore, I
believe, luck egalitarianism, understood correctly, implies that borders should
be opened only gradually (not immediately), allowing people (maybe
consecutive generations) enough time to adapt their expectations and tastes to
be in accordance with the rightful allocation of resources.11
My purpose in this lecture was to provide some reflections on the
implications of a currently central strand of distributive justice theories to the
issue of immigration. First, I have argued that global luck egalitarianism
Justice and Immigration: Are Constraints Justifiable?
would not call for a global government, if there is reason to think that
relatively local authorities have a better chance to administer justice. I
acknowledged, however, that in the present world, where the allocation of
resources per capita between states is not equal globally, luck egalitarianism
first of all calls for a better allocation. Immigration can be seen as one of the
corrective measures for global misallocation. I investigated whether this point
implies a call for open border policies from the side of global luck
egalitarians. I argued that the doctrine does not involve the unjustifiability of
all restraints on immigration. That is, if by the number of entering immigrants
a country’s capability of administering justice would be eliminated, luck
egalitarianism would allow for temporary restrictions. If luck egalitarianism
allows for welfare considerations, there is an additional way to justify
restraints. If the global resource equality achieved too quickly would result in
a significant difference in welfare between the new and original inhabitants
of formerly wealthy countries, this would justify not introducing open border
policies immediately. In sum, under the global luck egalitarian doctrine in
certain cases states may have the moral right to impose numerical limits on
I thank Janos Kis and Nenad Miscevic for their suggestions on earlier drafts
of this paper. I am also indebted to David Kovacs, Attila Mraz, Andras
Laszlo Pap and Zsofia Zvolenszky for their comments and criticisms.
B Barry, ‘Does Responsibility Undermine Equality?’ paper presented to the
Workshop in Law, Philosophy, and Political Theory, University of
California, Berkeley, 20 March 2003, viewed on 05 May 2008,
The luck egalitarian era was triggered by the publication of Ronald
Dworkin’s ‘What Is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare’ (Philosophy and
Public Affairs, vol. 10, Summer 1981, pp. 185-246.) and ‘What is Equality?
Part 2: Equality of Resources’ (Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 10,
Autumn 1981, pp. 283-345.) in 1981. It was Elisabeth Anderson who
introduced the phrase ‘luck egalitarianism’ in her ‘What is the Point of
Equality?’ (Ethics, vol. 109, January 1999, pp. 287-337.) Among the political
philosophers Anderson dubs as luck egalitarians are Richard Arneson, Gerald
A. Cohen, Eric Rakowski, John Roemer and Ronald Dworkin.
S Scheffler, ‘What is Egalitarianism?’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol.
31, Winter 2003, pp. 5-39.
According to ethical partialism, one is to give preferential treatment toward
a determined set of persons (or in other words, one should give a preferential
consideration to the interests of some as against others), those with whom one
Orsolya Reich
has a special relationship. The special relationship may mean family
relationship or friendship, belonging to the same social group or to the same
nation. According to ethical impartialism, on the contrary, all persons
(including ourselves) should count as equals, they ought to be treated with
equal and impartial consideration for their respective goods or interests. It is
important to note, impartialism is a very counter-intuitive approach and I do
not want to argue for it. What I will argue for is that not even such a radical
standpoint associated with the core intuition of luck egalitarianism implies
the moral impermissibility of not completely open borders.
T Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs,
vol. 33, Spring 2005, pp. 119. It is important to note here, Nagel does not
want to extend the scope of justice to the global scale.
I have to admit, this point needs some further refinement. Even impartialists
can restrict the scope of their theory of justice based on their view on the
relations between individuals and ‘their’ societies. In this presentation,
however, I cannot elaborate on this issue.
Ch Schemmel, ‘On The Usefulness Of Luck Egalitarian Arguments For
Global Justice’, Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric, vol. 1, 2007.
R Goodin, ‘What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?’, Ethics,
vol. 98, July 1988, p. 678.
Cf. S Perry, ‘Immigration, justice and culture’, in Justice in immigration,
W. F. Schwartz (ed), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, p. 98.
There is a very firm debate in the global luck egalitarian literature on what
should count as the right currency of egalitarian justice. The scope of this
lecture does not allow me to go into details here, thus I only state my
In my view, something along the same line of reasoning can be argued by a
luck egalitarian with regard to culture as well.
Anderson, E., ‘What is the Point of Equality?’. Ethics, vol. 109, January
1999, pp. 287-337.
Barry, B., ‘Does Responsibility Undermine Equality?’. paper presented to the
Workshop in Law, Philosophy, and Political Theory, University of
California, Berkeley, 20 March 2003, viewed on 05 May 2008,
Dworkin, R., ‘What Is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare’. Philosophy and
Public Affairs, vol. 10, Summer 1981, pp. 185-246.
Justice and Immigration: Are Constraints Justifiable?
–––, ‘What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources’. Philosophy and
Public Affairs, vol. 10, Autumn 1981, pp. 283-345.
Goodin, R. ‘What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?’. Ethics, vol.
98, July 1988, pp. 663-686.)
Nagel, T., ‘The Problem of Global Justice’. Philosophy and Public Affairs,
vol. 33, Spring 2005, pp. 114-147.
Perry, S., ‘Immigration, justice and culture’. in Justice in Immigration. W. F.
Schwartz (ed), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 94-135.
Scheffler, S., ‘What is Egalitarianism?’. Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol.
31, Winter 2003, pp. 5-39.
Schemmel, Ch., ‘On The Usefulness Of Luck Egalitarian Arguments For
Global Justice’. Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric, vol. 1, 2007, pp.
Orsolya Reich is a PhD student at the Department of Philosophy, Central
European University and senior student at Erasmus Kollegium. Her fields of
interest are contemporary political philosophy and ethics, currently she is
writing her dissertation on luck egalitarianism.
email: [email protected]
Returning to the Diaspora:
Israeli Women Living in the UK Challenges to Identity and Psychological Implications
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
A major personal challenge that often accompanies exile or immigration is
the management of particular identities. There may be a sense of lack of
belonging to either country of origin or host country – which can
significantly affect the adjustment process and daily life of immigrants. In
this qualitative study, the experience of Israeli women immigrants in the UK
was investigated, focusing on the impact this experience had on their multiple
identities of Israeli and woman. The various psychological implications were
explored. Very little research has been previously carried out on this unique
population of Israelis choosing to live outside of Israel. In this population, in
which the concept of Diaspora is intertwined in society and culture, there is a
strong sense of Israel as the primary home, and at the same time the
ambivalence associated with choosing to live outside of a conflict-ridden
country. The study presented here interviewed 9 participants, from a variety
of age groups and backgrounds. Data were collected through in-depth semistructured interviews and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological
Analysis. This paper will present key themes, which emerged from the
women’s accounts, illustrating them with interview quotes. The paper will
explore the psychological impact of these woman’s unique experiences, as
well as the consequences of keeping the question of belonging open and
unresolved. From the participants’ experience it emerges that the question of
home and belonging reflects trans-generational experiences of Diaspora, as
well as their cultural background as Jews and Israelis.
Keywords: Identity threats, immigration to the UK, interpretative
phenomenological analysis, Jewish Diaspora, Jewish Israeli women, lack of
belonging, qualitative research.
The recent rapid growth of immigration and mobility has elicited a
wide discussion in the current psychological literature.1 Such situations often
involve threats to identity,2 and raise some basic questions: what are the
important dimensions of our identity which we attempt to preserve, and what
dimensions are we willing to let go of, or adjust and change? When faced
Israeli Women Living in the UK
with a radical shift in location and culture, how do we manage our basic
sense of self and others, and what are the experiences which impact or
challenge the process of identification and belonging?
This paper will explore the experiences of a particular group of
immigrants - a unique Diaspora - that of the Jewish Israeli woman living in
the UK. In order to understand her experience, first one has to look at the
various challenges that she faces, and the identity processes which are at
A much longer account is required to discuss the Jewish Israeli
identity.4 It will suffice to say here that the concept of Diaspora is woven
deep into the consciousness of Israeli society and its individuals. Most people
in Israel are either immigrants themselves to Israel, or second or third
generation to immigrants. This implies that mobility is an essential part of the
history and culture of each family. And of course, the Jewish Diaspora with
its centuries of displacement can be seen as an important cultural and
historical narrative, promoting a sense of rootlessness.
Yet at the same time, Israel is perceived as the ultimate homeland, a
place of refuge for all Diaspora Jews around the world.
This tension between the transitional and the ‘grounded’ home is an
integral part of the experience of Jewish Israelis. But what happens to those
that decide to leave Israel and live abroad? The challenges here are
numerous. Firstly, Israelis living abroad are described as being in a state of
constant confusion and contradiction5 For example, when considering the
relationship between the Jewish and the Israeli components of their identity,
it seems that for some the national Israeli identity is more pertinent than the
Jewish.6 On the other hand, as mentioned by Steve Gold, their commitment to
the state stands in contradiction to their voluntary choice of being out of the
country.7 In addition, since religious Jews sometimes consider leaving Israel
as against the Jewish law, Israelis leaving the country can face criticism both
by religious people in Israel, and by Jews abroad.8 Furthermore, because of
the political insecurity, there is a highly ambivalent approach in Israel
towards people who decide to emigrate, since they are seen as ‘defecting’ or
‘running away’.9 This can cause a sense of rejection by their families and
friends back in Israel, and feelings of shame and guilt. In general, the
environment of continuous conflict there can clearly have an impact on
feelings of belonging to Israel as a home when abroad.
For Israeli women living outside of Israel, the management of
gender identity is an additional struggle which can impact on their attempts at
building a positive sense of self.10 The Israeli Woman is described in the
literature as facing somewhat contradictory influences: on the one hand she is
seen as ‘equal’ to the man, fighting alongside him in the army for example.
On the other hand, Israel being a very family-oriented society, the woman is
perceived as a somewhat ‘passive’ homemaker.11 Using direct quotes, I
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
would like to show how these numerous challenges impact on the identity
and the well being of Israeli woman living in the UK.
The research described here is part of my doctoral research project.
This is a qualitative project using interview material as the main data source.
Sampling and Participants
Nine Israeli women were recruited from various backgrounds, ages
(Mean=40.5 STD=13.26) and socio-economic statuses. They were recruited
by a number of methods, including the snowball technique, through fliers,
through Israeli companies, on flights and by ads in newspapers.
The main method of collecting data was a semi-structured interview
conducted separately with each of the participants, lasting about 45 minutes.
Analytic strategy
The data collected from the interviews was analysed using
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). This method intends to
draw out the personal world view of the participant, looking at the
phenomenology of their experience, and adopting an ‘insider’s perspective’.12
Smith, Flowers and Osborn describe the method as attempting “to tap into a
natural propensity for self reflection on the part of the participants.”13 The
researcher and the participant engage in self-reflection and the analysis
attempts to draw on that endeavour, so that the themes which emerge are the
result of the combined effort on the part of the participant (expressing their
genuine thoughts and feelings) and the researcher (reflexively interpreting the
data).14 In this way the participants are encouraged to explain their own story
in their own words.
Since the questions raised here focused on the subjective experience
of the women - how they perceived and tried to make sense of their
experience - this analytic strategy seemed most appropriate.
Analysis / Results
I would like to start describing the participant’s experience from the
wider context of culture, both in terms of their experience of the host culture
as well as their feelings towards their country of origin. This will lead to a
consideration of the ‘closer’ surroundings of interpersonal relationships.
Finally I will consider the psychological processes of the self concept and
Israeli Women Living in the UK
Looking at the wider cultural context, two main areas will be looked
at. One is attitudes and experiences of the UK, in terms of cultural
differences, language barriers, and lack of belonging. The other is attitudes
and feelings towards Israel.
Experiences in the UK
Ayelet15 describes feeling misunderstood because of cultural differences:
They’re not part of my culture and it takes more time to
explain many things to them because you just need the
background, the culture, the home.
Ofra asserts this cultural difference, claiming it causes her to feel she doesn’t
I just don’t feel I belong, eh []16 maybe, em … not
celebrating what the English are celebrating, I just … I
can’t connect to it.
Liat describes the way this cultural barrier is affecting her relationship with
her husband’s family who are British Jewish:
His family is different from my family. [] they’re not a
close family, they’re not warm. [] I don’t have anything in
common with them [] … they’re cold people.
Another experience shared by many of the participants was a sense that their
language difficulties create an unbridgeable gap between them and English
people. As claimed by Edna:
The main thing is the language – it’s always like I feel I
have a fog in my mind here. [] you don’t have the feel of
the language.
Tali agrees, adding how this affects her sense of belonging:
I really feel like one sense in which I don’t completely feel
at home in Britain is because the language I speak here is
not my native language.
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
Feelings about Israel
Feeling a sense of lack of belonging in the UK is coupled with very
ambivalent feelings towards Israel. On one hand there is a strong sense of
attachment to Israel and at the same time a sense of distance.
Ayelet describes her level of connection to Israel:
I keep in touch with what’s going on at home. I think I read
about 4 times a day [] I feel really involved and I really get
angry with things …that happen there… the whole range of
feelings that are involved in it, which I don’t here [] it
doesn’t touch me … it’s not mine.
Rachel talks about how much she misses Israel, and expresses her Zionist
You miss Israel. You miss the Israelis. []… it makes you
think that, yeah, we’ve got a piece of land and it’s … and
it’s a better land and it’s better people and it’s better
everything … everything … even if its shit there… it’s
better than … than here.
Many of the participants described a sense of feeling guilty for leaving Israel.
Tali explains how this sense of guilt connects for her to being Zionist:
It was considered to be a terrible betrayal to go and [] …
something of that … still rubs in, I think. [] I bought into a
lot of this ideology and was sort of quite committed to it
…and that sort of makes it hard in a way… [] some sort of
…Zionist passion … [] that’s a little bit in the background
of why I feel uncomfortable leaving.
Edna stresses this point further, talking about her sense of betrayal to her
It’s to betray my country more than anything else. To
betray country. There’s so much blood, you know, we got
to belong there because it’s a special … it’s a special
country, it’s not a normal country. [] It’s very important. []
They [other foreigners] don’t have the guilt feeling. It’s
haunting you. (LAUGHS)
Tali explains the background of this from her point of view:
Israeli Women Living in the UK
My parents feel like sort of … their parents left everything
they had and left Europe [] they moved to Israel in the sort
of beginning of the 30s [] most of their families then told
them not to go, and it turned out to be the sort of crazy
move that saved their lives [] they had a really difficult
time and were very poor and my parents sort of built up a
very successful life in this new country [] that is what their
… you know, their parents did this for. I really feel like
there’s a sort of feeling that this is kind of cutting … [] this
endeavour, yeah.
Rachel describes the persecutions experienced by her parents leading them to
flee Russia:
I never had … an idea, a wish, willing … [] to leave Israel.
I mean, I come from … very Zionist family that came from
Russia in the 70s and struggled to go out of Russia. So for
me, Israel … it’s more than a home. [] I might cry a little
bit. [crying] [] I know that it hurts to them. [] I was always
raised as I should be thankful to my parents who brought
me to Israel because [] we were suffered anti Semitic and
my father was in jail [] I should be thankful to say that …
to be Jews … between Jews … among Jews, you know. []
But, yeah, then I left … (LAUGHS) []… to go out
completely of the country is something that is unforgivable
[] … yes, so for them to be in Israel, it’s a mission. It’s
what they were raised for and what they fulfilled. [] It’s
part of my … bad feeling or how do you say? The guilt. []
What keeps me is like I’m not doing that, I’m not really out
of the country, I’m just a couple of years here.
One can see that Rachel’s sense of temporariness helps her manage her
feelings of guilt for leaving, separating herself from those who ‘permanently’
leave Israel.
At the same time as talking about their loyalty to Israel, the
Participants also describe a growing sense of lack of belonging and distance
from Israel, which stands in contradiction to their attachment described
Liat describes this as a sense of being a visitor:
I’m like a visitor here and a visitor there. Where am I
belong to? I don’t belong anywhere suddenly …
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
Ayelet talks about how feeling an outsider in Israel, interestingly expressed
as a loss of connection to social change, was a very awkward feeling for her:
I felt an outsider. [] Which was very weird [] because the
years that I was away … many things have changed in
Israel. [] it just felt as if I wasn’t there for something that
was very constitutive of what being an Israeli today in
Israeli is …
This uncomfortable feeling is echoed in Sara’s account:
I felt like my house was empty, was hollow… you know. It
was a very, very strange, eh … feeling there.
Interpersonal relationships
Moving to consider the relationships in the participant’s life, the
participants firstly describe a strong sense of loneliness and isolation, a sense
of feeling alienated and without support. Ofra reflects:
Loneliness. Very, very lonely, em … (PAUSE) … I
suppose I don’t have any family in England [] so I think
very, very, very lonely. Very alone. Not being able to, you
know, share feelings … (PAUSE - Crying)
For Ofra this loneliness is a result of social encounters that failed, causing her
to give up trying:
If I meet with English people, I … I stay very quiet …
very, very quiet. Not … not who I am [] I feel … like no
energy, no confidence, em … and to be honest lately I
don’t even do it because I’m not enjoying it any more.
Since many of the participants came to the UK (or stayed here) following
their husband, this occasionally created a strain on the relationship, as
described by Tamar:
Sometimes I feel very angry with my husband, you know,
why did you bring us here?
Rachel adds an important dimension, when saying that her husband does not
represent home for her any longer:
Israeli Women Living in the UK
I am very happy with my husband, but … it used to be that
wherever he is that is Home. But it is not like that any more
… there is nothing to do about it … I even told him, I don’t
care if you want to be in your work etc, that’s fine, just
bring me back home.
Psychological Implications
Focussing on how the experiences affected the participants’ psychological
well being, many of the participants described feeling very depressed, tearful,
and lacking in self confidence. For example, Ofra:
Em … at the moment, I feel very depressed. Very … I can’t
make any decision by myself for myself or for the family[]
because I’ve lost my confidence and I … I believe I lost my
confidence because I don’t … I don’t feel at home here. I
don’t feel good enough with myself at the moment or with
the life here …
Likewise, Rachel explains
Sometimes when I’m really, really depressed, which
happens quite a lot of time … like sit, closing the phone
and crying, crying, crying …
The feelings described above are accompanied by a sense of life being on
hold and a painful lack of sense of control, for example by not actively
choosing to come to the UK. Tamar and Rachel describe this:
I realised that I don’t … I … I’ve got nothing here to look
for. I’ve finished all my business here but my husband still
wanted to stay. (Tamar)
I’m not there and I want to be there []you want to go home
but [] your partner say, let’s wait more. So you feel like
you’re trapped. You want to go home now but you cannot
… (Rachel)
One of the consequences of this is a sense of loss of self and identity, as
described by Ofra and Tamar:
I feel like, em … I’ve lost my [] Identity. Yes. I really feel
like I’ve lost it [...] (Ofra)
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
I came with a very strong identity, em … what I want to do
in life. I was very sure of myself. And this sureness, eh …
fades away a little bit. [] I don’t know who I am. I’m no
longer Israeli and I’m still not British. (Tamar)
The emerging conflict in the participants’ inner world is accompanied by a
puzzling resistance to resolve it, not wanting to fully settle, fearing the loss or
compromise that will entail. The quotes below describe this resistance:
So this is not home and it’s not mine and I don’t want it to
become mine. I really … I actually have very strong
feelings that I don’t want it to ever become really home …
I always resent it. I don’t want to belong here. I feel I’m
betraying myself. I don’t let it go. (Edna)
It’s like you don’t want to make changes that will leave you
here or … or consciously say that you’re living … that’s it,
this is your life. [] part of me doesn’t want to be … a whole
person … part of me wants to keep it fizzy, you know []
Maybe I’m a little bit afraid [] if I’ll be a whole person, that
means I’m not going back and I’m happy here and I’m
settled here … (Rachel)
This research shows the Israeli immigrant women to be in a constant
state of temporariness and transition, in which a number of core concepts of
themselves are questioned. They never fully leave and never fully arrive.
However, it seems that there is also a resistance to resolving this sense of the
‘carpet being pulled under their feet’, a dependence on the painful
transitoriness. It would be worth considering how this tension between
attachment and identification with the homeland for Diasporic communities
influences their ability to make the host country into a real home. It also
raises the question of how these processes influence the multiple facets of
identity, for people living in the Diaspora - not only their national identity,
but also their identity as woman, mothers, and wives.
Israeli Women Living in the UK
For a thorough examination of the psychological implications of
immigration see J W Berry, ‘A Psychology of Immigration’, Journal of
Social Issues, vol. 57, 2001, pp. 615-631.
See G M Breakwell, Coping with Threatened Identities, Methuen, London,
1986, P. 192.
Identity in this context is approached from a social constructionist
perspective, seeing it as a fluid and changing structure influenced by the
social context. See K.J. Gergen, ‘Toward Self as Relationship’, in Self and
Identity: Psychological Perspectives, K. Yardley and T. Honess (eds), Wiley,
Chichester, 1987.
For a review of the psychological literature on the Jewish Israeli identity see
M. Tur-kaspa Shimoni, D. Pereg and M. Mikulicer, Psychological Aspects of
Identity Formation and Their Implication for Understanding the Concept of
Jewish Identity: A Review of the Scientific Literature. Bar-Ilan University,
Ramat Gan, Israel, 2004. [Hebrew]
S J Gold, The Israeli Diaspora, Routledge, London, 2002.
S J Gold, ‘Gender, Class, and Network: Social Structure and Migration
Patterns among Transnational Israelis’, Global Networks, vol. 1, 2001, pp.
Gold, Israeli Diaspora.
M. Shokeid, ‘One-night-stand Ethnicity: The Malaise of Israeli-Americans’,
Megamot, vol. 33, 1991, pp. 145-163. [Hebrew]
S D Walsh, & G. Horenczyk, ‘Gendered Patterns of Experience in Social
and Cultural Transition: The Case of English-speaking Immigrants in Israel’.
Sex Roles, vol. 45, 2001, pp.501-528.
L Hazelton, Israeli Women: The Reality behind the Myth, Simon &
Schuster, New York, 1977.
J A Smith, P. Flowers, and M. Osborn, ‘Interpretative phenomenological
analysis and the psychology of health and illness’, in Material Discourses of
Health and Illness, L. Yardley (ed), Routledge, London, 1997, pp. 68-91.
Ibid, p. 68.
All names and identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity.
[ ] Indicates missing data; … indicate a short pause in speech.
Berry, J.W., ‘A Psychology of Immigration’, Journal of Social Issues, vol.
57, 2001, pp. 615-631.
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd
Breakwell, G.M., Coping with Threatened Identities, Methuen, London,
Gergen, K.J., ‘Toward Self as Relationship’, in Self and Identity:
Psychological Perspectives. K. Yardley and T. Honess (eds), Wiley,
Chichester, 1987, pp. 53-63.
Gold, S.J., ‘Gender, Class, and Network: Social Structure and Migration
Patterns among Transnational Israelis’, Global Networks, vol. 1, 2001, pp.
—— , The Israeli Diaspora. London: Routledge, 2002.
Hazelton, L., Israeli Women: The Reality behind the Myth. Simon &
Schuster, New York, 1977.
Shokeid, M., ‘One-night-stand Ethnicity: The Malaise of Israeli-Americans’,
Megamot, vol. 33, 1991, pp. 145-163. [Hebrew]
Smith, J.A., Flowers, P., and Osborn, M., ‘Interpretative phenomenological
analysis and the psychology of health and illness’, in Material Discourses of
Health and Illness, L. Yardley (ed.), Routledge, London, 1997, pp. 68-91.
Tur-kaspa Shimoni, M., Pereg, D. & Mikulicer, M., Psychological Aspects of
Identity Formation and Their Implication for Understanding the Concept of
Jewish Identity: A Review of the Scientific Literature. Bar-Ilan University
Press, Ramat-Gan, Israel, 2004. [Hebrew]
Walsh, S.D., & Horenczyk, G., ‘Gendered Patterns of Experience in Social
and Cultural Transition: The Case of English-speaking Immigrants in Israel’.
Sex Roles, vol. 45, 2001, pp.501-528.
Yasmin Fulder-Heyd is a doctoral candidate in psychology at the City
University, London. email: [email protected]
Integration through Education:
Muslims of the United States of America
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
This paper explores the challenges faced by states today dealing with large
Muslim immigrant populations and the benefits of using education as a
means to integrate these communities into a ‘host’ country’s society. The
authors argue that education is the most effective path towards integration.
Therefore, they propose to use an education curriculum targeting high school
students adapted from the Social Studies Curriculum Movement of the 1960s
United States. This movement originated out of the turmoil of the Civil
Rights Era. It significantly aided the better integration of African-Americans
into mainstream U.S. society by extending education benefits to this
community, and by educating mainstream America regarding the experiences
of African-Americans and their histories. This curriculum, however, has not
been updated for the demographic challenges of today, namely Muslim
immigrants. This project’s educational curriculum focuses on educating
mainstream America regarding the history, culture, and development of the
Islamic world. At the same time Muslim communities must also be studied to
ascertain the unique experiences of immigrant populations. Both parts are
incorporated into the curriculum in order to educate simultaneously
mainstream society and the Muslim immigrant populations, therefore,
benefitting both groups as mutual understanding is increased. In turn, this
facilitates the integration of immigrant populations while respecting their
traditions and cultures.
Keywords: Education, immigration, integration, Islam, minority populations,
Muslims, New Social Studies Project, North America
Arguably one of the greatest challenges facing the Western world
today is the integration of Muslim minority communities into mainstream
Western societies.1 With continuing attacks by Muslim extremists around the
world, the sectarian violence erupting in North Africa, the Middle East, and
Central and South Asia, the threat of terrorism, the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and especially the unrest among Muslim immigrant
communities in Europe, the Western World has a desperate need to
understand and integrate better its Muslim citizens.
Integration Through Education
In the United States alone there are between seven and ten million
Muslims whose population is extremely diverse. In fact it has been described
by some scholars as the most diverse Muslim population in the world. The
American Muslim population consists of immigrants from every ‘Muslim’
nation in the world including those located in South-eastern Europe; North,
East, and West Africa; South, Southeast, East, and West Asia; not to mention
from the island nations rimming the Indian Ocean, such as Malaysia and
Indonesia. Furthermore, thirty percent of the United States Muslim
population consists of indigenous African-Americans. The U.S. Muslim
community practices all forms of Islam, from orthodox to heterodox and
from Sunni to Shi’i. Additionally there is also a great deal of economic
stratification within the community, and Muslims are found in every level of
the American society from the very wealthy to the poorest. This enormous
diversity among a minority religious community creates a great deal of
cultural and religious hybridisation and acts as both a strength and a
weakness as rival interests and cross national tensions cause fractioning
within the community.2 This very diversity presents important and unique
theoretical challenges to the concept of a unified ‘Diaspora’ and how to
approach the integration of such a dynamic community. This paper, however,
does not focus on these specific theoretical issues, even though they are
important to our overall project. The focus of this paper is on the practical
issue of developing a secondary educational social studies curriculum
supplement aimed at educating the mainstream U.S. population regarding
Islamic history and Muslim culture.
It is our assumption that education is the most effective path to the
full integration of minority and immigrant populations. There is a great need
for social studies curriculum development on the topic of minority integration
at the high school level, however, the last major emphasis placed on this type
of curriculum development in the United States, called the New Social
Studies Movement, was during the 1960s and 70s. This emphasis came as a
direct result of the Civil Rights movement associated with the social
turbulence of the 1960s in the United States.3 Social studies curriculum for
the integration of minority and immigrant populations desperately needs to be
updated in accordance with the demographic and social characteristics of
present day America. We, therefore, propose an educational model and
curriculum for the integration of Muslims into America society aimed at
educating mainstream America on issues related to Islamic culture and
history and aimed at assisting Muslim Americans to embrace Western values,
such as civil liberties and democratic practices, thus enabling them to take
advantage of the opportunities available in the States. This model and
curriculum development is based on a four pronged interrelated approach.
The first prong entails conducting research and collecting
information on the historical background and development of Islam and
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
Muslim societies in order to ascertain an understanding of the cultural, social,
economic, religious, and political context from which most Muslims
immigrate to the United States. This information will then be synthesised and
abbreviated for high school student consumption. The second prong consists
of collecting information and conducting research on a specific Muslim
community in the United States, namely in the Memphis metropolitan area
where roughly 10-15 thousand Muslims live. Through a series of oral
interviews and the collection of statistical data we will ascertain the
demographic, religious, socio-economic, and educational make-up of this
community, including their experiences in post 9/11 America. We are
employing and training a total of four undergraduate and graduate research
assistants (two female and two male) from the University of Memphis
Muslim Students’ Association to conduct demographic surveys and oral
interviews. The collection of this information will eventually result in the
completion of a monograph on the history of the Muslim population in
Memphis and the Mid-south, United States. Third, we are conducting surveys
and interviewing high school educators in the Memphis area regarding how
they deal with and teach issues related to diversity, Islam, the Middle East,
and conflict resolution in the classroom. The fourth prong entails combining
what is learned from prongs one through three and developing a curriculum
supplement to help educate Memphis high school students regarding the
Middle East, Islam, and the Memphis Muslim community thereby linking
global issues with the students’ local communities. This curriculum will then
be tested in select schools in the greater Memphis area and further
implemented through teacher training workshops.
The goal of our project is to provide a framework and model for
better cultural understanding of Muslims not only in Memphis, but in
mainstream America and thus promote and facilitate the integration of this
community into American society. The potential problems of failed
integration are readily evident in Europe. There are large immigrant Muslim
communities throughout Western Europe, particularly in the Netherlands,
Holland, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Several European
countries have struggled to integrate effectively their Muslim populations
into mainstream society. In some cases, Muslim populations have been
purposely excluded and/or excluded themselves from education, healthcare,
and other social services. Often these communities possess limited civil
rights, live in isolated and insular slums, and the children of these immigrants
have poor future economic prospects. As studies and news reports on these
incidents have demonstrated this violence is perpetrated mainly by Muslim
youth and young adults whom society has left behind and not integrated.4
Our program hopes to help prevent this disillusionment and violence in the
United States and has the encouraging potential to be adopted and adapted by
other countries in order to fit their particular educational agendas.
Integration Through Education
Education is a key to the integration of minority and immigrant
populations, because it provides the most effective mechanism for
socialisation, language and culture acquisition, and the attainment of skills
necessary to take advantage of opportunities and become contributing
members of a particular society. Not only should a child’s education teach
the core necessary curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it
should also help the mainstream population understand an immigrant
population’s history and culture thus facilitating the incorporation of that
population into mainstream society through understanding and acceptance.
This program will also facilitate the education of mainstream America on
critical issues related to the Middle East and other Muslim societies and thus
help prepare future leaders earlier in life for public and private service in our
increasingly interconnected world.
Based on this assumption that education is one of the best means of
integration, Doctors Byford and Schull are basing this social studies
education curriculum off of the 1960s curriculum movement, known as the
‘New Social Studies Movement.’ This movement illustrates not only
American society’s push for curriculum change in education, but also some
of the most innovative and controversial teaching practices to ever be
developed. Pursued with vigour during the late 1950s, curriculum reformers,
politicians, and average citizens pushed for change within what was
perceived as failed social studies curriculum. Through a series of national
events, curriculum failures and fear of communist technological superiority,
the Office of Education, along with the newly founded National Science
Foundation and private donors, began to fund a variety of content specific
projects from 1960 to the early 1970s to reform social studies curriculum. In
the end, more than fifty projects attempted to reenergise a perceived dying
The 1950s have been known in the United States as a time of
immense change. The Civil Rights movement and advances in medicine,
technology and entertainment are only a few examples of success, however,
with this success also came controversy. Despite the social studies often
obscure and limited presence after World War II, the social studies would be
a focal point of both public frustration and change from 1950 to 1960. The
fire for this re-examination was due to many events in both society and
government. However, five events served as the main catalyst for curriculum
reform: a) American Korean War prisoners lack of knowledge of loyalty,
democracy, and the basic system of American government; b) so called
“closed areas” (e.g. homosexuality, teen pregnancy, school violence, racial
tension) in society that were often ignored in education; c) the Purdue public
opinion poll in 1957, which exposed students lack of basic knowledge of
democracy; d) the launching of Sputnik, and the fear of Soviet technological
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
superiority; and e) the growing Civil Rights movement which challenged the
nation’s segregated school system and society.
In an effort to promote curriculum change, both the National
Science Foundation and the National Defence Education Act (NDEA) were
established with the intent to upgrade curriculum and encourage teachers to
take the academic content of their work more seriously. As a result, an
intense and extensive reassessment and reorganisation of the entire American
educational system was undertaken. The results of this reorganisation and
development of new materials would be known as “the new social studies.”
Scattered throughout the nation at different curriculum centres, new social
studies programs were extremely critical of the failed mishmash of errors and
programs prevalent in the 1950s. The end results were independent discipline
projects (see Table I) that shared three common traits: a) an increase focus on
inquiry; b) an increased focus on values; and c) an increase focus on games
and simulations. Edwin Fenton suggested that the advances in the curriculum
reform movement reached the social studies when the following transpired:
1) when society and the educational community realised the social studies
had failed to keep pace with curriculum reform in both science and
mathematics; 2) new knowledge about the way students learned required new
teaching techniques and 3) monies from private foundations such as the Ford
and Carnegie became readily available to support research.5
Table I: Sample of New Social Studies Projects Developed in the 1960s
and 70s6
1. University of Georgia, Anthropology Curriculum
2. American Anthropological Association,
Anthropology Curriculum Study Project
1. University of Colorado, Our Working World
2. University of Ohio, Manpower Development
3. University of Chicago, Elementary School
Economics Project
4. Ohio State University, The Development of
Economics Curricular Materials for Secondary
5. San Jose State University, Econ 12 Project
6. Joint Council on Economic Education,
Developmental Economic Program
1. The University of Georgia, The Geography
Curriculum Project
Integration Through Education
American Association of Geographers, High
School Geography Project
Amherst College, Basic Concepts in History and
the Social Studies
University of Chicago, Social Studies Project
Amherst College, Committee on the Study of
Carnegie-Mellon University, The Education
Systems Research Project
Illinois State University, Black History Project
Northwestern University, World History Project
Vallejo Unified School District, Human Dignity
through American History Project
University of Indiana, High School Curriculum
Centre in Government
Hartford Board of Education, American Liberties
University of California, Los Angeles, Committee
on Civic Education
Word Law Fund, High School Program
Law in American Society
University of Michigan, Michigan Social Science
Education Project
Sociological Resources for the Social Studies
The legacy of the new social studies movement is mixed. One of the
goals for the development of new social studies materials was to increase
curriculum success in the classroom through effective practice. Research
completed on this curriculum’s success indicated that a considerable amount
of the curriculum projects designed could be improved if the following
actions were taken: a) reorganising curriculum according to higher level
skills and concepts; b) having students engage in problem-finding and
problem-solving activities; and c) provide students with opportunities to
make connections within and across the curriculum with emphasis placed on
issues, themes and ideas. While these and other project goals were
achievable, most projects had limited and mixed success.7 Table II illustrates
recorded strengths and weaknesses of new social studies projects.
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
Table II: Strength / Weaknesses of New Social Studies Projects (19601974)8
Perceived Strengths
Perceived Weaknesses
Development / creativity of new
Often limited to “pilot schools” with
curriculum materials often too
expensive to purchase
Documentation of children’s learning Backlash to hidden curriculum (e.g.
ability regardless of grade level
discussion of controversial issues
such as Civil Rights, Vietnam War,
Women’s Rights)
Increase use of discussion / problem
Training or lack thereof on new
solving to confront social / political
teaching strategies / materials
Firmly established the social sciences Advance curriculum written by
(e.g. anthropology, political science,
professors and not teachers often
history, geography, sociology,
illustrated differences in content
psychology, economics) with their
own unique materials for the K-12
Provided classroom structure within
Amount of time to develop
the lessons
curriculum often was outpaced by
events in society (assassination of
the Kennedys and Martin Luther
King, civil rights marches, etc.)
Yet through the criticism, successes and possible failures, important
lessons were learned about students and effective pedagogy. First, projects
suggested that children are curious and perceptive. They want facts about
how people, society, and animals function. Second, students transform
information. Students learn best when they have the opportunity to use new
information in many different forms to include direct observations, data
gathering, reading, role-playing, constructing projects, and watching films.
Third, students accept diversity. Students, in general, have a tolerance for
diversity. When asked to do so, students often approach their study of human
behaviour with an openness that goes beyond the typical moralistic
approaches to social studies education.9
With this in mind, we have developed a series of supplemental
materials based on the strengths and weaknesses of over 15 new social
studies projects. One of our major goals of the supplemental social studies
curriculum is to attempt to foster the discussion of what could be perceived
as closed areas in today’s society (e.g. the war on terror, international
conflict, immigration, religion in general and Islam specifically, stereotypes
Integration Through Education
and perceptions of difference, and instability in the Middle East). In a recent
survey of Memphis City and Shelby county social studies teachers (all within
the state of Tennessee), a majority indicated that current social studies text
books do not thoroughly explain or provide information regarding Muslims
living in the United States. Furthermore, most teachers believe that the main
reasons for the stereotyping of Muslims are a result of a lack of knowledge.
This material is sought to be a beginning effort to open discussion between
teachers and students regarding Muslim Americans. The purpose of
Understanding Islam, the Middle East and Muslims in Memphis has been not
merely the creation of curriculum, but also the improved training of teachers
through clinical training, planning, and the use of differentiated instruction to
increase content knowledge. Understanding Islam, the Middle East and
Muslims in Memphis is directed toward teaching high school students of
average ability in grades nine through twelve to analyse, discuss, justify, and
clarify issues and dilemmas related to social and public policy towards
Muslims, the Middle East, and Islam.
In conclusion, our project is aimed at developing an educational
curriculum for Memphis and Tennessee for the integration of Muslims into
mainstream society while respecting their traditions and cultures through
developing an understanding of their unique backgrounds and history. Our
project also aims at creating a detailed study of an increasingly important
minority community in Memphis. The potential of this project and its
ramifications are far reaching. What we develop for Memphis can act as a
model for other Tennessee communities, the United States and other
countries attempting to integrate Muslims into their societies and to assist in
preventing future violence and social strife. In other words, this project has
the potential to assist in solving one of the most troubling and dangerous
issues facing not only our countries, but the world at large, namely
disgruntled Muslim youth from turning towards radical fundamentalist Islam.
By selecting the term ‘integration’ the authors mean the ability for a
community or group to learn about and benefit from the broad social,
political, economic, educational, and cultural opportunities presented in the
broader society. The authors are not implying ‘assimilation’ into the
dominant culture and society through the abandonment and loss of a
community’s own cultural and social identity.
A McCloud, Transnational Muslims in American Society, University Press
of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 2006, pp. 1-26; I. Ba-Yunus and K. Kone,
Muslims in the United States. Greenwood Press, Westport, 2006, pp. 27-44.
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
D W Oliver and F.M. Newmann, Cases and Controversy: Guide to
Teaching the Public Issues Series / Harvard Social Studies Project, Xerox
Publishing Corporation, Middleton, CT., 1971.
Y Haddad, ed., Muslims in the West: From Sojourners to Citizens, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, UK, 2002; Y. Haddad and J. Smith, eds., Muslim
Communities in North America. SUNY Press, New York, 1994; Y. Haddad
and J. Smith, eds., Muslim Minorities in the West: Visible and Invisible.
Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA, 2002; J. Cesari, When Islam and
Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and in the United States. Palgrave
Macmillan Press, New York, 2004; G. Abdo, Mecca and Main Street:
Muslim Life in America after 9/11. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK,
2006; T. Modood, A. Triandafyllidou, and R. Zapata-Barrero, eds.,
Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach.
Routledge, London, UK, 2006.
E Fenton, The New Social Studies, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., New
York, 1967.
M Knight, An Annotated List of New Social Studies Projects, Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington, IN., 1970.
J VanTassel-Baska, J Feldhusen, K Seeley, G Wheatley, L Silverman, and
W Foster, Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners, Allyn & Bacon
Press, Needham Heights, MA, 1988.
M Knight, op. cit.
P Dow, ‘MACOS: Social Studies in Crisis’, Educational Leadership, vol.
43(1), 1979, pp. 35-39.
Abdo, G., Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11. Oxford
University Press, Oxford, UK, 2006.
Ba-Yunus, I. and K. Kone, Muslims in the United States. Greenwood Press,
Westport, CT, 2006.
Byford, J., A Phenomenological Study of Middle School and High School
Students’ Perceptions of Social Studies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,
University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 2002.
Bonwell, C. and J. Eison, Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the
Classrooms. Eric Clearinghouse on Higher Education, Washington, D.C.,
Integration Through Education
Cesari, J., When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and in the
United States. Palgrave Macmillan Press, New York, 2004.
Dow, P., ‘MACOS: Social studies in crisis’. Educational Leadership, vol.
43(1), 1979, pp. 35-39.
Fenton, E., The New Social Studies. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., New
York, 1967.
Haddad, Y.Y. and J. Smith, eds., Muslim Communities in North America,
SUNY Press, New York, 1994.
——, and J. Smith, eds., Muslim Minorities in the West: Visible and
Invisible. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA, 2002.
——, Muslims in the West: From Sojourners to Citizens. Oxford University
Press, Oxford, UK, 2002.
Harwood, A.M. and C.L. Hahn, Controversial Issues in the Classroom.
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington, IN,
Knight, M., An Annotated List of New Social Studies Projects, Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington, I., 1970.
McCloud, A., Transnational Muslims in American Society. University Press
of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 2006.
Merriam, S.B., Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in
Education. Josey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA, 1998.
Modood, T., A. Triandafyllidou, and R. Zapata-Barrero., eds.,
Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach.
Routledge, London, UK, 2006.
Oliver, D.W. and F.M. Newmann., Cases and Controversy: Guide to
Teaching the Public Issues Series / Harvard Social Studies Project. Xerox
Publishing Corporation, Middleton, CT., 1971.
Jeffrey M. Byford and Kent F. Schull
Russell, W. and J. Byford., ‘The Evolution of Man and His Tools: A
Simulation From the MACOS Project’. The Journal for Liberal Arts and
Sciences, vol. 10 (3), 2006, pp. 17-20.
VanTassel-Baska, J., J. Feldhusen, K Seeley, G. Wheatley, L. Silverman, and
W. Foster., Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners. Allyn & Bacon
Press, Needham Heights, MA, 1988.
Jeffrey M Byford is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social
Studies Education at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee,
United States of America. His research interests include alternative teaching
strategies and the New Social Curriculum Projects of the 1960s and 1970s.
Kent F Schull is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the
University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America.
His areas of research include the social and cultural history of the modern
Middle East including the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries and
the Palestinian-Israeli Dispute.
email: [email protected]
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
Particularly in regard to national identity, diasporic gazes are believed to
posit a challenge to what has been termed a more ‘traditional gaze’,
sometimes defined as an “apparatus of investigation, verification,
surveillance and cognition, which has served to sustain the traditions of
Western post-Enlightenment scientificity and early modern technologies”. In
the context of the nation, the disruptiveness of the diasporic gazes also calls
for a thorough investigation of what seems to constitute and set apart a
‘traditional national’ gaze and in what ways the ‘diasporic gazes’ can be
revealed to differ, and as the case may be supplement seeing. Talking about
the construction and perpetuation of national identities, we consider it
necessary to accept a certain double-bind between images and viewers:
images create viewers and viewers create images which then enter the logic
of everyday ‘ordinary’ seeing and tend to nourish the idea of ‘natural’ or
‘universal’ seeing. Since a general cultural knowledge is needed to decipher
an image, a close look is taken at the palimpsest of images that seem to make
up ‘national identity’. This process of polarisation, however, can only ever
lead to an oversimplified categorisation of ‘us’ and ‘them’, das Heimelige
(the homely) and das Unheimliche (the uncanny), ‘self’ and ‘other’.
Regarding the cultural dynamics of the nation, the diasporic gazes seem to
promise to offer us ‘other’ viewpoints due to ‘the genealogy of the mixed
times and spaces’. These multiple ways of looking might as well hold the key
to the modern dilemma of rigid national identity conceptions. Diaspora has
become ‘a’ fashionable subject position but how can we show ‘national
seeing’ in the context of cultural/national literacy and what can this process
of ‘showing different seeing’ unveil. Is the double negative ‘neither the one,
nor the other’ also appropriate in terms of the visual and if yes, does it
perhaps hold out new ways for inculturation as dialogue or even new
approaches to the well-masticated field of national identity?
Keywords: Diaspora, diasporic gaze, eye-tracker, inculturation.
Did I mention my first sight of the African coast?
Something struck in me, in my soul, Celie, like a large bell,
and I just vibrated.
Alice Walker
The Color Purple
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
For some time now diasporic visual studies have been concerned
with the multiple viewpoints that move beyond the ‘single-perspective’ of
Western rationalism in order to bring out as well as to create alternative or
different ways of looking and spaces from which to look and be seen.1
Researchers with various disciplinary backgrounds have begun wondering
what the codes are by which some do look whilst others don’t, what the
biological/genetical capacities of what can and what cannot be seen are and most important in this context here - what are the cultural constructions of
vision and how, on the other hand, does the visual construct the cultural.
According to W.J.T. Mitchell one of the major problems hereby is
how to show seeing - of how to make the invisible visible.2 In our pilot study
we investigate the culturally acquired acts of looking from which we view
and by which we inform what we see in relation to the sustenance of what has
been termed ‘national identity’ with the help of an eye-tracker. Particularly in
regard to national identity, diasporic gazes are believed to posit a challenge to
what has been termed a more ‘traditional gaze’, sometimes defined as an
“apparatus of investigation, verification, surveillance and cognition, which
has served to sustain the traditions of Western post-Enlightenment
scientificity and early modern technologies”.3 In the context of the nation, the
disruptiveness of the diasporic gazes also calls for a thorough investigation of
what seems to constitute and set apart a ‘traditional national’ gaze and in
what ways the ‘diasporic gazes’ can be revealed to differ, and as the case may
be supplement seeing. Talking about national identities, their construction as
well as their perpetuation, we consider it necessary to accept a certain doublebind between images and viewers: images create viewers and viewers create
images which then enter the logic of everyday ‘ordinary’ seeing and tend to
nourish the idea of ‘natural’ or ‘universal’ seeing. Since a general cultural
knowledge is needed to decipher an image, it is particularly rewarding to
have a closer look at the palimpsest of images that seem to make up ‘national
identity’, and hence work to define and demarcate a nation. This process of
polarisation, however, can only ever lead to an oversimplified categorisation
of ‘us’ and ‘them’, das Heimelige (the homely) and das Unheimliche (the
uncanny), ‘self’ and ‘other’. Regarding the cultural dynamics of the nation,
the diasporic gazes seem to promise to offer us ‘other’ viewpoints due to ‘the
genealogy of the mixed times and spaces’. 4 These multiple ways of looking
might as well hold the key to the modern dilemma of rigid national identity
conceptions. Diaspora has become ‘a’ fashionable subject position but how
can we show ‘national seeing’ in the context of cultural/national literacy and
what can this process of ‘showing different seeing’ unveil. Is the double
negative ‘neither the one, nor the other’ also appropriate in terms of the
visual and if yes, does it perhaps hold out new ways for inculturation as
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
dialogue or even new approaches to the well-masticated field of national
The nation is a shifting terrain concerning images whose subjects
often tend to translate differences into markers of information that are
sometimes literally invisible, thereby most often creating ‘a national/cultural
capital’ instead of generating ‘global cultures’. The visual regime of the
Austrian nation at the beginning of the twenty-first century with its carefully
defined borders of identity is of special interest to this study. The images that
nourish and sustain the nation’s ‘cultural capitals’ from which some subjects
try to educate immigrants how to see things ‘the Austrian way’, are of
concern here.
Due to Austria’s geographical position and her constant flow of
immigrants, one might assume that the Austrians and Austria’s political
parties regard their country and the people as welcoming and open to
immigration (Einwanderungsland), which seems not to be the case according
to a recent study financed by Austria’s Home Office.5 Generally speaking, a
rather hostile legal and political environment can be said to await immigrants
in Austria. Only in the 1990s was the Gastarbeitersystem, by which people
are ‘imported’ to work in Austria and expected to leave again after a certain
time, replaced by a so called Quotensystem, which yearly regulates anew the
number of rights of establishments (Niederlassungsbewilligung), and at the
same time reduces immigration to Austria.6 As Circo et al. point out in
relation to non-EU member countries: “Austria is implementing a highly
restrictive policy in the area of labour migration, also when it comes to
different permits that one can be granted and to the conditions to be fulfilled
for the granting thereof”.7 All in all it can be said that immigrants are not yet
considered to represent well-appreciated part of Austrian culture/society but
are often forced to live a life on the fringes of society on the uphill task to
Austrian citizenship.
Against this national background it is of utmost importance to make
visible the differences in gazes between national subjects and the various
diasporas by tracking their gazes in order to foster and encourage an effective
future dialogue between them.
Study Design and Research Questions
This intentionally small pilot study was carried out to check whether
the eyetracking technology can be effectively applied to this particular field
of cultural studies, and to show whether eyetracking data is reliable and
revealing in combination with various theoretical approaches in this field.
Our research question was: Due to the ‘multiple viewpoints’ of diasporic
people, do we get hybrid, or better, palimpsest gazes which comprise at least
two ‘national’ gazes, or do we face cultural transfer and cultural fossilisation
in diasporic subjects’ viewing processes?8 And secondly, might there even be
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
a ‘critical period’ for cultural learning, as seen, for example, in second
language (L2) learners? We assumed that a process similar to code switching
in language learners happens in ‘cultural gazes’ - a phenomenon we referred
to as cultural ‘gaze switching’, meaning, that if, a diasporic subject from
Nigeria looks at a ‘Nigerian stimulus’ they know its meaning and if s/he
looks at an Austrian stimulus, s/he switches gaze and is also able to read its
cultural meaning. The ability to switch between ‘cultural codes’ was
suspected to correlate with the duration of stay and personal interest.
Material and Method
Nigerian subjects who consider themselves to be amongst the new
diaspora in Austria were recruited among the Igbo/Nigerian community in
Salzburg and Linz. Among the criteria for inclusion in the study were:
literacy, moderate command of German and a minimum stay in Austria of
one year. We were able to recruit 10 Nigerian/ Igbo subjects, two of whom
were female and eight male. The average age of subjects was 36.2 years, with
25 being the youngest and 48 being the oldest. The average stay in Austria
was 6.2 years, ranging from one year to thirteen years of stay in Austria. Our
initial idea, to divide the Nigerian subjects into ‘first’ and ‘second’
generations, was dismissed due to the fact,\ that the so-called second
generation is still too young (between one and ten years old). Five subjects
considered their command of German ‘intermediate’, two ‘moderate’ and
three regarded it as ‘very good’. The educational degree of the Nigerian
subjects was equivalent to GSCE level or higher (university education) in all
ten subjects. For their participation in the study subjects were given 10 Euros,
which were donated to the Igbo community/local church. As ‘national’
subjects, Austrian subjects/controls (without migrational background for at
least three generations) equivalent to the Nigerian subjects in sex, age and
education were recruited from volunteers in Salzburg and Linz.9
Stimuli and Paradigm
The stimulus set comprised 25 images, from which the first five
were used as trial items to explain the paradigm and the types of stimuli to
the subjects. The stimuli were chosen by Austrian and Nigerian researchers
and categorised into the following six groups:
1. Tradition
2. Politics
3. Lifestyle and mentality
4. International stereotypes and ‘cultural fakes’
5. Latest developments in politics and popular culture
6. Nigerian home culture
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
Stimuli included two short texts (one English, one German) which
should allow to compare subjects’ reading abilities in the two languages and
guide us against the mistake to construct a grand binary model of literacy and
visuality, Austrian advertisements (modified to test the cultural literacy),
webpage screenshots (from which relevant hidden vectors were eradicated) ,
drawings from a much-loved Austrian children’s book as well as a cartoon
and various photographic images (including two film stills).10
Eight of the twenty target items had been modified to test cultural
literacy in the Austrian culture. Six of the twenty stimuli depicted everyday
situations and festivities in Nigeria. The twenty target stimuli were presented
in a randomised order, so that no two stimuli of the same category appeared
in immediate succession. With every target item presented on the display
monitor, subjects were asked a question to ensure that the image was viewed
and evaluated carefully. An eyelink data file (.edf) was recorded for every
subject, and subjects’ pseudonyms were used to name the files.
Before the recording session all subjects were asked to provide some
personal data: name, age, occupation, education, mother tongue(s),
nationality, duration of stay in Austria and command of German. All subjects
were reassured that any information given would be treated confidentially.
Thereafter all subjects were informed about the test design, which meant that
- at the beginning - the eyetracking device was explained in detail, followed
by a brief outline of the experiment. Subjects were provided with the
background information that this cultural research is based on tracking the
gaze and revealing the differences between what is and what is not seen.
They were told that various images shown to them depict Austrian and
Nigerian cultural events/situations, chosen by Austrian and Nigerian
researchers. Subjects were informed that - while they were looking at the
images - their eye movements would be tracked. The stimuli were presented
onto a 17” Belinea monitor at a distance to the subjects’ faces of
approximately 60cm. The eyetracker’s camera setup was set to 500 Hz,
monocular ‘pupil only’ tracking. The experiment was carried out with a
portable Eyelink 2 system (mobile eyetracker), which allowed us to travel to
Linz, Upper Austria for two sessions. These sessions were conducted in the
parochial house of St. Albans church, where the Igbo community of Linz
holds their regular meetings. During these meetings, 10 subjects were tested.
All other participants of the study were tested at the psycholinguistics lab at
the department of linguistics, University of Salzburg. In order for subjects to
view rather than scan the images, subjects were told that a question would be
asked about the situation depicted in the image. Participants were given a
game controlling device, with which they could control the duration of the
stimulus presentation by pressing a button to let the image disappear from the
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
display monitor. All answers were taken down by the experimenter and, in
addition, we recorded them on minidisk in order to double-check subjects’
answers. The average duration of a session was approximately 20 minutes.
Eyetracking: Method and Apparatus
Eye-tracking is a state of the art empirical method for exploring how
recipients of any kind of text (written, visual, plastic) read or view such a
text. Eye-trackers have been put to ample use in the disciplines psychology,
advertising, usability research (such as web design), medicine (diagnosis of
visual impairment or dyslexia research), and mainstream psycho- and
sociolinguistics.11 Most recent issues addressed with the help of this
methodology include scanpaths and saliency in scene perception, cross
linguistic perspectives on eye-movements in reading, the ‘cultural’ gaze,
semantic text - object relations. Eyetracking systems record eye movements
and fixations at sampling rates of up to 2000Hz i.e. one picture per
millisecond of the left and of the right eye. Through an algorithm eyetracking
hardware is able to distinguish between smooth pursuit, vergence, optokinetic
nystagm and other eye movements. Eye movements are measured by degrees
and the data is transcribed into a coordinate system (e.g. from a screen or
otherwise defined area), which allows accurate, virtually noise free
evaluation of the data. The duration of an eyetracking experiment depends on
the research questions method and - of course - the subject’s patience.
Insight into cognitive processes such as image processing may be gained
from the analysis of saccades and regressions - the ballistic eye movements
that occur up to 3 - 4 times per second. These saccades show how an image
or text is perceived and -most important for the present study - whether
subjects identify the semantic relations that give meaning to the image. In
reading, progressive and regressive saccades show whether a text is reader
friendly or not but also whether a reader is able to parse the syntactic
structures of a language. For reading eye movements, the duration of all
fixations (= gaze duration) on a word may show whether subjects are familiar
with a word and whether it is unknown, uncommon or not frequently used.
For images, similar insight might be gained, showing whether a subject is
familiar with an image or not. In tracking subjects’ eye movements during
viewing images a scanpath may be drawn from subjects eye movements
patterns, revealing a gaze pattern or “viewing strategy” or - in this case - a
“cultural/national gaze”. The frequencies of fixations on certain aspects of an
image may be interpreted similarly. Eye movements are arbitrary or
involuntary i.e. directed and intentional. In this study the focus was on
directed eye movements - when subjects’ eyes followed the structure of the
image, governed by cultural relations, the eye movements were considered
directed eye movements. For this purpose great care is needed to avoid any
form of hidden vectors that might suggest a scanpath.12 In this study subjects’
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
eye movements were recorded at a sampling rate of 500 Hz i.e. one picture
every 2 milliseconds. We used an Eyelink II head based eyetracker that is
placed on subjects head -a “bearable” and very precise technology as it
allows slight head movements of subjects without messing up the data.
Preliminary Tendencies from Results
From a first screening of the acquired data one can conclude that the
majority of our Nigerian subjects did not process the semantic relations
hidden in the ‘Austrian’ stimuli. None of the subjects was able to decipher all
cultural codes. The eye movement data of the experimental group of the
culturally manipulated stimuli shows no evidence for a uniform scanpath
which can only be obtained by cultural literacy. Whereas the Austrian control
group shows a uniform scanpath of correct semantic relations paired with
correct answers to all questions, the experiment group shows scanpaths that
suggest arbitrary scanning of images without directed saccades to related
objects. With the exception of one subject in one ‘Austrian’ stimulus, none of
the Nigerian subjects showed ‘Austrian’ scanpaths. One stimulus, which is
closely linked to a widely broadcast recent sports event (the UEFA Euro
2008) and was interpreted correctly by all Austrian controls, had not been
interpreted in the ‘Austrian way’ by any Nigerian subject, showing a
significant deviation in the scanpath from controls and subjects. On the other
hand, controls did vary in their scanpaths in a way that suggests different
ways of achieving a correct answer to the culturally coded stimuli. Only two
of the eight target items showed a similar scanpath (also pointing to the
plurality of the ‘diasporic gazes’) similar, however, for all controls and two
out of ten subjects.
Discussion and Outlook
Due to the hybridity of this approach, which opened up a ‘third
space’ between empiricism and theory, it soon became obvious that we will
not be able to translate complex cultural phenomena into rigid data. That is
why we have chosen to discuss only two stimuli here in order to visualise the
various interdependent tendencies in our study.
5.1 Stimulus: The May-tree
Stimulus 12: May-tree (photograph)
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
This Austrian stimulus (no.12) of the category ‘tradition’ was shown to all
participants, who where then asked: “Why are they firing guns?” The cultural
background here is that it is a local custom to erect a barked tree decorated
with Pretzels, ribbons and sausages on 1st May in every village and town
district. Over the last couple of years this custom has been transformed into a
highly popular social event, where people come together not only to break
out the ale, but also to network and enjoy the spectacle (some people try to
climb the tree and retrieve a Pretzel). All Austrian subjects came up with the
‘correct’ answer whereas only 1 out of 10 diasporic subjects was able to
establish the visual link between the Maytree and the festival guns. In this
case the values for ‘gaze duration’ (i.e. the average cumulative fixation
duration of relevant objects) were particularly interesting, ranging from
15.343 seconds in Austrian subjects to 30.475 seconds in the Nigerian
diasporic subjects. After approximately 8 seconds Austrian subjects fixated
the Maytree, whereas the diasporic subjects who did fixate the Maytree
(thereby establishing the semantic relations) did so after 20 seconds. This
finding might also suggest that the time spent in Austria may not matter since
the one diasporic subject who was able to read the cultural code had only
spent 4 years in Austria.
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
5.2 The Cordoba-Bleu
This Austrian stimulus relates to the recent UEFA Euro 2008, which was
launched by McDonalds, creating a special burger for the event, named
“Chicken Cordoba Bleu” - an allusion to an all time favourite Austrian dish
called “Cordon Bleu” (a kind of cheese- and ham-filled Schnitzel). The name
“Cordoba” refers to the one football event that every Austrian knows Austria’s victory over Germany (3:2) in Cordoba in 1978 / world cup. The
stimulus was shown to all participants, who where then asked: “What is a
Cordoba Bleu?” All Austrian subjects came up with a scanpath which
enabled them to put forward the ‘correct’ answer since the connection
between the word “Cordoba” and the result “3:2” was made. None of the
Nigerian subjects was able to make this connection, yielding no footballrelated answers.
The method of eye-tracking has proven highly applicable for this
area of research, yielding reliable and accurate results. Hence with more
subjects yet to be tested and more stimuli to be included in future studies, we
hope to obtain valid data to 10 be used in intercultural trainings and in the
field of cultural studies. The results from this pilot study, however, show a
tendency towards the existence of cultural fossilisation but not of a diasporic
gaze (1st generation) which can readily switch between home and ‘host’
culture and is equally culturally literate - an actual ‘sitting in between two
Tracking the Diasporic Gaze
stools’. Further research will be needed in order to compare and interpret the
‘otherness’ and read the multiplicity of hybrid gazes and its possible
potential, which could neither have been proven nor made visible in this
study. We will examine this in more detail by carrying out a large scale study
with a larger set of stimuli.
Cf Nicholas Mirzoeff, ‘The Multiple Viewpoint: Diasporic Visual Cultures’
in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), Diaspora and Visual Culture: Representing
Africans and Jews, Routledge, London, 2000, pp.118.
W J T Mitchell ‘Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture’ in Nicholas
Mirzoeff (ed.), The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd ed., Routledge, London,
2007, p.86.
I Rogoff ‘Studying Visual Culture’ in The Visual Culture Reader, p.31.
Cf Nicholas Mirzoeff, op. cit., pp.162-3.
Cf ‘Der Einfluss von Immigration auf die Österreichische Gesellschaft:
Österreichischer Beitrag im Rahmen der europaweiten Pilotstudie’ (‘The
Impact of Immigration on Europe’s Societies’, IOM Wien, 2003:
2008, p.3.
Ibid., p.4.
I Circo, G Vilics, I Ilieva, T Kamenova and V Tsankov, Migration
Legislation: Austrian, Bulgarian, EU, Austrian Science and Research Liaison
Office Sofia Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, 2003, p.16.
With palimpsest gazes we refer to ‘overwritten’ cultural gazes on which
earlier cultural narratives are still ‘visible’ underneath newer ones and can be
readily accessed.
A follow-up study will unveil the ‘recent diversity’ in Austrian national
gazes due to ‘other/different’ Austrian gazes, reflected by the new national
gazes which represent and comprise the hybridity of various cultural
backgrounds (second and third generations).
G Kress and T van Leeuwen, , Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual
Design Routledge, London, 2006. See also: Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001
and Kress and van Leeuwen, 2002.
For an overview and recent literature see K Rayner, ‘Eye movements’ in
Psychological Bulletin: Reading and Information Processing 20 Years of
Research. 124, 3, pp. 372-422.
For an overview see G Kress and Th van Leeuwen, Reading Images: The
Grammar of Visual Design, Routledge, London, 2006.
Birgit Breninger and Thomas Kaltenbacher
Birgit Breninger holds degrees in British and American Studies and
Communications from the University of Salzburg, a Master’s degree from
Oxford Brookes University: Race and Gender in Literature and History, and
is studying for her doctorate at the University of Salzburg in British Cultural
Studies. She also holds a Diploma in Medical English from the University of
Thomas Kaltenbacher holds the degree of MPhil from the University of
Salzburg in Applied Languages and Linguistics and a Diploma of Advanced
Studies from Oxford Brookes University. He also holds a Diploma in
Medical English from the University of Oxford. He is a doctoral student in
Linguistics at the University of Salzburg.
A Commercial Identity?
The Antipodean Image in London
Robert Crawford
This paper examines the construction and representation of the ‘Antipodean’
image in London during the 1990s and the 2000s. Prior to this period, the
term had been limited to Australians and New Zealanders living in the UK.
However, over the course of the 1990s the definition of an ‘Antipodean’ was
extended to include the growing number of South Africans moving to
London. This paper contends that this expansion of the term Antipodean has
been primarily driven by commercial interests. By comparing and contrasting
the experiences of Australian, New Zealand, and South African diasporas
resident in London over the past twenty years, this paper also explores the
distinct identities cultivated for and, indeed, by these diasporas as well as the
degree to which they might actually share a common sense of being
Keywords: Antipodean, Australians, London, media, migration, New
Zealanders, South Africans.
Upon arrival in the UK, many Australians, New Zealanders and
South Africans are often surprised to hear themselves described as
Antipodean. While Australians and New Zealanders have long identified with
one another when in the UK, South Africans appear to be particularly
bemused by their inclusion. Many seem to think that their links with
Australians and New Zealanders are tenuous at best:
Britons recognise South Africans by their love for lager,
biltong, rugby, cricket and their distinctive accent … This
apparently places them in the same broad category as their
southern hemispheric cousins, the Australians and New
This paper explores the use of the term Antipodean in the UK and
contends that commercial interests have been pivotal in its maintenance.
Beginning with a survey of the flow of Australian, New Zealand, and South
African migrants to London, the study will explore their respective
The Antipodean Image in London
similarities and differences. This will then provide a context for
understanding the experiences of these diasporas and the ways that they
connect to one another. Moreover, it will contextualise the important role
played by the media outlets that serve them. By briefly examining such press
outlets as In London and TNT Magazine as well as the different websites that
also cater for London’s antipodean diasporas, this paper will explore the role
played by the media in the formation of identity for diasporic groups. While
commercial interests have been the primary drivers of the contemporary use
of Antipodean, the use of the term in these media outlets has nevertheless
succeeded in creating something of a collective sense of identity amongst the
Australian, New Zealand, and South African diasporas in London.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Antipodes as ‘Of or
pertaining to the opposite side of the world; esp Australasian’.2 Significantly,
South Africans are excluded from this definition, an indication that they are
not antipodean in the strictest sense of the term. Their omission additionally
highlights their status as newcomers to the category, which also helps to
account for the surprise they express when labelled Antipodean. The
description of Australians, New Zealanders, and now South Africans as
Antipodeans also reflects the historical relationship between these countries,
whereby colonials arriving in the UK were viewed by their hosts as backward
and uncultured cousins. Being labelled an Antipodean therefore places the
recipient on the other side of the world – both physically and metaphorically.
However, the historical differences between Australians and New Zealanders
on the one hand and South Africans on the other establish an important
framework for understanding the subsequent use and development of the
term Antipodean.
The movement from the colonies to Britain has a long and well
documented history. However, the contemporary relationship between
Antipodeans and their British ‘home’ stems from the trends and
developments that took place in the 1960s. In ‘Beyond “Kangaroo Valley”‘
Stephen Alomes sketches the experience of a new generation of young
Australians arriving in London: ‘In the 1960s numbers peaked as the baby
boomers came to adulthood, affluence facilitated travel, working rights were
still generous, and the city of Sixties popular culture called’.3 For Britons,
this generation of Australians stands out for their ‘colonisation’ of Earls
Court (better known as Kangaroo Valley) and, indeed, the individuals in their
ranks that would go on to become household names – Germaine Greer, Clive
James, and Barry Humphries. The popular image of the Australian abroad
was caricaturised by the 1971 film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. In
his inimical style, Humphries used the film to satirise both Australians and
their hosts. However, some 35 years later, Australian compatriots living in
London are still identified this boorish, hedonistic image (by Britons and
fellow Australians alike).
Robert Crawford
Wrongly or rightly, this Australian image has also been applied to New
Zealanders. Nigel Carter’s characterisation of the New Zealand pattern of
migration during the 1960s and 1970s is therefore a familiar one:
At first most travellers went to London. They headed for
the Overseas Club in Earls Court (Kangaroo Valley) or to
New Zealand House in Haymarket. At both places there
were bulletin boards advertising jobs and flats’.4
For these Australians and New Zealanders, the move to the UK was
motivated by a perceived lack of opportunities with their homeland as well as
a desire to see the world. Moving to London was soon identified as a rite of
passage, particularly in New Zealand where this ‘overseas experience’ would
become popularly known as ‘doing the OE’.5
South African frustrations with their homeland were particularly pressing
and inherently political. The country’s decision to leave the Commonwealth
in 1961 directly affected the flow of South Africans to the UK. With their
Commonwealth privileges revoked, they now entered the UK as ‘foreign
nationals’. Apartheid also affected the type of immigrant arriving in the UK.
Although they were overwhelmingly white, the presence of black, coloured,
and Indian South Africans meant that they were more diverse than the
Australian and New Zealand diasporas. For the exiles, Britain provided an
asylum from which they could continue their struggle against the Apartheid
system. As Mark Israel notes, politics provided a collective identification
among the disparate South Africans, bringing ‘together the most sizeable
numbers in recognisably South African activities’.6 It seems that ‘the rite of
passage’ enjoyed by Australians and New Zealanders scarcely characterised
of the experiences of these South Africans.
The pattern of migration from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa
to the UK that was established during the 1960s continued through to the
1990s. While the outlined social push and pull factors continued to motivate
emigration from each country, the speed and the declining cost of air travel
meant that a larger number could now uproot their lives to London. The
impact of this democratisation of international travel can be glimpsed in The
Adventures of Barry McKenzie. Noting that Barry’s ever-present airways bag
was ‘even then … a sign of mental retardation’, Tom O’Regan reveals how
the film both recognised and satirised the new generation of non-middle class
immigrants arriving in London.7
The increasing numbers of Australians, New Zealanders, and South
Africans in the UK did little to alter their popular image. However, by the
late 1980s some were grumbling that such images failed to reflect the
contemporary trends. TNT Magazine, for example, took particular exception
at the popular image of an Australian in London:
The Antipodean Image in London
[T]here appears to be a growing undercurrent of resentment
about our image as a nation of ockers. We are no longer
comfortable to use the tag. Bazza McKenzie was a
disgrace. Paul Hogan was fun but he is not us … Yes, we
do have a national character but it has very little to do with
the one portrayed in the Castlemaine XXXX ads … As the
major Australian magazine, we believe we have a duty to
bury the ocker myth. To put the Bazza McKenzie image
down where it belongs.8
In the magazine’s following edition, the editorial revealed that the issue had
‘stirred up a hornet’s nest, at least from some quarters who believe that rather
than trying to improve the Ocker image of Australasians in London, TNT
should be catering to it’.9 The magazine clearly sought to reflect and, indeed,
inform readers’ sense of identity.
The extension of TNT Magazine’s ‘ocker’ discussion from Australians
to Australasians is quite revealing. Established in 1983 with the express aim
of serving London’s Australians, TNT Magazine combined news from home,
updates on events in London, and tips for travel. It was not long before reader
base was expanded to include New Zealanders. For a free publication, this
addition of some 30,000 potential readers made good commercial sense.
However, as the excerpts above demonstrate, TNT Magazine prioritised its
Australian readers and Australasians only came in second.
TNT Magazine was not the first publication to cater for Australians and
New Zealanders in the UK. From 1887 to 1969, the British Australasian (in
its various guises) had served a similar function whilst the New Zealand
News was published for an exclusively New Zealand readership since 1927.
Yet TNT Magazine’s format clearly spoke to its target audience and it
quickly succeeded in establishing itself as the pre-eminent publication for
young Australians and New Zealanders in London. While the numbers of
South Africans living in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s were only
marginally fewer than the number of Australians, neither TNT Magazine nor
its predecessors had regarded them as potential readers. Clearly, the editors of
these publications recognised that the South African diaspora was
substantially different to the Australian and/or New Zealand equivalents.
South Africans were served by South Africa (1888-1961), Southern Africa
(1961-1970) and then South African News (1983-2005).
In 1994 South Africa held its first free elections. The victory of Nelson
Mandela and the African National Congress saw South Africa welcomed
back into the Commonwealth. While membership of the Commonwealth in
the 1990s no longer offered the same levels accessibility to the UK, it
nevertheless provided new opportunities to South Africans – particularly
those who were not entirely sure about Rainbow Nation’s future. Emigration
Robert Crawford
levels immediately increased. While political emigration continued, the exiles
were now fleeing a black government. South Africa’s spiralling crime rate
and crumbling infrastructure quickly displaced political concerns as the
primary motivators for leaving the country. The weakening of the Rand and
the government’s affirmative action measures similarly encouraged many
South Africans to pack their bags. An estimated 814,000 white South
Africans emigrated abroad between 1995 and 2005 with Australia, Canada,
New Zealand, and the United States being the leading destinations.10
However, the most accessible and therefore the most popular destination for
South African emigrants has been the United Kingdom. Census data reveals
that the number of South-African born people in the UK more than doubled
over the course of the 1990s.11
The UK Government’s Entry Clearance statistics for the period spanning
1994 and 2006 reveal that 217,216 South Africans entered the UK on
temporary visas and a further 18,238 arriving on permanent visas.12 Between
2001/2 and 2005/6 almost two-thirds of the temporary visas issued were
under the working holiday maker programme. Such visas provided an
opportunity for people under 27 (later expanded to 30) to live and work in the
UK for two years. This rapid influx of South Africans arriving on working
holiday maker visas not only altered the demography of the South African
diaspora in the UK, it also had a marked impact on its public perception. In
The Expat Confessions, Ted Botha and Jenni Baxter describe them as
‘expatniks’ (rather than ‘real’ expatriates) whose raison d’etre for being in
London was to have fun:
Expatniks try to live as cheaply as possible, often in
communes, sleeping as many as five to a room. They work
through temp agencies and take on accounting, secretarial
and catering jobs, something that can be paid by the hour.
Their focus is on earning as many pounds as possible so
that they can a) party, b) travel cheaply, c) party some more
and d) save enough to go home and buy a car or even put a
down payment on a house.13
While few of the earlier generations of South Africans living in London
would have identified with this image, there were others in the British capital
that certainly did.
Australians and New Zealanders had long been arriving in the UK on
working holiday maker visas and it is therefore little surprise that the image
outlined by Botha and Baxter has historically been applied to them. The
institutions and firms that have served these working holiday makers also
recognised the commercial opportunities to be derived from this rapidly
expanding number of South African ‘expatniks’. Significantly, we can see
The Antipodean Image in London
that the Antipodean label begins to be applied to South Africans just as their
experiences mirror those of their Australasian counterparts. This expansion is
captured by a 1997 report from The Telegraph describing the Australasian
institution established in 1979 – the Church:
Every Sunday morning more than 1,000 Antipodeans get
out of bed … and head towards a warehouse in north
London. Their destination is an unadvertised event called
the Church. … “We stick to the same running order each
week,” says head security man Herman … “1pm Unfurl the
flags of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (old and
new versions). 1.30pm Filthy comedian comes on. 2pm
Stripper. 2.30pm Drinking Games. 3.30pm everybody
Ten years later, Dylan Nichols observes that little had changed - although he
did note ‘the music isn’t purely old Australian pop hits but is now diverse
enough to accommodate South African, New Zealand and even English
The Walkabout chain of pubs that emerged across the UK in the mid1990s similarly celebrated the hedonistic Antipodean image. However, unlike
the Church, its image of Antipodean was for general consumption. As Brad
West observes, this chain of pubs identified British drinkers as its key
demographic market although the presence of Australian and New Zealand
consumers also helped produce an authentic feeling.16 While the Walkabouts
currently carry the slogan ‘the awesome spirit of the Southern hemisphere’ in
order to include South Africans, the emergence of bars with a distinctly
African theme (such as Zulus Bar) suggest that the Walkabouts’ antipodeanness is primarily envisaged in terms of Australia and New Zealand.
The Walkabout and the Church were not the first commercial institutions
to extend their conceptualisation of antipodean to include the new generation
of South Africans. In 1995 TNT Magazine re-branded itself as the magazine
for Antipodeans in London. This decision displayed remarkable foresight as
the South African and Australasian experiences of the UK were still
markedly different. However, TNT Magazine anticipated that the South
Africans who would increasingly arrive in the UK via the working-holiday
visa scheme would begin to share the outlooks, desires, and experiences of its
established audience. This prediction would prove correct; the number of
South Africans arriving on temporary visas grew from 3,050 in 1994 to
32,631 in 2004/5.17 Overwhelmingly young, relatively affluent, and white,
these South Africans were hardly representative of their country but their
demographics certainly mirrored TNT Magazine’s established market. While
the magazine could not have predicted the push factors driving South
Robert Crawford
Africans from their home (crime, economics, affirmative action), it would
have been well aware of the pull factors attracting them to the UK and
specifically London. A 2007 survey of South Africans abroad reveals that
those living in London were primarily motivated by work prospects and the
opportunity to travel - motives that are mirrored by Australians and New
Zealanders.18 As TNT Magazine’s major advertisers were in the tourism and
employment industries, the extension of Antipodean to include South
Africans appears to have been a logical and, more importantly, a profitable
TNT Magazine’s success in reaching out to the lucrative Antipodean
market has prompted others to do likewise. Blue Sky Publications’ chain of
newspapers, for example, reaches out to all three nationalities yet it does not
publicly refer them as Antipodeans. Rather than producing a single
publication, it publishes three separate newspapers: the Australian Times, the
New Zealand Times, and the South African. However, with the exception of
their news from home and sporting results, these publications contain the
same feature articles and, generally, the same advertisers (particularly in the
case of the Australian Times and the New Zealand Times). Antipodean in all
but name, such publications indicate that the commercial organisations
(whether they are publishers selling their readers or advertisers seeking
access to them) have an active interest in identifying a single market rather
than three small and separate markets.
In addition to informing and entertaining the Australian, New Zealand
and South African markets, the community media has also been instrumental
in forging a sense of community amongst its readers. Speaking to three
transient diasporas, these media outlets uniquely constitute a consistent
institution that also performs an active role in organising communal events.
TNT Magazine, for example, has long been an active organiser of social
events for its readers. While some are nation-specific (such as Australia Day
and Waitangi Day), others are aimed at the broader Antipodean community.
The magazine’s recent ‘Four Nations Challenge 2008’ (which included an
English team) attracted a crowd of 300 spectators. 19 In London’s 2004 Sports
Awards similarly hit two birds with the one stone: the event not only united
the magazine, advertisers, and the Antipodean audience it also provided
photographic material for the next edition.20
Significantly, the number of participants involved in these media
organised events suggest that there something of a shared sense of
community is in fact emerging among London’s Antipodeans. This identity
can also be discerned in other commercial endeavours. As its title suggests,
www.antipodate.co.uk is a match-making website aimed at Antipodeans in
the UK. For the uninitiated, the website’s function and title are explained:
The Antipodean Image in London
Maybe you’re an Aussie, Saffa, Kiwi, Zimbo or other expat
in the UK … looking for a friend, date, travel partner or
serious relationship or maybe you’d just like to meet one of
these people - it’s for anyone. The Antipodean term that is
the basis of our name is often used - particularly in the UK
- to refer to Aussies and Kiwis or more loosely to all this
group from the Southern Hemisphere.21
Significantly, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans only form
49% of the site’s clients.22 Like the Walkabout pubs, it seems that this
commercial venture also caters for Britons who, ahem, hope gain an
Antipodean experience. Commercial interests might be active in generating
an Antipodean identity but the audience’s positive response to these
initiatives and events indicates that they are far from passive recipients.
In South Africa’s Cape Times newspaper, Gerald Shaw observed that
London provided ‘young South Africans an intensified experience of their
South African-ness. Whatever they are, they clearly are not British, even if
Ozzies and Kiwis are a kind of soul-mate’.23 While the latter comment
certainly alludes to an Antipodean identity, it seems that this notion
nevertheless remains weak. As the Zimbabwean-born editor of In London
noted: ‘we cater for Aussies, Kiwis and Saffas and we all have things in
common, like: good weather, great work ethic and a goodly thirst, but
sometimes it feels like we are oceans apart’.24 The first respondents to a
survey that I am currently conducting on South Africans in London confirm
these observations. Asked whether they viewed themselves as South
Africans, South African Britons, Britons, or Antipodeans, only one of the 75
respondents identified themselves as being Antipodean. 43% of respondents
included South Africans in their definition of Antipodean whilst 17% limited
it to Australians and New Zealanders. The notion that South Africans are
Antipodeans appears to gaining ground.
In conclusion, it seems that Antipodean-ness has been and continues to
be used by commercial interests as well as Antipodeans themselves as a
means of establishing a sense of commonality in an alien place. By situating
Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans in relation to their host
country and, indeed, their hemispheric neighbours, the Antipodean discourse
enables individuals to identify with others who share the same experiences
and outlooks. Commercial interests in turn play an active role in harnessing
and reinforcing these sentiments for commercial gain. For many Australians,
New Zealanders and South Africans, it seems that the concept of Antipodean
is an increasingly accepted label but not one that is wholeheartedly embraced.
As one respondent to my survey noted: ‘I think that is a British or maybe
Australian concept. don’t like the term’.
Robert Crawford
J Van Rooyen, The New Great Trek: The Story of South Africa’s White
Exodus , University of South Africa, Pretoria,2000, p. 162.
Oxford English Dictionary Online, http://oed.com: accessed 7 January
S Alomes, ‘Beyond “Kangaroo Valley”: The Rituals of Australian London’,
Australian Studies, 17:1, Summer 2002, p. 7.
N C Carter, The Big OE: Tales from New Zealand Travelers, Tandem Press,
Auckland, 2001, p.11.
C Bell, ‘The Big “OE”: Young New Zealand Travellers as Secular
Pilgrims’, Tourist Studies, 2:2, 2002, pp.144-5.
M Israel, South African Political Exile in the United Kingdom , Macmillan,
London, 1999, p.3.
T O’Regan, ‘Cinema Oz: The Ocker Films’ in Albert Moran & Tom
O’Regan (eds), The Australian Screen , Penguin, Melbourne,1989, p. 83.
‘TNT Comment - The Ocker Myth’, TNT Magazine, 209, 31 August 1987,
‘TNT Comment - A Pleasant Sunday’, TNT Magazine, 210, 7 September
1987, p.4.
F Cronje, ‘More Jobs Less Work’ , Fast Facts, 8-9, August-September
Population Census of Great Britain, UK Office for National Statistics,
Entry Clearance Statistics, 1994 – 2005/6 (UK Visas)
T Botha & J Baxter, The Expat Confessions: South Africans Abroad Speak
Out!, Jented Publishing ,New York & Australia, 2005, p.8.
‘A Real Larynx Wobbler’, Daily Telegraph (9 August 1997).
D Nichols, What are You doing Here? The Question of Australians in
London, Pen Press Publishers, Brighton, 2007, p. 149.
B West, ‘Consuming National Themed Environments Abroad: Australian
Working Holidaymakers and Symbolic National Identity in “Aussie” Theme
Pubs’, 6:2, 2006, p.142.
Entry Clearance Statistics, 1994 – 2005/6 (UK Visas)
Homecoming Revolution Dataset (Homecoming Revolution 2007)
Correspondence with Krysten Booth, editor TNT Magazine, 16 June 2008.
‘London Cam’, In London, 11, November 2004, pp.40-1.
‘Who’s It For?’ WhatsItAllAbout.aspx, accessed 1 June 2008.
, http://www.antipodate.co.uk/
Personal Correspondence with Adam Fowler, creator of
www.antipodate.com (7 July 2008).
The Antipodean Image in London
G Shaw, ‘English South Africans discover a Sense of Identity in “Alien”
London’, Cape Times, 16 January 2002, p. 9.
‘Editor’s Letter’, In London, 27, April 2006, p.4.
Robert Crawford is a Research Fellow with Menzies Centre for Australian
Studies, King’s College London, and with Monash University.
email: [email protected]
Points of Entanglement:
The Overdetermination of German Space
and Identity in Walk on Water
Nicholas Baer
In this essay, I consider how films have engaged with the politics of German
space and identity in the context of the country’s National Socialist past and, more specifically, in the context of relations between and among
Germans, Turks, and Jews. I analyse a scene from Israeli director Eytan
Fox’s Walk on Water (2004) that evokes Berührung between and among
these groups through its use of a space in Berlin that bears weighty historical
and ideological connotations. Of key interest for me is the function of
queerness and drag in the scene, as well as the manner in which the scene
serves not only as a contestation over space, but also as an opportunity for the
(re)articulation of the German body politic.
Keywords: Alexanderplatz, Berlin, body politics, drag queens, Eytan Fox,
Jews, neo-Nazis, Turks, Walk on Water, Zionism.
In recent years, writers and scholars have begun to address the issue
of how Turkish-Germans, who comprise the largest national minority group
in contemporary German society, can engage with Germany’s past. Zafer
Şenocak has noted the exclusivity of German memorial culture and has posed
the question, “Can immigrants participate in shaping the German future
without having access to a shared history with the native population?”1
Likewise, in a series of texts, Leslie Adelson has observed the omission of
Turkish-Germans from the “interpretive landscape” of the Third Reich and
the Holocaust, as well as from the larger “narrative of post-war German
history”.2 Criticizing the tendency to imagine a Turkish-German encounter as
one “between German culture and something outside it” rather than “between
the German past and the German present”, Adelson has developed a critical
grammar in order to reconceptualise the manner in which cultural contact
between Germans and Turkish-Germans is represented.3 Finally, Andreas
Huyssen has considered the relationship between diasporic and national
memory by focusing on the question of whether Turkish-Germans can and
should “migrate” into the German past. Huyssen has concluded that such a
temporal migration will remain impossible so long as Germany’s public
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
memory discourse “remains fundamentally and persistently national, focused
on German perpetrators and Jewish victims.”4
It bears noting that this growing body of work has remained centred
on the medium of literature; indeed, texts by Şenocak and other TurkishGerman authors have been the foci of Adelson and Huyssen’s analyses. Film
scholars including Rob Burns, Deniz Göktürk, Barbara Mennel, and Hamid
Naficy have written informative and illuminating texts on Turkish-German
cinema and its spatial tropes; they have largely concentrated on the tropes of
enclosure, claustrophobia, and imprisonment, and they have noted a general
move from a “sub-national” cinema that reinforces notions of cultural
homogeneity and authenticity to a “transnational” cinema of circulation and
hybridity.5 However, no one has presented a sustained analysis of how films
have engaged with the politics of German space and identity in the context of
the country’s National Socialist past - and, more specifically, in the context
of relations between and among Germans, Turks, and Jews. In this essay, I
will analyse a scene from Israeli director Eytan Fox’s Walk on Water (2004)
that evokes Berührung between and among these groups through its use of a
space in Berlin that bears weighty historical and ideological connotations.6
For films using spaces as a means of evoking Germany’s past in the
minds of viewers, the city of Berlin serves as “fertile symbolic terrain.”7
Andreas Huyssen writes, “There is perhaps no other major Western city that
bears the marks of twentieth-century history as intensely and self-consciously
as Berlin. This city-text has been written, erased, and rewritten throughout
this violent century, and its legibility relies as much on visible markers of
built space as on images and memories repressed and ruptured by traumatic
events.”8 In the following examination of a scene from Walk on Water, I will
consider not only how such spaces, images, and memories are evoked, but
also how they are made legible in new ways, such that German space and
identity become renegotiated. I will analyse a scene of neo-Nazi violence that
Fox stages in the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station of Berlin - a scene that has
been inexplicably overlooked, or given mere cursory treatment, in the
existing literature on the film.9 Of key interest for me will be the function of
queerness and drag in the scene, as well as the manner in which the scene
serves not only as a contestation over space, but also as an opportunity for the
(re)articulation of the German body politic. Indeed, if, as scholars such as Uli
Linke have argued, the space of the German nation continues to be
conceptualised as a body in contemporary discourses around German identity
(much as it was during the country’s National Socialist era), then the spatial
politics of this scene becomes inextricably linked to the politics of race,
nationality, gender, and sexuality.
In Eytan Fox’s film, the hyper-masculine Eyal is a recently widowed
Mossad agent who guides Axel, a gay German man, around Israel during a
trip to visit his sister, Pia. Axel works for an organization in Berlin that
Nicholas Baer
assists the children of immigrants from countries such as Turkey, and Pia
lives in a kibbutz in Israel. Axel and Pia’s grandfather, Alfred Himmelman, is
a Nazi war criminal who has lived in Argentina since the end of World War
II, but who has recently disappeared. Since Pia is seeking a tour guide for
Axel during his visit, and since Eyal is fluent in German (unbeknownst to
Axel and Pia), Eyal is assigned to pose as the guide in order to gather
information on the whereabouts of their grandfather. Eyal eventually
develops a certain rapport with Axel - a rapport that is nonetheless ruined
when Axel reveals his homosexuality to Eyal and has an affair with a
Palestinian man. Despite the ensuing tension between the two men, Axel tells
Eyal to contact him if ever in Germany; Eyal responds, “I’ve never been to
Germany and I don’t think I’ll ever want to go.” However, after learning that
Alfred may be returning to Germany for the 70th birthday celebration of
Axel’s father, Eyal flies to Berlin and surprises Axel.
In the scene that I will analyse, Eyal and Axel enter the
Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, where they pass by three neo-Nazis and then
encounter four drag queens whom Axel knows. After conversing with the
drag queens, Eyal and Axel begin to descend a staircase to the U8 track.
However, when they hear a scream from above, Eyal and Axel run up the
staircase and find that the neo-Nazis are attacking the drag queens. Just as it
seems that Eyal has successfully wielded off the neo-Nazis, one of the three
begins to run towards Eyal with a broken beer bottle in his hand. Eyal pulls
out a gun, directs it at the neo-Nazi, and says, “Verpiss dich, du Arschloch,
oder ich blas dir das Hirn raus!” [Fuck off, asshole, or I’ll blow your brains
out!]. The three neo-Nazis subsequently leave the station. In the following
scene, after riding the U-Bahn in silence to Potsdamer Platz, Axel asks Eyal
about his fluency in German and his reasons for bringing a gun to Berlin, and
he invites Eyal to attend his father’s forthcoming birthday celebration in
This scene of neo-Nazi violence forms clear links between the
National Socialist era and contemporary Germany. Eyal, for whom Germany
continues to be overdetermined by the policies and actions of the Third
Reich, associates the neo-Nazis’ attack on the drag queens with Nazi violence
against Jews. The scene contains many indications of his feeling of
discomfort in the space of Berlin; for example, after passing the neo-Nazis at
the entrance to the train station, he immediately looks back upon hearing the
sound of a bottle breaking. Later in the scene, while pulling out the gun and
directing it at the neo-Nazi, Eyal reveals his German-language fluency - a
mark of his family’s ties to Germany. When Axel prods Eyal about his
German fluency in the following scene, Eyal responds, “My parents spoke
German. My mother was born in Berlin. She lived there until they had to
move and hide. That’s how I grew up - no German products in the house, no
travel to Germany, no talking about it.” Axel then asks if this motivated
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
Eyal’s decision to bring a gun with him to Berlin, and Eyal explains, “Just
before I left for the airport, I got scared. I didn’t really think it over; I just
took it.”11 Eyal’s account of his mother’s forced exile from Berlin and his
family’s frayed relationship to Germany become both a temporal referent for
the scene’s spatial politics and an explanation for Eyal’s strong reaction to
the neo-Nazi attack.12
Since both the drag queens and the neo-Nazis remain unnamed and
undeveloped, and since they never reappear in the film, one might wonder
why they are introduced in this scene. I would argue that their presence must
be seen in the context of the film’s engagement with national boundaries and
body politics. Drawing on the work of Mary Douglas, Judith Butler has
written, “If the body is synecdochal for the social system per se or a site in
which open systems converge, then any kind of unregulated permeability
constitutes a site of pollution and endangerment.”13 According to Butler,
male homosexual practice, which “establishes certain kinds of bodily
permeabilities unsanctioned by the hegemonic order”, thus becomes a “site of
danger and pollution”;14 furthermore, drag serves to destabilize and even
denaturalise the bodily boundaries along which the social order is
articulated.15 It bears noting that this scene at the Alexanderplatz station is
immediately preceded by a scene in which Axel takes Eyal to a gay bar. In
this scene, Eyal shows a heretofore-unprecedented openness to the topic of
gay sexual practices; he displays curiosity about the dynamics of anal sex,
and he expresses particular interest in the degree to which gay men are
“easygoing” in terms of crossing boundaries of nationality. When Eyal and
Axel encounter the drag queens in the following scene, they ask Axel about
the bar - thereby linking them to this conversation about national and
corporal boundaries.
Apart from being associated with the crossing and confounding of
boundaries, the drag queens function to convey what Marjorie Garber has
called “category crisis”. In her study of the role of transvestism in cultural
forms and representations, Garber writes, “One of the most consistent and
effective functions of the transvestite in culture is to indicate the place of
what I call ‘category crisis,’ disrupting and calling attention to cultural,
social, or aesthetic dissonances.”16 In Garber’s words, “category crisis” is “a
failure of definitional distinction, a borderline that becomes permeable, that
permits of border crossings from one (apparently distinct) category to
another” - e.g. male/female, black/white, Jew/Christian.17 According to
Garber, the figure of the transvestite thus “function[s] as a sign of
overdetermination - a mechanism of displacement from one blurred boundary
to another”.18 The drag queens in this scene of Fox’s film are indeed
seemingly indeterminable in terms of their race, gender, and sexuality (the
three identified actors who play them - Hubertus Regout, Biggi van Blond,
and Paysley Dalton - are Belgian, German, and African-American,
Nicholas Baer
respectively); they alternate between German and English, and immediately
disregard norms of propriety as they flirt with Eyal. When Axel introduces
Eyal to them as “ein Freund von mir aus Israel” [a friend of mine from
Israel], one of the drag queens even reverts to Hebrew while asking Eyal,
“Ma nishma?” [How are you?].19 After parting ways with the drag queens,
Axel tells Eyal, “Don’t get upset; they’re really okay”, and Eyal responds,
“Don’t patronize. Remember: we invented Dana International” - a reference
to the transsexual Israeli singer, originally named Yaron Cohen, who won the
1998 Eurovision Song Contest.
Here, the drag queens become signs of overdetermination not only
because they blur a range of social boundaries, but also because of their
implicit connection to another group that has signified boundary-crossing and
“category crisis”: Jews. Indeed, as Garber has written, both the transvestite
and the Jew can function as “a sign of the category crisis of the immigrant,
between nations, forced out of one role that no longer fits […] and into
another role, that of a stranger in a strange land”.20 During the late nineteenth
and early twentieth century, Jews were both associated with a sense of
statelessness and linked to women and homosexuals.21 For example, in
Chapter Thirteen (“Das Judentum”) of Sex and Character (1903), Otto
Weininger characterizes the Jew as having “keine Wurzeln” [no roots, 431]
and being “von jeher staatfremd” [from time immemorial foreign to the State,
411].22 Weininger writes of “der schnell sich verwandelnde Jude” [the
quickly transforming Jew, 412] as a “Grenzenverwischer” [obscurer of
borders, 417] with qualities of “Formlosigkeit” [formlessness, 417],
“Beweglichkeit” [mobility, 429], and an “unendliche Veränderungsfähigkeit”
[unending potential for change, 429], as well as with a “Mangel an irgend
welcher Bodenständigkeit” [lack of any type of rootedness, 431]. Weininger
finds numerous points of “Kongruenz zwischen Judentum und Weiblichkeit”
[congruence between Jewry and femininity, 429], and he asserts that “unsere
Zeit” is “nicht nur die jüdischeste, sondern auch die weiblicheste aller
Zeiten” - a “Zeit ohne Sinn für Staat und Recht” [our time is not only the
most Jewish, but also the most feminine of all times - a time without sense
for State and Law, 441]. Jews were thus both coded as non-normative in
terms of gender and sexuality, and associated with the Verwischung of
traditional cultural and national boundaries - stereotypes to which the Zionist
movement directly responded.
In the context of the scene, Eyal’s act of successfully defending the
drag queens against the neo-Nazis’ physical attack would seem to serve as a
validation and reinscription of his Zionist masculine identity. However, the
scene is filled with indications of a transformation in Eyal’s identity and of
his increasing disinvestment from the Zionist project. As aforementioned,
Eyal shows an unexpected and unprecedented openness to the subjects of
homosexuality and transvestism, which are here associated with the crossing
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
and obscuration of national boundaries. Furthermore, Eyal’s allusion to Dana
International is a curious one, given that Eyal and Dana International would
seem to represent two opposing types of Israeli masculinity: while Eyal is
associated with “the masculinising and heterosexualising project of Herzlian
Zionism”, Dana International marks a challenge to “the prime national ideals
of heterosexual masculinity”: 23
If European Jews went to Palestine to become “normalised”
as men, Dana International reversed the process. She went
from Israel to Europe to become a woman (her 1993 genital
surgery, described repeatedly and in detail in the Israeli
press after the Eurovision contest, took place in Britain)
and then she sashayed her queer femininity across the
Eurovision stage. […] Dana’s symbolic rejection of the
fundaments of Zionism goes even further. She turned in a
priestly, Israeli name for the moniker of a rootless
cosmopolitan. What kind of Zionist calls herself
International - and sings in Arabic as well as in Hebrew
(and in French and English, as well)? “We don’t need
borders,” Dana proclaimed exultantly the day after her
Eurovision victory, in the ultimate rebuke to the ideal of the
By alluding to, associating with, and defending figures of non-normative
gender and sexual identity in this scene, Eyal forms an unexpected coalitional
politics around past and present targets of (neo-)Nazi violence.25 However,
rather than viewing Eyal in “the role of protector, firmly on the side of Axel
and the attacked drag queens”,26 I would draw attention to the ways in which
Eyal’s own Zionist masculinity becomes loosened through the evocation of
the two terms against which it is defined: queerness and Nazi violence.27
Indeed, within this scene, Eyal marks himself as a member of the GermanJewish diaspora by revealing his linguistic and affective ties to Germany. If,
in the words of Daniel Boyarin, “Diaspora is essentially queer,” then Eyal’s
self-positioning as a diasporic subject in this scene represents a
transformation - and even queering - of his identity.28
While Jews, queers, and drag queens are here linked by association
with the transgression and obscuration of boundaries of gender and
nationality, the neo-Nazis’ assault on the drag queens becomes an occasion
for the negotiation and articulation of the German body politic. Uli Linke has
noted a point of discursive continuity between the Freikorps men and the
German politicians who reacted against the “influx” of refugees and
immigrants in the post-war era: both wished to hold the imagined national
body “together as an entity, a distinct body with fixed boundaries”.29 Given
Nicholas Baer
this point of continuity, it is no surprise both that the neo-Nazis direct their
attack against the drag queens, and that the beginning of the attack (marked
by the scream of one of the drag queens) interrupts Axel’s performance of
Dana International’s song “Diva” - a performance which itself crosses lines
of nationality and gender.30 Later in the scene, Eyal and Axel’s verbal
accounts of the neo-Nazis become articulations of who should be driven raus
from German space, here imagined as a collective body. Eyal tells a neoNazi, “Verpiss dich, du Arschloch, oder ich blas dir das Hirn raus!” [Fuck
off, asshole, or I’ll blow your brains out!], and Axel later tells Eyal, “It’s too
bad you didn’t kill him, dieses Stück Scheiße [this piece of shit]. These
people pollute the world. They turn everything into shit.” Both statements
rely on what Linke has called a “rhetoric of expulsion”, whereby “the denial
of membership and the expulsion of people are linguistically conceptualised
as processes of excorporation”.31 In using words such as “Arschloch” and
“Scheiße” to label the neo-Nazis, Eyal and Axel associate the neo-Nazis with
abject, contaminous elements of the collective national body. Since Jews
were once subjected to this “rhetoric of expulsion”,32 Eyal’s statement already notable for its indication of his fluency in German - becomes a means
of reclaiming German space and even rearticulating German identity.
Like the drag queens, the very space in which the scene plays out
serves as a “sign of overdetermination”.33 As Hamid Naficy notes in his study
of “accented cinema”, borders, tunnels, and trains often serve within exilic
and diasporic films as “important transitional and transnational places and
spaces”, as well as “privileged sites […] of journeys of and struggles over
identity”.34 The Alexanderplatz station, which is known as one of Berlin’s
major Verkehrsknotenpunkte [transportation hubs], serves as a Knotenpunkt
[nodal point] for the various aspects of Eyal’s history and identity that
converge in this scene. Not only does Eyal clearly associate the neo-Nazis
with the Nazis who drove his family out of Germany; his fight with the neoNazis also leads him to reveal his fluency in German and his family’s ties to
the country. Furthermore, a neighbouring architectural structure becomes an
overdetermined symbol of German-Jewish relations within the film’s
diegesis. When Eyal bugs Pia’s apartment in Israel in an earlier scene of the
film, he installs a microphone in a model-sized Fernsehturm [TV Tower] – a
structure adjacent to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Later in the film, when the plot
moves to Berlin, Fox juxtaposes Pia’s model-sized Fernsehturm against the
“real” one, which Eyal sees from the window of his hotel room. In a film that
contrasts Eyal’s preformed assumptions about Germany to his later
experiences within the country, the Fernsehturm becomes a dynamic symbol
of the space’s resonances and connotations for Eyal, as well of as the shifting
dynamics of Eyal’s relationships with Pia and Axel.
Beyond representing a transformation in both Eyal’s identity and his
relationship to Germany, the Alexanderplatz station complements the scene’s
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
thematic of national and corporal boundaries, as well as its interest in
unexpected linkages between and among various minority groups. As Eyal
and Axel walk down the staircase of the Alexanderplatz station in this scene,
they approach the track for the U8, a line that moves between East and West
Berlin. During the years of Berlin’s division, the U8 track was separated from
the rest of the Alexanderplatz station, and its access points were walled off; it
thereby became one of Berlin’s so-called “Geisterbahnhöfe” [ghost stations].
Fox’s use of this overdetermined site of division thus becomes an ideal
backdrop for a scene in which national and corporal boundaries are crossed
and obscured. Furthermore, it bears noting that Berlin becomes the third city
depicted in the film that is marked by a history of division; the film begins in
Istanbul (identified in the film as the “border between Asia and Europe”),
continues in Jerusalem (with its literal and figurative divisions between
Israelis and Palestinians), and then moves to Berlin - a city known for, and
still marked by, its walled division between 1961 and 1989.
Just as Turkey becomes a part of this triangulation with Germany
and Israel, Turkish-Germans become a part of the constellation of minority
subjects evoked within this scene. Indeed, after initially parting ways with the
drag queens, Axel tells Eyal that many of the drag queens volunteer at his
organization - an organization that assists Turkish children in Berlin. It is at
this point in the scene that Eyal both orders Axel not to “patronize” him and
reminds Axel, “We invented Dana International.” Queers and drag queens
thus serve as the links between Jews and Turks within this scene of Fox’s
film. As Jeffrey Peck notes in his comparative study of Jews and Turks as
“minorities in Germany after the Holocaust”, both groups serve as “constant
reminders of history and its import for contemporary identities that are
intertwined and constantly shifting”;35 furthermore, both groups’ mere
presence within the overdetermined German cultural terrain “unsettles the
established notion of what it means to be German”.36 While the ghosts of
history haunt characters and viewers alike throughout this scene in one of
Berlin’s former Geisterbahnhöfe, Fox himself challenges fixed conceptions
of Germanness and alterity by evoking illicit Berührung across a range of
temporal and spatial markers, and between and among Germans, Jews, and
Z Şenocak, Atlas of a Tropical Germany: Essays on Politics and Culture,
1990-1998, L Adelson (trans. and ed.), University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln
and London, 2000, p. 53.
Nicholas Baer
L Adelson, ‘Touching Tales of Turks, Germans, and Jews: Cultural Alterity,
Historical Narrative, and Literary Riddles for the 1990s’. New German
Critique, no. 80, 2000, pp. 95, 96.
L Adelson, ‘Against Between: A Manifesto’, in Unpacking Europe:
Towards a Critical Reading, S Hassan and I Dadi (eds.), NAi Publishers,
Rotterdam, 2001, pp. 246-247.
A Huyssen, ‘Diaspora and Nation: Migration Into Other Pasts’. New
German Critique, no. 88, 2003, p. 164.
See R Burns, ‘Turkish-German Cinema: From Cultural Resistance to
Transnational Cinema?’, in German Cinema Since Unification, D Clarke
(ed), Continuum, New York, 2006, pp. 127-150; D Göktürk, ‘Turkish Delight
- German Fright: Migrant Identities in Transnational Cinema’, in Economic
& Social Research Council Transnational Communities Programme Working
<www.transcomm.ox.ac.uk/working%20papers/mediated.pdf>; D Göktürk,
‘Turkish Women on German Streets: Closure and Exposure in Transnational
Cinema’, in Spaces in European Cinema, M Konstantarakos (ed), Intellect
Books, Exeter, 2000, pp. 64-76; D Göktürk, ‘Beyond Paternalism: Turkish
German Traffic in Cinema’, in The German Cinema Book, T Bergfelder, E
Carter, & D Göktürk (eds), British Film Institute, London, 2002, pp. 248-256;
B Mennel, ‘Bruce Lee in Kreuzberg and Scarface in Altona: Transnational
Auteurism and Ghettocentrism in Thomas Arslan’s Brothers and Sisters and
Fatih Akin’s Short Sharp Shock’. New German Critique, no. 87, 2002, pp.
133-156; and H Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic & Diasporic
Filmmaking, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001.
I borrow the term Berührung from Leslie Adelson. Inspired by Zafer
Şenocak’s notion of an “entangled history of touch [Berührungsgeschichte]
between Orient and Occident” (L Adelson, The Turkish Turn in
Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of
Migration, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p. 107), Adelson has
lobbied for a move away from the notion of Begegnung [encounter], which
assumes “mutually exclusive collective identities” and an “absolute cultural
divide” (a la Samuel Huntington’s theory of a “clash of civilizations”) (L
Adelson, ‘Against Between’, pp. 245-246), and has adopted the term
Berührung [touch] to “bespeak historical and cultural entanglements to which
the transnational labour migration of the 1950s and 1960s has given rise in
Germany” (L Adelson, Turkish Turn, p. 21).
M Jesinghausen, ‘The Sky over Berlin as Transcendental Space: Wenders,
Döblin and the ‘Angel of History’’, in Spaces in European Cinema, M
Konstantarakos (ed), Intellect Books, Exeter, 2000, p. 79.
A Huyssen, ‘The Voids of Berlin’. Critical Inquiry, vol. 24, no. 1, 1997: pp.
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
For literature on Walk on Water, see N Dushi, ‘Israeli Cinema in a Global
Context - Regaining a Minoritarian Status’ (paper presented at the Foreign
Language Film Conference, Carbondale, IL, October 2007), and A
Kempinski, ‘Reworking History through Love and Lust: Eytan Fox’s
Lelechet al ha-maym (Walk on Water)’ (paper presented at the German
Studies Association Conference, San Diego, CA, October 2007).
Note the symbolic significance of the locations of Potsdamer Platz and
Wannsee. Potsdamer Platz, which was bisected by the Berlin Wall,
complements this scene’s thematic of borders and boundaries. Wannsee is
notorious for the House of the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi officials laid
out their plans for the Endlösung [final solution]. It also bears noting that
Eyal eventually decides against killing Axel’s grandfather at the birthday
celebration; thus, this scene of defence in the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station
serves as a displacement of the later scene in Wannsee.
Of course, since Eyal is a Mossad agent (still unbeknownst to Axel in this
scene), this explanation is not entirely trustworthy. On a side note, many
critics noted the implausibility of Eyal’s possession of a gun in this scene.
Notably, this scene also becomes the point where Axel and Eyal are
explicitly linked through history. Since Eyal here marks himself as a member
of the German-Jewish diaspora, he and Axel are now connected through their
German heritage and their ties to the Holocaust. I would like to thank Jeffrey
Peck for drawing my attention to this.
J Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,
Routledge, New York and London, 1990, p. 132.
Ibid., p. 132.
Ibid., p. 137.
M Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety,
Routledge, New York and London, 1992, p. 16.
Ibid., p. 16.
Ibid., p. 16; italics mine.
I would like to thank David-Emil Wickström for drawing my attention to
the use of this Hebrew phrase within the scene.
M Garber, ‘Category Crises: The Way of the Cross and the Jewish Star’, in
Queer Theory and the Jewish Question, D Boyarin, D Itzkovitz, & A
Pellegrini (eds), Columbia University Press, New York, 2003, p. 22.
Ibid., p. 36.
O Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter: Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung,
Vienna, 1903.
A Solomon, ‘Viva la Diva Citizenship: Post-Zionism and Gay Rights’, in
Queer Theory and the Jewish Question, D Boyarin, D Itzkovitz, & A
Pellegrini (eds), Columbia University Press, New York, 2003, pp. 150-151.
Eyal’s reference to Dana International is all the more surprising given that he
has heretofore indicated his exclusive preference for male singers such as
Nicholas Baer
Bruce Springsteen, whose song “Tunnel of Love” becomes associated with
Eyal’s heterosexuality over the course of the film.
Ibid., p. 151.
Fox articulates Eyal’s shift in alliance through two shot/reverse-shot
patterns near the beginning and end of the scene. As Eyal and Axel first
encounter the drag queens, Fox alternates between over-the-shoulder shots of
Eyal (from the point of view of Axel and the drag queens) and over-theshoulder shots of Axel and the drag queens (from Eyal’s point of view); Eyal
remains the outcast within this configuration. However, when Eyal later turns
around and successfully defends the drag queens against the neo-Nazis, his
alliance clearly shifts. Indeed, at the end of the scene, when Eyal pulls out his
gun and forces the neo-Nazis to leave the station, Fox alternates between
medium shots of Eyal and of the neo-Nazis.
A Kempinski, ‘Reworking History’, p. 7.
See Solomon, ‘Viva la Diva’, pp. 152, 158.
D Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the
Invention of the Jewish Man, University of California Press, Berkeley and
Los Angeles, 1997, p. 231.
U Linke, ‘Gendered Difference’, p. 563.
“Diva” is the song with which the Israeli singer won the Eurovision song
contest. On a side note, Axel’s performance in this scene recalls that of a
previous scene in the film in Israel, in which he lip-syncs Esther Ofarim’s
“Cinderella Rockafella” (Ofarim is another Israeli singer identified with the
Eurovision Song Contest). Axel’s fluid sense of gender and sexuality
manifests itself in his ability to switch roles; just as he says that he enjoys
both sexual roles in his conversation with Eyal about anal sex, he initially
performs both roles in Ofarim’s song until his sister joins him onstage.
U Linke, ‘Murderous Fantasies’, pp. 42-43.
See U Linke, ‘Gendered Difference’.
M Garber, Vested Interests, p. 16.
H Naficy, Accented Cinema, p. 5.
J Peck, ‘Turks and Jews: Comparing Minorities in Germany After the
Holocaust’. German Cultures, Foreign Cultures: The Politics of Belonging,
AICGS Research Report no. 8, 2007, p. 8.
J Peck, Being Jewish in the New Germany, Rutgers University Press, New
Brunswick, 2006, p. 102.
Adelson, L., ‘Touching Tales of Turks, Germans, and Jews: Cultural Alterity,
Historical Narrative, and Literary Riddles for the 1990s’. New German
Critique, No. 80, 2000, pp. 93-124.
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
——, ‘Against Between: A Manifesto’. In Unpacking Europe: Towards a
Critical Reading, S. Hassan and I. Dadi (eds), NAi Publishers, Rotterdam,
2001, pp. 244-255.
——, The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New
Critical Grammar of Migration. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005.
Boyarin, D., Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the
Invention of the Jewish Man, University of California Press, Berkeley/Los
Angeles, 1997.
Burns, R., ‘Turkish-German Cinema: From Cultural Resistance to
Transnational Cinema?’ In German Cinema Since Unification, D. Clarke
(ed), Continuum, New York, 2006, pp. 127-150.
Butler, J., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
Routledge, New York/London, 1990.
Dushi, N., ‘Israeli Cinema in a Global Context - Regaining a Minoritarian
Status’. Paper presented at the Foreign Language Film Conference, October
11-13, 2007, in Carbondale, Illinois.
Garber, M., Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety.
Routledge, New York/London, 1992.
——, ‘Category Crises: The Way of the Cross and the Jewish Star’. In Queer
Theory and the Jewish Question, D. Boyarin, D. Itzkovitz, and A. Pellegrini
(eds), Columbia University Press, New York, 2003, pp. 19-40.
Göktürk, D., ‘Turkish Delight - German Fright: Migrant Identities in
Transnational Cinema’. Working paper for the ESRC Transnational
——, ‘Turkish Women on German Streets: Closure and Exposure in
Transnational Cinema’. In Spaces in European Cinema, M. Konstantarakos
(ed), Intellect Books, Exeter, 2000, pp. 64-76.
——, ‘Beyond Paternalism: Turkish German Traffic in Cinema’. In The
German Cinema Book, T. Bergfelder, E. Carter, and D. Göktürk (eds), British
Film Institute, London, 2002, pp. 248-256.
Nicholas Baer
Huyssen, A., ‘The Voids of Berlin’. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1997,
pp. 57-81.
——, ‘Diaspora and Nation: Migration Into Other Pasts’. New German
Critique, No. 88, 2003, pp. 147-164.
Jesinghausen, M., ‘The Sky over Berlin as Transcendental Space: Wenders,
Döblin and the ‘Angel of History’’. In Spaces in European Cinema, M
Konstantarakos (ed), Intellect Books, Exeter, 2000, pp. 77-92.
Kempinski, A., ‘Reworking History through Love and Lust: Eytan Fox’s
Lelechet al ha-maym (Walk on Water)’. Paper presented at the German
Studies Association Conference, October 4-7, 2007, in San Diego, California.
Linke, U., ‘Murderous Fantasies: Violence, Memory, and Selfhood in
Germany’. New German Critique, No. 64, 1995, pp. 37-59.
——, ‘Gendered Difference, Violent Imagination: Blood, Race, Nation’.
American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 99, No. 3, 1997, pp. 559-573.
Mennel, B., ‘Bruce Lee in Kreuzberg and Scarface in Altona: Transnational
Auteurism and Ghettocentrism in Thomas Arslan’s Brothers and Sisters and
Fatih Akin’s Short Sharp Shock’. New German Critique, No. 87, 2002, pp.
Naficy, H., An Accented Cinema: Exilic & Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 2001.
Peck, J., ‘Turks and Jews: Comparing Minorities in Germany After the
Holocaust’. In German Cultures, Foreign Cultures: The Politics of
Belonging, AICGS Research Report No. 8, J. Peck (ed), 1997, pp. 1-16.
——, Being Jewish in the New Germany. Rutgers University Press, New
Brunswick, 2006.
Şenocak, Z., Atlas of a Tropical Germany: Essays on Politics and Culture,
1990-1998. L. Adelson (ed. and trans.), University of Nebraska Press,
Lincoln, 2000.
Solomon, A., ‘Viva la Diva Citizenship: Post-Zionism and Gay Rights’. In
Queer Theory and the Jewish Question, D. Boyarin, D. Itzkovitz, and A.
Pellegrini (eds), Columbia University Press, New York, 2003, pp. 149-165.
Points of Entanglement in Walk on Water
Weininger, O., Geschlecht und Charakter: Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung.
Vienna, 1903.
Nicholas Baer concentrated in Cinema & Media Studies at the University of
Chicago. He completed this essay while a Fulbright Scholar at the Cultural
Studies Institute of Humboldt-Universität Berlin during the 2007-2008
academic year.
The Return Home through The (Magic) Film Image
José Manuel Mouriño
The cinematographic history of Galicia (a region in the north-west of Spain)
offers a very special type of documentary closely related to the migration
(specially to South America). This kind of documental films, called
Documentary for Galician Emigrants, can be explained with the term
correspondence by film: a way to send images from home to the foreign
community, to the emigrants. The images of these films stimulate in a very
special way, the configuration of the memory (the single memory and the
collective memory), and show the real significance of the affective
participation in cinema.
Keywords: Cinematographic experience, home, memory, reflection, return.
It is a fact, and to some an extent a rather obvious one, that amongst
the themes that fill the various cultural expressions arising from a community
that has been obliged to abandon its place of origin -a group essentially
branded with the stigma of migration- one of the most noteworthy is the
constant presence of lamentation over the home that has been left behind and
a paean to the liberating need to return. The production of cultural artefacts is
always, when all is said and done, a way of effectively condensing those
ghosts or longings that continuously besiege a group, generation after
generation, and the figure of the return home is undoubtedly one of the
greatest concerns of any emigrant. However, once a researcher has confirmed
the existence of a continual reference to this topic, he or she has to decide to
what extent its presence conditions or governs the production of such
artefacts, or to put it another way, whether the image of the home that has
been left behind is one of the major elements in the genesis of the collection
of works in which it is enveloped or whether it works simply as an
illustration or appendix that is interchangeable with other types of theme. The
transcendence of this formula and the aesthetic implications deriving from it
will vary substantially according to whether it can be considered to belong to
the former or the latter. In this respect it may be extremely interesting to
consider a hitherto practically unknown cinematographic formula, one in
which the communicative content is explicitly reorganised around the motif
of the absent homeland, one which we could call the Documentary for
Galician Emigrants.
The Return Home through the Magic Film
This formula could briefly be described as a series of short films
made during the first half of the twentieth century in various parts of Galicia,
for the purpose of being screened to groups of people who had emigrated
from these areas and were living abroad. The films were usually
commissioned from professional or semi-professional cinema producers by
emigrant associations, although at times the initiative would spring from one
of the early Galician film-makers.1
With regard to the name itself, we should here make it clear that the
generic epithet Documentary for Emigrants is a tag with which these films
were labelled over the course of the years. The need to classify them was by
no means a matter of urgency for either the people asking for these
documentaries or those who made them, and in fact only become one when
their function evolved from that of providing up-to-date information in
pictures, this being the initial intention behind the films, to being ‘historical
documents’, once the task of finding, restoring and classifying them had been
completed. Furthermore, in connection with their denomination, we must
remember that mention has been made of a certain degree of correspondence
by film, since these documentaries were a way of providing emigrants with
an idea of the state of affairs during their absence, a function that can easily
be compared with that of letter writing, to the extent that it may even be
possible to call them moving picture postcards.
In the light of the above features, there are clear similarities between
these documentaries for emigrants and home movies. Without wishing to
dismiss this link out of hand, particularly due to the enriching possibilities of
its nuances for this study, it should be made clear that the former were
conceived as professional film productions. Along the same lines, it should
also be pointed out that these commissions led to the development of an
entire industrial network or fabric. The reason why I am anxious to make this
point quite clear is that the existence of the genre, together with the absence
of any kind of institutional involvement in its promotion, enables it (in the
absence of any references that might indicate otherwise) to claim a certain
degree of exclusivity in the history of Galician film-making.2
However, it was this very absence of any kind of ‘government’
promoter that meant that once the documentaries had fulfilled the purpose for
which they were made their began a gradual process of abandonment which
in many cases led to the disappearance of a large amount of material
belonging to the genre. And it was precisely in order to prevent this process
from reaching its final conclusion that the above-mentioned recovery task
was undertaken, in various stages the verification of the actual existence of
the films, the hunt for all the material that could be considered as belonging
to the genre, the usual process of sending cans of film from South America
back to Galicia for restoration, finding suitable storage space in which they
could be preserved, filing them away and classifying them (at which point, as
José Manuel Mouriño
has already been mentioned, they were grouped together under a generic
name) and finally, the production of a census.3 All this, of course, only
concerns the footage that has been recovered, and work continues on
following the trail of information about films that have deteriorated beyond
repair or have simply gone missing, whilst eyes and ears are permanently
open to the possibility of the subsequent discovery of another item that could
be included in the full list of titles.4
The present moment, within this process of recuperation, is one of a
temporary pause, as if a period of truce had been declared. Although all the
journey we have is essential insofar as without it we would be unable to
analyse a series of works which would otherwise have been the anonymous
victims of a disappearance, the fact that they now repose in the archives
appears to be gradually eating away at the interest or desire to find new
obscure areas in them, since this material is now generally considered to have
been brought to light. Concern over this Galician cinematographic
correspondence must henceforth lead to a breakaway from the lines of
research that have been followed until now, so that its recuperation can also
mean, for example, extending analysis to the study of its expressive
resources, to the general features shared by these works and, in one way or
another, to an attempt to universalise the way in which they work. The
approach taken by researchers should not be based so much on the content of
the images they contain as on the fact that they constitute a particular
communicative resource, this enabling, amongst other aspects, them to be
seen as a living field for experimentation, one that can be approached with a
certain degree of creativity (and from this standpoint it should also be
possible to produce a satisfactory interpretation as a reply to the statement
that the documentaries for emigrants also served, at the time they were made,
to bring exiles closer to their place of origin). In this sense, if we focus on the
basic scheme that becomes apparent from the way in which they work, the
systematic repetition of the fundamental gesture of recording a distant
original environment in images so as to be able to offer it to a community of
exiles, we will obtain an ideal paradigm from which numerous links may
In order to attempt to illustrate this manoeuvre, let us go back for a
moment to the time when the film was being made, and reconsider what the
camera really frames during that brief period of time. It is not merely a
landscape that would be familiar to the eyes of the emigrant seeing it on the
screen. That image functions in practice as a reactive principle for his or her
memory, stimulating the recall of a past time that is inevitably associated
with that place. As was recorded by the newspapers of the time, participation
in the social event constituted by the screening of this footage would finally
take the form of conversations that shaped the collective memory of the
group through the expression and comparison of personal memories.6 A
The Return Home through the Magic Film
documentary for emigrants could therefore be included amongst those objects
which, in the words of Alan Radley, are created “specifically to help us
remember”, acting as commemorative artefacts, as an invitation to remember
for the emigrant.7 What is there to prevent us from including this practice in a
more ambitious study of the figure of the involuntary memory and ennoble its
analysis by affiliating it to the ideas on this subject put forward by authors
such as Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin or Henri Bergson, or by indicating
its links to Marcel Proust’s Search or the work of writers like Baudelaire or
Paul Valéry? Although the limited space afforded me by this short essay
prevents me from going into this suggestion in any greater depth, it is
sufficient for me to say that we are moving irremediably towards the study of
a mnemonic ceremonial in which the object of worship is a cinematographic
image. This definition could also be applied, curiously enough, to the work of
Jean-Luc Godard in general, but more particularly to his Histoire(s) du
cinéma (1989¬1998).8 The relationships that arise from a slight shift of
emphasis in this study are significant indeed.
Taking as our starting point the interest aroused by the discovery of
certain items (an archaeological event), we thus impose upon ourselves a
revaluation of the experience that seeing them must have meant (a
programme that is closer to a general theory on the interpretation of images).
To continue in this sense, going deeper into the matter, it is important to note
that the action taken by the emigrant with regard to what is shown on the
screen is not just limited to providing the memories evoked by the images.
We often see that the team responsible for filming and editing the images
records certain spaces or events without any intention of highlighting them,
even going so far as to put them together in an almost arbitrary sequence. In
this way, things are done in such a way that the intonation ends up as
something that concerns the spectator and the image to the exclusion of all
else, the process through which they come into contact. In this regard we
should remember the words of Merleau Ponty: The gaze gets more or less
from things according to the way in which it questions them, ranges over or
dwells on them. To learn to see colours is to acquire a certain style of seeing,
a new use of one’s own body: it is to enrich and recast the body image.9
A fundamental element in the construction of the image during its
perception is therefore the type of gaze that the observer casts over the scene.
The situation of the exile, far from his place of origin, however, is a much
more peculiar circumstance than that of a conventional filmgoer, precisely as
a result of the particular tie that binds him to what he can see on the screen.
The status of uncertainty that the cinematographic filter applies to the image
of home habitually places the latter out of reach of any kind of full
experience, but (and at the same time) offers it as being accessible,
chimerically accessible. This manifest disposal to be seized – that of the
image – which nevertheless can never be fulfilled, places a fatal distance
José Manuel Mouriño
between it and the emigrant, as if the spectator-emigrant were able to
recognise himself in those images that are far from the centre of his being,
like a body exposed to the elements. Thus, and due to the fact that these
images never completely withdraw, the exile’s gaze ends up believing in the
promise of a return home (he needs it, because in these circumstances he is
working without any possibility of taking shelter). It is precisely at this
moment when, in the words of Gilles Deleuze:
We have passed, on the spot, from one space to the other, from
physical space to spiritual space which restores a physics (or metaphysics) to
us. The first space is cell-like and closed, but the second is not different, it is
the same in so far as it has merely discovered the spiritual opening which
overcomes all its formal obligations and material constraints by a theoretical
or practical evasion. This is what Bresson suggested in his principle of
‘fragmentation’: we pass from a closed set that is fragmented to an open
spiritual whole that is created or recreated. Or take for example Dreyer,
where the Possible has opened up space as a dimension of the spirit (fourth or
fifth dimension). Space is no longer determined, it has become the any-spacewhatever which is identical to the power of the spirit, to the perpetually
renewed spiritual decision: it is this decision which constitutes the affect, or
the ‘auto-affection’.10
This is the magic step or return home through the medium of the
cinema screen. At some time during this narcissistic game the image has
become permeable and has conceived a path that crosses it from one side to
the other. It still has not allowed itself to be seized – this must be made
perfectly clear – but has simply consented to be passed through without at
any time violating its fundamental quality of unseizability. But, once it has
been passed through (and without being able to stop, for however brief a
time, at that interstice or that frontier pause), where does the gaze then rush?
Deleuze talks of flights! Even at the risk of sounding too conventional, we
cannot avoid commenting that there is perhaps no worse prison for emigrants
than the circumstances that prevent them from returning to their homeland. If
one of them indulges in a flight whilst sitting in front of the screen, it will
undoubtedly be to let himself slide towards the open space of home that
reverberates in his memory. In so far as he has belonged to his experience in
an emotive way, the spectator has transformed the frame itself, the proposal
of a misty image of home, to live it like a bridge or threshold of return in
which an any-space-whatever – which stealthily captivates him – has
effectively sublimated any need to return. But it must be made perfectly
clear, at all times, that what is happening in reality is the realisation of the
Cinematographic Experience expressed in terms of an introspective activity,
according to a movement towards memory (although this may be motivated
by, and at the same time provoke, what would appear to be a movement
towards the image) This, I repeat, is the magic step.
The Return Home through the Magic Film
Let us end by recalling an example which, even though it has
absolutely nothing to do with Documentaries for Emigrants, provides a
similar illustration of the way in which this step through an image
crystallises. We refer to the work of the French film director Chris Marker, in
which, according to film critic Santos Zunzunegui: The image is conceived as
a crossroads, a place of possible detours, delays or short cuts, a true knot of
labyrinths whose various exits perhaps only lead to a series of dead-ends.
Even though the author has begged those using the CD-ROM ‘not to zap’,
‘take your time’, it is impossible to avoid having the following thought: What
if this device has been made for one to get lost in? (…). Basically, each
image (or each text) in the CD-ROM appears like a veritable mnemonic
Similarly, in the opinion of Marcelo Expósito, in the film Sans
Soleil (1983) by the same director: Whilst the rain gently falls on a greyish
landscape, I suddenly see myself once more suddenly projected towards the
Zone, by means of that electronic machine invented by Hayao in order to
transform the images of the past when one is no longer able or willing to
intervene in the images of the present. I find myself visiting shootings where
I can see how fighter planes twist and turn in the sky, beautiful images that
have been electronically manipulated, whose unreal fields of colour and
fuzzy outlines make people look like ghosts, as if they were projections of
our own memory.12
The reference to Marker, like that to Godard, is proof that at certain
moments the cinematographic image manages to acquire such a degree of
nobility that it becomes the utmost expression of all those hidden nuances
that define us as persons, in the reflection of our desires, of our ghosts and
our memory, of our greatest achievements and of our most horrendous
crimes.13 It is this revealing lucidity that provokes the return, the returns. But
is this also the reason why we, or some of us at least, believe that it has to be
the images – as Benjamin has said – that restore to us the presence of objects
and of life itself? Is this sufficient reason to delegate our own return to our
homeland or even our own salvation to their ‘kingdom of shadows’? Faced
with the possible futility of seeking to find a final reason in answer to this
question, our task must be that of continuing to unceasingly gather and reflect
on the signs that every man or woman leaves in their wake by means of
images. And we must do so in order not to completely lose the trail, the trails
of what observing an image really implies.
One of the most noteworthy amongst this group of film-makers is José Gil
(1870-1937), who through his production companies Galicia Cinegráfica and
José Manuel Mouriño
Galicia Films even went so far as to contemplate the standardisation and
(regular) serial production of this kind of film.
German film archives apparently contain footage from a work called Echo
der Heimat (Echoes of the Fatherland), a project which has some similarity
with the Galician experience, but which, unlike the latter, was promoted by
the Nazi government. Its function, therefore, was closer to that of a
propaganda symbol.
For reasons of space I am unfortunately only able to provide a general
reference to the painstaking and extensive work of recovering these films.
The real process deserves much more detailed and rigorous coverage.
Within this process of recuperation and restoration one researcher in
particular deserves special mention: Manuel González. His determination to
‘rescue’ a large number of these films from the state of abandonment in
which they were languishing in various attics and basements of numerous
film collections and the premises of Galician emigrants’ associations in South
America - however drastic this may sound - is the main reason why this genre
finally ‘exists’ and can become the subject of studies such as this, but
additionally his work as a theorist largely underpins any analysis undertaken
with regard to such studies.
This factor will also revalue it in the eyes of theorists who are unaware of
the specific circumstances under which culture is produced in Galicia.
M González, ‘Cine e emigración’, in Historia do cine en Galicia, J Castro
de Paz (co-ordinator), CGAI, A Coruña, 1996, p. 221.
A Radley, ‘Artefacts, Memory and a Sense of the Past’, in Collective
Remembering, D Middleton and R Edwards (eds), Paidós, Barcelona, 1992,
p. 72.
As Jacques Aumont has shown in his book: Amnésies. Fictions du cinéma
d’après Jean-Luc Godard, P.O.L. éditeur, Paris, 1999.
M Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Ediciones Península,
Barcelona, 1994, p. 170.
G Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, Continuum Books, London
and New York, 1986, p. 117.
S Zunzunegui, ‘El coleccionista y el explorador: a propósito de Immemory
Chris Marker, 1997’ in Mystère Marker. Pasajes en la obra de Chris Marker,
M L Ortega and A Weinrichter (eds), TyB Editores, Madrid, 2006, p. 166.
M Expósito, ‘Ninguna memoria sin imágenes (que tiemblan), ningún
futuro sin rabia (en los rostros). Breves itinerarios sugeridos por las figuras de
la memoria y el espectador a propósito de Chris Marker e Immemory’ in
Chris Marker: retorno a la inmemoria del cineasta, N Enguita, M Expósito
and E Regueira (eds), Ediciones de la Mirada, Valencia, 2000, p. 22.
The Return Home through the Magic Film
This nobility, in the case of Documentaries for Emigrants, would derive (as
I have attempted to explain throughout this essay) from the devotion with
which the emigrant contemplates the image of his homeland.
Aumont, J., Amnésies. Fictions du cinéma d’après Jean-Luc Godard. P.O.L.
éditeur, Paris, 1999.
Deleuze, G., Cinema 1: The Movement Image. Continuum Books, London
and New York, 1986.
Expósito, M., ‘Ninguna memoria sin imágenes (que tiemblan), ningún futuro
sin rabia (en los rostros). Breves itinerarios sugeridos por las figuras de la
memoria y el espectador a propósito de Chris Marker e Immemory’ in Chris
Marker: retorno a la inmemoria del cineasta. N. Enguita, M. Expósito and E.
Regueira (eds), Ediciones de la Mirada, Valencia, 2000, pp. 17-33.
González, M., ‘Cine e emigración’, in Historia do cine en Galicia. J. Castro
de Paz (co-ordinator), CGAI, A Coruña, 1996, pp. 212-234.
Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception. Ediciones Península,
Barcelona, 1994.
Radley, A., ‘Artefacts, Memory and a Sense of the Past’, in Collective
Remembering. D. Middleton and R. Edwards (eds), Paidós, Barcelona, 1992,
pp. 63-76.
Zunzunegui, S., ‘El coleccionista y el explorador: a propósito de Immemory
Chris Marker, 1997’ in Mystère Marker. Pasajes en la obra de Chris Marker.
M. L. Ortega and A. Weinrichter (eds), TyB Editores, Madrid, 2006, pp.
José Manuel Mouriño is researcher at the Department of Painting of the
Faculty of Fine Arts in Pontefract, University of Virgo (Spain).
email: [email protected]
Labour Migration in CIS-countries:
Tendencies, Formation of Diasporas
and Impact Development
Sergey Ryazantsev
Labour migration in the CIS has become a large-scale significant socioeconomic phenomenon. According to our estimation, 8-11 million people or
approximately 6-8% of economically active population of the region is
involved in it. Labour migration has many positive aspects for the CIS
countries. The economic sectors like trade, building, transport services, and
agriculture are developing owing to migrants. In the CIS labour migration
generated a powerful flow of remittances. By approximate estimations, guest
workers transfer and take out from Russia up to 15 billion dollars annually.
With absolute transparency, this money could give the country 4.5 billion of
tax deductions. The problem is in exposing these money resources. Also there
are some negative aspects: the stimulation of shadow economy growth,
dumping of the wage level, formation of the ethnic enclaves, and the growth
of interethnic tension.
Keywords: CIS, diasporas, labour migration, legal and illegal migration,
Current Trends of Labour Migration in the CIS
Labour migration in the CIS (the states of the former USSR
excluding the Baltic states) has become a large-scale and significant socioeconomic phenomenon. According to my estimates, 8-11 million people or
approximately 6-8 percent of the economically active population of the
region is involved in migration. The average number of labour migrants from
the states of the region simultaneously staying abroad during a one yearperiod is shown in Table 1.
The principal cause of labour migration is the large difference in
socio-economic indicators in the CIS countries. Against the background of
the region’s general decline in living standard, curtailed production and
unemployment growth, some states of the region such as Russia and
Kazakhstan, are notable for their socio-economic stability, high labour
market capacity and high wage standards. Combined with their geographical
proximity, a visa-free regime, “transparency” of crossing the borders, cultural
and language community, existing relations and business ties, recognition
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
(convertibility) of diplomas, these countries attract substantial flows of labour
migrants from the CIS region.
Most other CIS countries fall way behind the wage levels in Russia,
Kazakhstan and Belarus. For example, the gap in official payment level in
Russia is 11 times as much as in Tajikistan which stimulates active labour
migration of the Tadjik workers. According to recent interview data, 60
percent of Tadjik migrants came to Russia because they were underpaid, and
40 percent due to the lack of work in their home country. About 40 percent of
migrants from Tajikistan chose to work in Russia as they had an opportunity
to earn more; 20 percent due to the reason that it was easier to find work
there; 16 percent because Russia is a neighbouring country.1
The CIS countries are heterogenous regarding the links between
migration and development. In my recent research, I have compared the
parameters of labour migration to the economic transition reforms in various
CIS countries (Table 2). Three CIS countries - Russia, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan - applying mainly the methods of “shock therapy” are regarded as
“the radicals”. Russia and Kazakhstan accept migrants, and Kyrgyzstan
encourages their emigration. In Russia the legal entrance of labour migrants
(immigrants) exceeds the departure (emigration) by eight times, and in
Kazakhstan by ten times.
Table 1: Approximate Number and Destination of Labour Migrants
from CIS Countries, 2006
Volume of
in 2006,
Russia, Turkey,
UAE, the USA,
Russia, the USA,
migrants in
total of the
population of
the country,
Sergey Ryazantsev
the countries of
Russia, Poland,
the USA, Czechia
Russia, Turkey
Russia, China
Ukraine, Czechia,
Romania, Poland,
Germany, Spain,
Israel, Portugal,
Greece, Turkey,
Cyprus, the USA,
Germany, Greece,
Britain, Norway,
the Netherlands
UAE, the Ukraine
Russia, Czechia,
Germany, Poland,
Hungary, Spain,
Turkey, Slovakia,
the USA
The CIS 8,200133,257
Source: data of national statistics of CIS, author calculations2
The “intermediate group” of the CIS countries carried out the
reforms slower than “the radicals”, but faster than “the conservatives”. In all
these states (Moldova, the Ukraine, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia and
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
Azerbaijan) labour emigration obviously exceeds immigration. For example,
for one labour migrant arriving to the Ukraine, there are six Ukrainian
migrants who have left to work abroad. In Moldova and Tajikistan this ratio
is 1:40 and 1:600 respectively.
The “conservative states” used the most cautious ways of economic
reform and transition to the market economy. Uzbekistan and Belarus are the
most important source countries, while Turkmenistan is almost isolated from
the point of view of labour migration.
Table 2: The CIS Countries according to the Ratio of Labour Migration
and System Reforms
Countries according to types of economic transition reforms
according to the “the radicals”
“the intermediate “the conservatives”
ratio of foreign
labour migration
Source countries
(1: Uzbekistan,
40)*, Tajikistan Belarus (1:10) *
(1: 600)*, the
Ukraine (1:6) *,
Armenia, Georgia
Russia (8:1) *,
(10:1) *
“Closed” countries
limited by the
Source: data of national statistics of CIS, author calculations
Note: * - the ratio of labour immigrants and emigrants.
There is a large gap between the data from official sources, which
register labour migrants and the real scales of labour migration, and the
estimations of illegal labour migration. The representatives of government
authorities, as a rule, give higher indices of the number of illegal labour
migrants in Russia, using exclusively frontier statistics. For example, the
representatives of the FMS of the Russian Federation estimate the illegal
immigration in Russia at the rate of 10 million people. On the basis of my
Sergey Ryazantsev
own research, I argue that only about 5 million migrants can be considered as
illegally active in Russia. These are mainly citizens of the CIS countries who
have arrived in Russia under the visa-free regime, and who work or reside
without proper work or residence permits.3
Diasporas and Their Impact on Countries of Origin
Active labour migration in 1990s resulted in the formation of
diasporas with migrants from the CIS countries. At present, these diasporas
play an important role in economic development – they send remittances,
guarantee certain levels of consumption of their households, and they invest
money in their countries of origin. The following review of the various
diasporas gives an indication of their importance economically, socially and
politically for their countries of origin.
The Russian Diaspora
Besides being an important destination for labour migrants, Russia
has also become the largest exporter of manpower from the CIS region for
foreign labour markets. 45-60,000 people alone go abroad as contract
workers. The basic countries of employment for the Russians are the states of
Europe - mainly Cyprus, Malta, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Great
Britain and Norway - as well as the USA, Liberia and Japan. It is mainly
Russians with special secondary education that are sought after abroad. They
make up approximately 40-50 percent of the total number of contract
workers. Russian employees with higher education make up almost one third
of the migration flows. Russian skilled workers (half of the migration stream)
are in demand on the international labour market, first of all in shipping and
fishing industries. About one fourth of all contract workers abroad are
specialists in the technical sphere, art and culture.
My interviews with Russian women have revealed their particular
working conditions abroad. Financial problems and the lack of equal payment
in Russia instigate women to migrate (about 80 percent). One fourth of
female respondents refer to this factor as a cause of emigration.
Approximately 4 percent leave in order to get married abroad. About 10
percent of the respondents have tried to apply for a permanent residence
abroad before going there.4 (Ryazantsev and Tkachenko, 2006).
Russian women have the greatest chances to get legally employed
abroad in the entertainment industry, health and medical services, as well as
in the social sphere. It is mainly Russian women in the age group 20-29 who
are in demand in the entertainment industry. There are special visas granting
protection for those who want to work in the entertainment industry. For
example, the visa of an “entertainment industry employee” issued by Canada,
Switzerland, Japan and Korea enables the girls to be engaged in labour
activities in bars, restaurants, and other entertainment establishments. About
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
76 percent of Russian women have reported abuse of their rights abroad,
mainly regarding underpayment, unauthorised extension of the duration of a
working day (92 percent), debt bondage, unlawful confiscation of passports
and restrictions of the freedom of travel (8 percent).
On average Russian women abroad earn 800 dollars a month. Their
income has helped them to purchase or repair their accommodation, pay for
their education in the native country, buy household equipment, clothes etc.
According to balance of payment data collected by the Bank of Russia,
Russian labour migrants’ remittances amount to about US$ 700-800 million.
In absolute terms, this is much more than the CIS countries receive from the
internal labour migrants, and in relative terms it is approximately 0.2 percent
of GNP. When also taking into account unofficial remittances, annual
currency receipts from labour migrants from abroad may reach US$ 3
International labour migration has become a real means of
“survival” and a way of improving the material well-being in the new
economic conditions for many Russia citizens, especially in the provinces.
Estimates show that 1-1.5 million Russians are working abroad, forming a
new Russian diaspora. This diaspora performs important functions. In
addition to sending remittances and making investments in the Russian
economy, migrants in the diaspora promote projects with Russian partners in
the spheres of business, science and technical cooperation, in education and
in social support. The diaspora also maintains and disperses Russian culture
and the Russian language in foreign countries. Its contribution into sports, art,
science and education is valuable for many countries and forms a positive
“image” of Russia abroad.
The Ukrainian Diaspora
Between 2 and 3 million Ukrainians work abroad.6 Although
230,000 Ukrainian citizens and 2.9 million ethnic Ukrainians were counted in
the most recent All-Russian Census (2002), the number of the labour
migrants from Ukraine may currently amount to 1-1,5 million persons.
Ukrainian citizens are allowed to cross the Russian borders without a visa,
using internal passports and they can stay in Russia without registration
during 90 days. Ukrainians work in construction, industry, transport and
agriculture and it is a skilled, experienced and disciplined labour force.
In Byelorussia, the Ukrainian diaspora may account for about 1520,000 individuals. The Ukrainian labour migrants work as seasonal workers
in agriculture and construction there. According to OECD data from 2004,
Ukrainians in the Czech Republic made up one of the largest groups of guest
Sergey Ryazantsev
workers - they were about 40,000.1 In 2003, there were approximately 58,000
Ukrainians in Italy - it was the seventh largest foreign ethnic migrant group in
the country. 85 percent of the Ukrainian diaspora in Italy were women.7
When also taking into account illegal migrants, the size of the Ukrainian
diaspora may be 60-70,000 in Italy. In comparison, recent OECD data
suggests that there are 62,000 Ukrainian workers living and working legally
in Portugal. In Greece, there are about 14,000 Ukrainian citizens, and about
10,000 of them are employed legally. Ukrainians also work in Slovakia,
Hungary, Poland, and Turkey as well as in other countries of Europe.
The socio-economic impact of the Ukrainian diaspora is great.
According to IMF data from 2002, Ukrainian labour migrants remitted about
US$ 133 million to their native country. Taking into account informal
remittances, up to US$ 4 billion may have been sent from migrants. The
Deputy of the Supreme Rada O. Bylozir considers that “labour migrants are
principal investors of Ukraine, that’s why government must realise moral
responsibility to every single labour migrant and their families”. In her
opinion, all efforts should be made to sign framework agreements between
the EU and Ukraine which could guarantee the social and legal protection of
labour migrants. Such an agreement would also give a better opportunity to
the migrants to integrate in European societies.
The Moldovan Diaspora
A look at the most recent population census (October, 2004) reveals
that the number of inhabitants of Moldova was reduced by approximately
360,000 persons since independence, mainly owing to emigration.
Sociological surveys indicate that this exodus may be up to twice as large.
According to my own estimates based on a generalisation of statistical data
on countries of origin and the occupation of Moldavians, the Moldovan
diaspora may consist of 600-800,000 individuals. Approximately half of the
labour migrants work in East- or Central European countries (Russia,
Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania). These migrants amount to about
300-350,000. The All-Russian Census (2002) found 51,000 citizens of the
Republic of Moldova and 172,000 ethnic Moldavians in Russia. About 240270,000 Moldovan labour migrants currently stay in Russia, working in
industry, construction, transport and agriculture. There are about 6,000
Moldovan labour migrants in Romania and 40-60,000 in the Czech Republic.
The rest of the Moldovan labour migrants work in Southern and Western
European countries, of whom one of the largest group, 40,000, in Italy. To all
appearances, citizens of Moldova are rather more numerous in Italy – adding
those with an irregular status there may be up to 100-150,000. Half of these
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
may become regularised, probably being eligible to a legalisation
programme. In Portugal, there are about 80,000 Moldavians working, half of
them having become regularised in a recent programme. There are
approximately 40,000 Moldavians in Greece, 20-50,000 in Turkey, about
20,000 in Spain, and 15-20,000 in Israel.8 Moldavian citizens who work
abroad send home US$ 320 million per year.9
The Byelorussian Diaspora
The Byelorussian diaspora has settled in mainly three states: Russia
(about 1.2 million persons), Poland (some 165,000) and the USA
(approximately 20,000) (IOM, 2002). This is a comparatively older diaspora
as it was mostly formed before the break-up of the USSR. The labour
migration based diaspora accounts for at least 200-280,000. Of these, 60-75
percent have settled in Russia. According to the All-Russian Census data
(2002), approximately 40,000 Byelorussian citizens and 815,000 ethnic
Byelorussians live in Russia. Many current Byelorussian migrants are
employed in construction and repair works in the city of Moscow, in the
larger Moscow region as well as in Saint Petersburg. They work both as
employees and as self-employed in small teams. They carry out construction
and repair works in private apartments, offices, mansions and dachas.
Byelorussians also work in the oil industry in Western Siberia. A large part of
Byelorussians work only in temporary jobs, and return home after completing
their contracts. Formal amounts of remittances of these labour migrants are
estimated at an annual US$ 54 million.10
The Armenian Diaspora
The number of regular and irregular migrants from Armenia in the
period 1990-2000 can be estimated at roughly 800,000-1 million people
according to IOM data (IOM, 2001). Armenians have mainly moved to
Russia, Ukraine, Western Europe and the USA. Taking into account the
migration during the 1990s, the Armenian diaspora now numbers about 7
million, compared to only 2 million Armenians living in Armenia.11 The
greatest Armenian community is in Russia – about 2 million people. Many
Armenians have settled in Moscow and in North Caucasus. The Armenians in
Russia are mainly concentrated in the service and trade sectors – many shops,
cafes, bistros, restaurants, ship workshops and small garment manufacturing
workshops have been founded by Armenians. There are also numerous
Armenian construction workers in Russia. Many great businessmen from the
Armenian diaspora own major stores, and shares in wholesale markets,
funeral services and various larger enterprises. Armenians also work in
education, science, culture, health care, management and security. As for
other CIS countries, Armenians have settled in Georgia (about 350,000),
Ukraine (40,000), and in the Central Asian states. There are long-established
Sergey Ryazantsev
Armenian communities in USA (about 600,000), as well as in France
(250,000), Canada (50,000), Argentina (50,000) and Australia (25,000).
There are about 100,000 Armenian in Iran and in Lebanon respectively, and
80,000 in Syria.12
The importance of the Armenian diaspora for the home country is
indisputable, both in socio-economic, political and cultural terms. First of all,
every sixth household in Armenia benefit from remittances.13 According to
IMF (2001 data), Armenian labour migrants sent home about US$ 115
million. Surveys have shown that remittances constitute no less than US$ 300
million, or 8-9 percent of the annual GDP in Armenia. The Armenian
diaspora has also played an important political role in several countries.
Members of the Armenian diaspora also maintain strong cultural links with
Armenia, inter alia through national and cultural associations and various
cultural and educational activities. Many Armenians have integrated
successfully in their host countries and have become outstanding
policymakers, businessmen and sportsmen.
The Azerbaijanian Diaspora
Approximately 1-1.5 million citizens of Azerbaijan work abroad.
IOM estimates that 600-800,000 Azerbaijanians live and work in Russia
alone, of whom 400,000 in Moscow (IOM, 2002). Azerbaijanians also live
and work in Saint Petersburg, and in the regions of Siberia, North, Far East
and North Caucasus. The 2002 Census in Russia registered 155,000 citizens
of Azerbaijan and 621,000 ethnic Azerbaijanians. Sources of income in
Russia are found both in medium and large-sized businesses, as well as in
seasonal work in construction, agriculture, industry and transport. Many
Azerbaijanians are active in trade with vegetables and fruits in city markets
and catering, and in many places they have acquired a niche between
wholesalers and retailers.14 Besides Russia, labour migrants from Azerbaijan
go to Europe, America, Asia and even Australia. In many cases labour
migration to the West takes place both in the form of forced migration or as
tourism. In Germany, There are about 10,000 Azerbaijanians in Germany and
5,000 in Netherlands and also in these countries they are engaged in trade.
Scientists and IT-workers mainly go to the USA. In Canada, Azerbaijanians
are employed in the service sector in delivery truck to shops, in Australia and
New Zealand they also work on farms with sheep trimming. The most
attractive Muslim states in Asia for Azerbaijanians are Iran, Turkey, Syria
and UAE. Remittances from abroad benefit a large part of the Azerbaijan
population, and according to IMF data from 2001, official remittances
amounted to US$ 104 million, equalling more than 2 percent of GDP.15
According to other sources, Azerbaijanians bring home roughly US$ 2.5
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
The Georgian Diaspora
There are approximately 100,000 labour migrants from Georgia
abroad.17 There were about 198,000 ethnic Georgians and 53,000 citizens of
Georgia in Russia in 2002 (Russian census data). Many from the old
Georgian diaspora in Russia are employed in business, healthcare, culture
and art. About 80 percent of the Georgian diaspora are employed in small
businesses, market trade, or in the production of cheese and baking of bread.
Georgians organise supplies of several kinds of agricultural produce to
Russia. Georgian migrants bring fruits (figs, mandarins, lemons), tea and
laurel list to Russian markets. Georgian migrants usually maintain close
financial links with their native land by sending money to their families.
Many such families live exclusively on remittances from abroad if they suffer
from unemployment in Georgia. In 1999, the value of remittances sent to
Georgia equalled US$ 150 million, or 5 percent of GDP (IMF, 2002).
According to other surveys, remittances may reach up to US$ 2 billion.18
The Tajik Diaspora
The number of citizens of Tajikistan working abroad is at least
200,000 (Population in Russia, 2001). An IOM surveys has suggested that up
to 600,000 participate in labour migration, 85 percent of whom go to work in
Russia. The majority of the Tajikian migrants are seasonal workers.
Therefore, migration flows to Russia increase during the season in spring and
summer for work in agriculture, construction and municipal housing. In
autumn, most of these migrants return home. In some Russian territories,
Tajiks constitute 75-80 percent of all seasonal workers. Tajik NGOs have
estimated that no less than 1 million citizens of Tajikistan could leave for
work in Russia during 2006. The major part of the Tajik population works in
Russia illegally. This also makes them more vulnerable for violation of their
basic rights by employers. According to the head of the Federal Migration
Service A. Chernenko, the Tajik diaspora transfers about US$ 250-270
million annually to their home country and the same amount is spent for
everyday consumer needs and housing in Russia.
The Uzbek Diaspora
About 500-700,000 labour migrants from Uzbekistan work abroad,
the major part of them in Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine and etc.) and Asia
(mainly Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea and UAE).19 The major part of
Uzbeks works in small and medium-sized enterprises, where low-paid
physical labour is in demand.
Labour migration to Korea is managed through bilateral treaty and
the number of Uzbek citizens who wish to go to work in Korea is quite
considerable probably due to relatively higher income levels. In Kazakhstan,
in contrast, most Uzbeks work in agriculture and bring home very low wages,
Sergey Ryazantsev
and in addition, violations of migrants’ rights are common. In the southern
part of Kyrgyzstan, 4-5,000 Uzbek citizens work annually as seasonal
workers in agriculture.20 There were 71,000 Uzbek citizens and 123,000
ethnic Uzbeks in Russia in 2002 according to census data. Many immigrants
from Uzbekistan go to Russia to work as seasonal workers during the
summer, and return home in autumn.
The Kyrgyz Diaspora
Kyrgyz labour migrants amount to 350-700,000 people, fewer than
half of whom go to Russia.21 The majority of these live abroad and work
illegally.22 About 70,000 are registered under temporary permits while only
5,000 thousand have work permits in Russia. 29,000 citizens of Kyrgyzstan
and 32,000 thousand ethnic Kyrgyz live in Russia according to the 2002
Census data. Kyrgyzstani citizens also work in southern Kazakhstan in
tobacco plantations. The number of Kyrgyz here is not known exactly, but
according to IOM data, they earn about US $500 per season.23 IMF data from
2000 suggest that US$43 million is sent home on an annual basis.24
The Impact of Labour Migration on Development
The main economic effect from labour migration and active
diasporas abroad on source countries is that remittances can contribute to a
reduction of deficits in the balance of payments. Table 3 indicates dynamics
of remittances according to IMF data.
Table 3. Dynamics of labour migrants’ remittances in CIS-countries
1994-2003, in million US dollars
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Source: International Monetary Fund
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
The growth of remittances between 1990 and 2000 in the CIS
countries was very dramatic. Such a remarkable increase could be termed as a
“tsunami of remittances”. To the figures indicated in Table 3, could be added
significant amounts of informal remittances, the importance of which is
suggested by several sociological surveys. Researches made in Armenia, for
example, have shown that approximately 15 percent of households receive
remittances from abroad, and remittances are the principal source of income
for 8 percent of households.25 The situation is the same in Moldova,
Tajikistan and Georgia. Households usually spend remittances for current
consumption. Such spending can also support the growth of several national
industries and businesses in the short-term. Those sectors of the economy that
benefit from remittance spending (food industry, service sector) mainly
produce convenience goods. Also the construction sector is aided by
remittances inflows. Experience from other countries shows that a “tsunami
effect” of remittances is usually of short-term character, and that these
resources need to be reasonably. A country can gain maximum benefits from
remittances if these are directed into the economy. This means that an
efficient model for the CIS countries would be one where labour force export
is gradually substituted by export of goods and services, i.e. the development
of export-oriented economic sectors.
Other alternative strategies for labour exporting countries may
include improvements in production by the introduction of labour-saving
technologies albeit without allowing for social crisis through mass dismissal
of workers. Such processes of market adjustment usually requires investment
costs borne by the owners of enterprises and sometimes they also meet
resistance from trade unions. Labour migration abroad presents an
opportunity to countries to switch to new economic models away from labour
costs as the principal basis of the economic resources. These states must
therefore create attractive conditions for domestic and foreign investments in
new kinds of technologies and industries. They can use tax preferences for
entrepreneurs and investors who are ready to invest in new equipment, buy
tools with program management, progressive technique etc.
There is also a great deal of impacts in destination countries.
Unfortunately, the authorities of some CIS-states have not yet realised the
full range of opportunities that the inflow of labour migrants from abroad
gives them. The levelling out of the regional disparities in socio-economic
development must then be solved at the expense of migration. Improvements
in migration policies would give better opportunities to engage temporary
labour migrants and migrants who are ready to invest money in the national
economies. Attracting and channelling investments from abroad would
contribute to solving a great deal of the current social and economic problems
related to education and labour markets, daily costs of living, as well as
modernisation of enterprises and industries.
Sergey Ryazantsev
Labour migration is coupled with many positive aspects in Russia
and the CIS countries. The economic sectors like trade, construction,
transport, and agriculture are developing owing to migrants. The example of
Moscow is rather illustrative. No less than half of those working on the
construction-sites of Moscow are migrants from various countries, mainly the
CIS. Migrant labour is widely used in retailing - in the market stalls and
stands, in the shopping malls. Migrants work as cooks and waiters at
restaurants and cafes; many of them clean the streets. According to
information from the Moscow City Hall, there are more than 170 large
markets where 180,000 people with foreign citizenship are working legally.
Migrants from the Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia work as drivers of regular
buses, trolley buses and fixed-route taxis.
Guest workers fill many “niches of no prestige” with hard working
conditions, which local residents do not accept. In the CIS countries, labour
migration has generated a powerful flow of remittances. These sums of
money can be transferred both through official channels (bank system,
system of remittances) and in unregistered ways through personal and family
channels. According to one estimate, guest workers transfer annually the
amount of US$ 15 billion from Russia.26 With full transparency of these
flows, this money could translate into 4.5 billion of tax deductions in Russia
(at the lowest rate of personal income tax - 30 percent), to say nothing of the
social deductions. The problem is however in exposing these resources.
Labour migration has become not only a means of survival for a significant
part of the population, but also a real mechanism of spontaneous economic
integration (“the integration from below”) of some countries in the
amorphous CIS group.
L Rybakovsky, S Ryazantsev, “The International Migration in the Russian
Federation”, ISPR, Moscow, 2005, p. 39.
Note: 1) the population of Georgia in 2003 is given without the data on
uncontrolled territories; 2) the data given on Uzbekistan in 2002.
L Rybakovsky, S Ryazantsev, p. 37.
S Ryazantsev, M Tkachenko, Labour Migration from Russia and Russian
Diaspora, Nauka, Moscow 2006, p. 43.
S Ryazantsev, M Tkachenko, p. 13.
I Pribytkova, Labour Migration of the Ukrainian population in the
conditions of transformation of economic and public attitudes, Max Press,
Moscow, 2003, p. 27.
Labour Migration in CIS-Countries
T Caponio, “Policy Networks and Immigrants Associations in Italy: The
Cases of Milan, Bologna and Naples” in Journal of Ethnic and Migration
Studies, Vol. 31, 2005, p. 34.
V Moshnyaga, G Rusnak, We Are Building Europe[...], Kishinev, 2005, p.
IMF, 2005
IMF, 2002
R Pannossian, “Courting a Diaspora: Armenia-Diaspora Relations since
1998” in E Ostergaard-Nielsen (ed) International Migration and Sending
Countries: Perceptions, Policies and Transnational Relations, Palgrave,
2003, p. 142.
Chlird and Rageau, 1997: 89
Pannossian, op-cit.,
Lyange, 1997.
IMF, 2002.
A Ynusov, The Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Migration
Aspects in Migration Situation in CIS countries, Moscow, 1999, p. 86.
A Topilin, “The Demographic Potential, Migration, Labour Markets in CIS
Countries”, Economica, Moscow, 2002, p. 127.
First Russian TV Channel, 2003.
Yoo Kil-Sang, Korea: Country Report in Migration and the Labour
Market in Asia: Recent trends and policies, Tokyo, 2004, p. 303.
2003 Year Book on Illegal Migration, Human Smuggling and Trafficking
in Central and Eastern Europe: A Survey and Analysis of Border
Management and Apprehension Data from 19 States, International Centre for
Migration Policy Development, Vienna, 2004, p. 168.
Population in Russia, 2001.
Information from Kyrgyz-Press, 2005.
F Pickup, The Impact of Transition and the Afghanistan Crisis on
Employment and Decent Work Concerns in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan in WP № 13, Geneva, 2003, p. 28.
IMF, 2002.
Pannossian, op.cit., p. 143
First Russian TV Channel, 2003
Sergei Ryazantsev teaches in the Department of Social Demography in the
Socio-Political Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences,
e-mail: [email protected]
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora:
Institutional and Policy Dynamics
Jack Mangala
This chapter aims to discuss major institutional and policy initiatives that
seek to involve the global African diaspora into the continent’s development.
After revisiting the theoretical and conceptual framework of diasporas’ socioeconomic and political agency, I argue that, to succeed, current efforts
deployed by the African Union, the World Bank and African national
governments must embrace a holistic view of remittances which transcends
the narrow focus on financial flows from the diaspora.
Keywords: Africa, African Union, diaspora, institutions, policy.
Diasporas-Development Nexus: A Theoretical and Conceptual
The role of diasporas in development has long been ignored by both
diaspora studies and development studies. The former was long dominated by
a cultural focus, which centred mostly on issues of survival, representation,
identity and return, while the latter overemphasized the political economy of
development. This lacuna is being addressed through a body of recent works
which has sought to reconceptualise the role of diasporas in development,
especially in light of the narratives on globalisation and transnationalism.
Within the limited framework of this paper, I will briefly revisit the
expanding semantic domain and metaphoric implications of the diaspora
concept before discussing some theoretical contentions pertaining to
diasporas’ socio-economic and political agency.
I.1. Semantic Domain and Metaphoric Implications
The overextension of the term diaspora, which has come to
encompass a wide range of groups of people affected by displacement - and
who ‘feel, maintain, invent or revive a connection with a prior home’1 - has
rendered a formal definition of the concept less important than the focus on
particular dynamics and processes that characterize these groups in relation to
countries of origin and host countries. How is globalisation changing the
ways diaspora communities conceive of and project themselves? Zeleza sums
up eloquently the profound dynamics affecting diasporas:
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
Diaspora simultaneously refers to a process, a condition, a space and
a discourse: the continuous processes by which a diaspora is made, unmade
and remade, the changing conditions in which it lives and expresses itself, the
places where it is moulded and imagined (…) diaspora is simultaneously a
state of being and a process of becoming, a kind of voyage that encompasses
the possibility of never arriving or returning, a navigation of multiple
Along the same lines, Davies refers to diaspora as both a structural
and a subjective condition determined by historical forces and by prevailing
structure of power relations and argues that a balance between these
interconnected structural and subjective dimensions is needed in order to
realize a proper comprehension of the diaspora within the migrationdevelopment nexus.3 Mohan and Zack-Williams characterize diasporas as
‘fragile deterriorialised communities whose identities is shifting, multiple and
overlapping.’4 Today diasporas have clearly emerged as transnational agents
that have repositioned themselves in the global changes that have taken place
over the recent decades, engaging in sustained and continuous cross-border
practices.5 How has this new transnational agent’s socio-economic and
political agency been conceptualised? What are the points of rupture and
linkage between the new structural condition and the old one under which the
“classical” diaspora operated?
Socio-economic Agency
Since the mid-1990s, the triumph of the market economy has been
accompanied–perhaps awkwardly- with an anti-etatist notion that
development entails the empowerment of communities and individuals
themselves who must take ownership of the development project. This
paradigm shift has brought diasporas and other transnational groups and
organizations back into the development discourse. In the particular case of
Africa, it has been argued that migration has become a pre-eminent survival
strategy for many African households.6
For migrants, locating the decision to migrate at the household level
places strong obligation on them to succeed and remit money and other
capital goods. While they certainly contribute to alleviate poverty and might
help start some income-generating activities, individual remittances’ impact
on the homeland’s ‘development’ hasn’t been backed by any sustained
empirical data. In terms of development potential of the homeland, special
scholarly attention is instead being paid to the role played by diaspora
organizations in supporting development. This scholarly interest is based in
part on the assumption that diaspora organizations contribute to a more
relevant and sustainable form of development of their homelands because
people from those areas should know best what is needed.7 However,
development support through diaspora organizations is not without criticisms.
Jack Mangala
Trager contends that diaspora development organizations tend to be
dominated by elites, with men controlling the decision making-process.8
Those activities have also been noted for some degree of “selfaggrandisement” and party politicking, which can seriously undermine their
development benefits.
Political Agency
Since development is not a merely technical matter, understanding
both the politics in the diaspora and the diaspora in politics is key in
discussing the diaspora-development nexus. Given the centrality of kinship
identity in diasporas and their ability to influence foreign policy decisionmaking, diasporic political activities can be better approached by setting their
study in the shared theoretical space between constructivism and
liberalism.9Within this framework, diasporas appear to be among the most
prominent actors that link international and domestic spheres of politics along
several lines.10
Diasporas have thus been posited as challenging traditional state
institutions of citizenship and loyalty.11 Politically, diaspora communities
have been particularly active in ethnic lobbying in host countries acting as
mediators between the homeland and the host state and promoting
democratisation and human rights in homelands. However, diasporas’
political activism and attempts to influence developments in their homeland
have not always been constructive. In fact, as shown by Weiner and
Teitelbaum, diasporic activists may be a source of violence and instability in
their homeland.12
This brief theoretical and conceptual overview has shown that
strategies, initiatives and policies aimed at tapping into the African diaspora’s
development potential- to which I shall now turn- need to take into
consideration and be structured around the profound dynamics define
diasporas’ socio-economic and political agency.
Strategies and Programs Targeting the African Diaspora
Over the centuries, the global African diaspora has been fuelled by
successive waves of ‘involuntary’ and ‘voluntary’ migration. The slave trade
saw the forced transfer of tens of millions of Africans to North America,
Europe, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Latin America, as well as many other
parts of the Islamic world. This first stream is often referred to as the ‘old
African diaspora’, while the ‘new African diaspora’ embraces millions of
Africans who have emigrated all over the world in more recent times to
escape persecution or simply in search of a better life. According to official
estimate, this second stream of the African diaspora counts about 3 million
people living in North America and Europe, the two main regions of
destination.13 Africans are clearly on the move. The old and new African
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
diaspora interact with Africa on a variety of levels and tempo. Each group
carries a different development potential in relation to Africa. Regarding, in
particular, the modern African diaspora, it suffices to note that one third of
Africa’s highly qualify human resources are presently in the diaspora.14
Overall, documented remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at
$4 billion in 2003. The remaining part of the paper will survey and discuss
some of the key initiatives targeting the African diaspora that have been put
forward or are being developed by the African Union, African governments
and the World Bank.
II. 1.
The African Union
In the quest for Africa’ liberation and emancipation, the cardinal
ideology of Pan-Africanism, which advocates the continent’s unity and
integration - condition sine qua non of its development - originated from the
plight and vision of Africans in the diaspora. The institutionalisation of the
Pan-Africanism project did not, however, articulate a framework for Africadiaspora engagement. The establishment of the AU in 2002 - which Murithi
describes as ‘the third institutionalisation of Pan-Africanism’15- represented a
significant shift from decades of unstructured relationships between Africa
and its global diaspora.16 The constitutive Act of the Union, as amended in
2003, ‘invite and encourage the full participation of the African Diaspora as
important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union.’17 The
amendment, which has elevated the diaspora to the rang of ‘the 6th region of
the Union’, constitutes a milestone in the bid to incorporate the diaspora into
the policy making and policy support processes of the AU as called for in the
organization’s 2004-2007 Plan of Action. The Plan places the diaspora at the
centre of AU’s priorities and provides for a special program titled Citizens of
Africa, which pursues the following objectives: establishment of a diaspora
expert database, systematic inclusion of diaspora expertise in AU programs,
and full involvement of the diaspora in the Economic and Social Council of
the African Union (ECOSOC).18
But what precisely is the nature of the reciprocal relationships being
envisaged? How should the diaspora be defined? How can the proper
participation of the diaspora in the policy process of the AU be ensured? How
can the African diaspora be mainstreamed in the activities of the AU? These
are some of the central questions that have dominated AU’ efforts to reach
out to the African diaspora over the recent years and on which I shall now
focus. But, before that, it’s worth providing a quick overview of the whole
On November 7-11, 2008, South Africa will host the AU-African
Diaspora Summit at the level of Heads of State and Government under the
theme ‘Towards the realization of a united and integrated Africa and its
Diaspora: A shared vision for sustainable development to address common
Jack Mangala
challenges.’ The forthcoming Diaspora Summit represents the culmination of
a thoughtful consultation process between the AU and the global African
diaspora. It must be noted that, in closer cooperation with the AU
Commission, the government of South Africa has taken a decisive leadership
role in the conception and development of the consultation process as
requested by the AU Executive Council at its Eight Ordinary Session held in
Khartoum, Sudan, from 16-21 January 2006 (Decision EX.CL/269 VIII).
Pursuant to this decision, South Africa and the AU Commission agreed on a
roadmap that involved a three-phased consultation approach to ensure the
operationalisation of the diaspora initiative.
The first phase included the organization of a series of Regional
Consultative Conferences (RCCs) held in Africa and the various regions of
the world with sizeable African diaspora populations. The process began with
national consultations in South Africa in early April 2005 and was followed
by RCCs in Brasilia, Brazil (16 April 2007), London, UK (23-25 April 2007),
New York, USA (22-23 June 2007), Barbados, the Caribbean (27-28 August
2007), and Paris, France (12-13 September 2007). RCCs were structured
around six sub-themes which represent the broad AU diaspora agenda: (i)
international affairs, peace and security; (ii) regional development and
integration; (iii) economic cooperation; (iv) historical, socio-cultural and
religious commonalities; (v) women, youth and children; (vi) knowledge
The second phase of this laborious consultation process aimed at
operationalising the African diaspora initiative has been the African UnionAfrican Diaspora Ministerial Conference held at Gallagher Estate,
Johannesburg, South Africa, 14-18 November 2007. The Ministerial
Conference agreed on a Draft Program and Plan of Action which has been
translated into all working languages of the Union and is being circulated to
member states for further input and comments.19
The third and culminating phase of the consultation process will be
the Diaspora Summit to be held in South Africa by the end of 2008. AU
Heads of State and Government will officially adopt the Program and Plan of
Action agreed upon during the Diaspora Ministerial Conference -currently
under consideration at the national level - and come out with a
comprehensive blueprint for action that will set the pace for concrete actions
to enable the implementation of the diaspora initiative.
One of the key issues that have dominated AU’s diaspora initiative
from its inception has been the question of defining the African diaspora.
Who should be considered as a member of the African diaspora for
operational purpose? This question, central to the whole enterprise, was
finally resolved at the meeting of experts from member states held in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia, 11-12 April 2005, which adopted a definition that reads:
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
The African diaspora consists of people of African origin living outside the
continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing
to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the
African Union.20
This definition departs from academic definitions by its simplicity
and inclusiveness. It is, especially in its first half, straightforward and free of
any ambiguity. The absence of a temporal or historical limitation or any
reference to the cause or form of migration makes the definition very
workable. The gravitational point lies, however, in the expression ‘who are
willing’ in the second half of the definition, which places the emphasis on the
individual and voluntary engagement of peoples of African descent who
embrace and are disposed to help advance the cause of the continent’s
development project and vision as embodied in the AU.
While the consultation process has allowed to reach a consensus on
some major points such as the definition discussed above, there are still a few
contentious issues that need to be worked out. The first contentious issue
revolves around the imperative of ensuring a proper participation and
representation of diaspora representatives in related policy meetings as well
as in the broader AU institutional framework. One idea being considered is to
have some level of representation of the diaspora in the Economic, Cultural
and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Pan-African Parliament21.
Another contentious issue highlighted by the Diaspora Ministerial
Meeting has to do with the operationalisation of the idea of diaspora as the
‘6th region’ of the Union (along the lines of the regional economic
commissions). Although this idea has become part of the conventional
discourse, its practical implications are less certain. Important questions
remained unanswered: How precisely would the “6th region” work and relate
to the other five regions? Should the establishment be guided by a gradual
approach that is strengthened on a cumulative basis? These questions call for
further consideration as the AU diaspora initiative takes shape.
Overall, AU’s efforts to reach out to the diaspora have contributed
in bringing together different strands of efforts of member states, the wider
African community, regional organizations and diaspora communities
worldwide under a unified and integrated platform that can serve as both
appropriate and effective framework for action. The establishment of the AU
Civil Society and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) represents a clear indication
of the organization’s commitment to the diaspora cause. Alongside with the
AU, some African governments have also stepped up efforts in that regard.
II. 2.
African Governments
Generally speaking, African governments lack public policies to
harness diaspora’s resources. Institutional relationships between home
countries and diasporas are very weak or non-existent. However, in the wake
Jack Mangala
of the UN Global Dialogue on Migration and Development and against the
background of the African Union’s Diaspora Initiative, several governments
in Africa have put forward a host of policies and programs designed to create
conducive environments for diasporas to participate effectively in economic,
political and social affairs of their home countries.
Efforts by the Nigerian government to reach out to Nigerians in
Diaspora have been presented as ‘a good model emerging.’22 The Nigerian
government has, for example, provided the Nigerians in the Diaspora
Organization (NIDO) - the umbrella organization for the Nigerian diaspora with office space within its embassy in Washington DC. The 2nd Science and
Technology Conference organized in Abuja (July 2007) under the theme
‘Connecting Nigeria with Her Diaspora’ saw an important participation of
NIDO delegates. The Nigerian government has also launched the Linkage
with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora (LEAD) program designed to
attract qualified Nigerians in the diaspora to the development of the Nigerian
University System through short term (3-12 months) academic
For its part, the government of South Africa has launched two
instruments targeting its diaspora’s skills and expertise. The South African
Network of Skills Abroad (SANSA) is one of the two instruments set up to
achieve the transfer of skills of South Africans living abroad. The other
instrument is Where are You in the World, a survey intended ‘to understand
the who, where and why of South Africans living abroad’ and ultimately help
policy makers design policies that encourage the skills, if not people, to
return to South Africa. 24
The Kenyan government has also embarked on intensive
consultations with the Kenya diaspora on how best to facilitate their
participation in national development effort. These consultations have
produced a draft session paper on Maximizing the potential and input of the
Kenyan Diaspora in the political process, wealth creation, employment
generation and poverty reduction. The paper makes the case for the passing
of a broad Kenya Diasporas Bill.
Unlike Kenya, which is developing a more comprehensive approach
toward its diaspora, Ghana has adopted a series of measures that should have
a positive impact in diaspora’s involvement in national development efforts.
The government has thus passed laws allowing dual citizenship (Dual
Citizenship Act of 2000) and giving Ghanaians living abroad the right to vote
in national elections (Representation of Peoples Amendment Act of 2005). In
another important gesture, the government has permitted the establishment of
the African Diaspora Mission at the WEB du Bois Centre in Accra with full
diplomatic status. The latter must be understood in the context of the Joseph
Project, launched by the government around the commemoration of the 200th
anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 2007, and
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
which targets primarily people of African descent dispersed as a result of the
trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ghana’s emphasis on the ‘old diaspora’ is quite
unique among national efforts, which seem to be solely directed toward
‘nationals’ living abroad.
Both continental and national efforts have been supported by a
number of multilateral international organizations, which have embraced the
diaspora-development nexus.
II. 3.
The World Bank
In 2007, the World Bank launched its Mobilizing the African
Diaspora for Development Initiative in support of the AU and African
governments’ diaspora agendas. The Bank’s initiative is aimed at providing
‘African governments and the AU with analytical and possible financial
support to sharpen the focus and making operational their diaspora
agendas.’25 The Bank’s African Diaspora Program is structured around three
core objectives, which are to: (i) enhance capacity for the delivery of
improved services in strategic public sectors and institutions including
financial management, education, health, agriculture, infrastructure,
administration and management in participating countries; (ii) increase the
quality of design and implementation of diaspora-led investment initiatives in
participating countries; and (iii) facilitate improved communication and
working relationships between African governments, donor agencies, and
diaspora professionals to build stronger, more responsive and capable African
public and private service institutions.26
Since the formulation of this initiative, the World Bank has
intensified cooperation with the AU and African governments while engaging
in a host of activities targeting the African diaspora.27 As part of the Bank’s
strategy of support, the organization held an Open House for the African
Diasporas in Washington, D.C. on November 29, 2007. This event offered to
both sides the opportunity to clarify the expectations surrounding the
launching of the diaspora program. Another important activity undertaken by
the Bank has been the organization, from February 6-8, 2008, of the Joint
Africa Institute (JAI) High-Level Seminar on Promoting Diaspora-led
investments, and leveraging remittances as sources of financing for enhanced
growth and development in Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. A particular
emphasis of the Joint Institute was on the need for capacity development of
member states of the AU as well as on the development of concrete strategies
and operational instruments to use remittances as development tools for
poverty reduction.28 Against this background, the World Bank, in partnership
with the AU, has submitted for EU funding a proposal for the creation of the
African Remittance Institute (ARI). The Institute, to be located in the AU
Commission in Addis Ababa, could undertake the following activities:
Jack Mangala
(a) provide technical assistance to government institutions on putting in place
regulatory frameworks; (b) carry out training and capacity building programs;
(c) study remittances flows within Africa; (d) policy research and dialogue on
how remittances can contribute to the development of Sub-Saharan African
countries; (e) develop content and technology platforms for country-based
payment and settlement systems for remittances.29
The World Bank has also launched the Development Market for the
African Diaspora in Europe (D-MADE), which finances diaspora programs
through a limited number of competitive grants.30 The Bank has worked
closely with some African governments (Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia) and
diaspora organizations to facilitate deployment of diaspora professional
networks in the health and education sectors.
Concluding Thoughts
This chapter has attempted to discuss the migration-development
nexus in the context of the African diaspora. Long overlooked by policy
makers, the development potential of diaspora communities for countries of
origin has emerged, over the past years, as an important part of development
discourse and strategies, especially in relation to the African continent. I have
argued that financial remittances-centred approaches and strategies targeting
the African diaspora will not led to a genuine development of the continent,
which must be understood as encompassing a qualitative change in social,
economic and political life. Such a change requires that the diaspora, from
whom much is expected, be allowed – and willing- to carry out a holistic
view of development in partnership with the state. The diaspora should be
free to contribute – and countries of origin should be receptive to - not only
financial remittances (flows of money) and human capital (flows of
knowledge) –what they seem most concerned about - but also, and more
importantly, to ‘social remittances’31, which Faist has articulated as ‘the flow
of ideas and practices which are ‘good’ and to which nobody in his or her
right moral mind would object: human rights, gender equity and
JT Shuval, ‘Diaspora Migration: Definitional Ambiguities and a Theoretical
Paradigm’, International Migration, vol. 38 (5), 2000, p.42.
PT Zeleza, ‘Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic’,
African Affairs, vol. 104 (414), 2005, p.41.
R Davies, ‘Reconceptualising the Migration-Development Nexus:
Diasporas, Globalisation and the Politics of Exclusion’, Third World
Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007, pp. 59-76.
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
G. Mohan and Zack-Williams, ‘Globalisation from Below: Conceptualising
the role of the African diasporas in Africa’s Development’. Review of African
Political Economy, 92 (29), 2002, p.223.
T Faist, ‘Migrants as Transnational Development Agents: An Inquiry into
the Newest Round of the Migration-Development Nexus’. Population, Space
and Place, vol. 14, 2008, pp. 21-42.
E Akyeampong, ‘Africans in the Diaspora: the Diaspora and Africa’.
African Affairs, vol. 99, 2000, pp.183-213; J MacGaffey and R BazenguissaGanga, Congo-Paris: Transnational Traders on the Margins of the Law,
James Currey, Oxford, 2000.
R Honey and S Okafor, Hometown Associations: Indigenous Knowledge
and Development in Nigeria, Intermediate Technology Publications, London,
L Trager, Yoruba Hometowns: Community, Identity and Development in
Nigeria, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2001.
J Shain and A Barth, ‘Diasporas and International Relations’. International
Organization, vol. 57, 2003, pp. 449-479.
E Østergaard-Nielson, ‘From Remittance Machines to Euro-Turks:
Ankara’s Changing Perceptions of Citizens Abroad’, Paper presented at the
2000 LSE Workshop on ‘Perceptions and Policies of Sending Countries’,
London School of Economics.
M Weiner and SM Teitelbaum, Political Demography, Demographic
Engineering, Berghahn Books, New York, 2001.
U.S Census, 2000; Statistics Canada; IOM Migration Report 2005. Of the 3
million, 1 million have settled in the U.S.A., 282,600 in Canada, and 1.7
million in Europe. The latest number doesn’t include immigrants from North
See Financial Times, 16 July 2004, cited in IOM World Migration Report
2005. For example, Nigeria has more than half of its academic personnel
working abroad. Three-quarters of all medical doctors in Ghana and
Zimbabwe leave the country within a few years of completing medical
school. More Ethiopian doctors are practicing in Chicago than in Ethiopia.
T Murithi, The African Union, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2005, p.31.
According to Murithi, op. cit. p.23, the first institutionalisation of the PanAfricanist ideal can be situated either at the 1893 Congress on Africa held in
Chicago or at the creation of the African Association in London in 1897. The
second institutionalisation refers to the creation of the organization of African
Unity in 1963.
Jack Mangala
The amendment to formally integrate the diaspora in the policy framework
of the AU was proposed by Senegal at the AU’s Executive Council meeting
in Addis Ababa in February 2003.
African Union, African Common Position on Migration and development,
Banjul, The Gambia, 25-29 June 2006, Document EX.CL/277 (IX).
See Report on the African Union Diaspora Ministerial Conference, 16-18
African Union, Report of the Meeting of Experts from Member States on
the Definition of the African Diaspora, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 11-12 April,
2005, section 18. It’s worth noting that, at the Experts Meeting, two
delegations felt strongly on the need for a two-part definition which would
capture the academic or intellectual aspects and, at the same time, be more
confined to the political needs of the Union. One delegation insisted on the
need to add “permanently” before “… living outside the continent.”
The first Conference of Intellectuals of African and the Diaspora (I CIAD)
proposed that 20 diaspora organizations be part of ECOSOC. See African
Union, Report of the First Conference of Intellectuals of Africa and the
Diaspora, Dakar, Senegal, 6-9 October, 2004, Document Rapt/ Rpt/CAID (I),
World Bank, Concept Note on Mobilizing the African Diaspora for
Development, Washington, 2007, p.25.
Under LEAD, diaspora participants will receive a return economy class air
ticket, accommodation and a compensation ranging from US $ 1,250-1,750.
For example, according to the South African Nurses Council, South Africa
produces approximately 2,500 nurses per year, but a 2006 study by the
Centre for Global Development found that more than 4,844 were working
overseas. At least 12, 206 South African health professionals in totalincluding an estimated 21 percent of doctors produced in the country-were
practicing abroad in 2006. See Word Bank (2007), p. 26.
World Bank, op. cit., p.4
idem, pp.5-6.
The World Bank and the African Union are working on a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) to try to deepen their cooperation. The MOU should
formalize their collaborative efforts on the diaspora agenda.
See World Bank, ‘Latest News from the Diaspora Team’, April 30, 2008,
available at <http://www.worldbank.org>.
A Development Marketplace for the African Diaspora in North America is
being planned.
Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora
P Levitt and N Nyberg-Sørensen, The Transnational Turn in Migration
Studies, Global Migration Perspectives, Geneva, 2004.
Faist, op. cit., p.22.
African Union. The Development of the African Diaspora Initiative within the
Framework of the OAU/AU. 2003, document Ext/EX/CL/5(III).
——, Report of the First Conference of Intellectuals of Africa and the
Diaspora. Dakar, Senegal, 6-9 October, 2004, document Rapt/ Rpt/CAID (I).
Davies, R., ‘Reconceptualising the Migration-Development Nexus:
Diasporas, Globalisation and the Politics of Exclusion’. Third World
Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007, pp. 59-76.
Faist, T., ‘Migrants as Transnational Development Agents: An Inquiry into
the Newest Round of the Migration-Development Nexus’. Population, Space
and Place, 14, 2008, pp. 21-42.
International Organization for Migrations, A Global Strategy of Migration for
Development, Geneva, 2006.
Kapur, D., Remittances: The New Development Mantra? The World Bank,
Washington DC, 2004.
MacGaffey, J. and Bazenguissa-Ganga, R., Congo-Paris: Transnational
Traders on the Margins of the Law. James Currey, Oxford, 2000.
Report on the African Union Diaspora Ministerial Conference, 16-18
November 2007, Johannesburg, South Africa,
Republic of Kenya (The Diaspora Technical Team), Maximizing the
Potential and input of the Kenyan Diaspora in the Political Process, Wealth
Creation, Employment Generation and Poverty Reduction, Draft Session
Paper, 2006, <http:www.worldbank.org>.
World Bank, Concept Note on Mobilizing the African Diaspora for
Development, Washington, D.C, 2007.
Jack Mangala
Zeleza, PT., ‘Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic’.
African Affairs, 104 (414), 2005, pp. 35-68.
Jack Mangala is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of
African and African American Studies Program at Grand Valley State
University, Michigan, USA. His research specializations are in international
migration and refugee law, Africa’s international relations and African
email: [email protected]
Researching the Irish Diaspora:
From Concept to Political Strategy
Breda Gray
This chapter reviews the ways in which the emergence of diaspora as a
reference point in social and cultural theoretical debates in the 1990s
influenced my research on Irish migration at the time. It asks how we might
characterize the contribution made by the contested notion of diaspora. Two
main arguments are advanced. First, it is argued that instead of trying to
define the notion of diaspora, or to identify the parameters of any specific
diaspora, it is more helpful to examine the discourses and practices by which
diaspora is brought into existence in any particular time/space. Second, and
building on the first argument, the chapter examines the recent
institutionalisation of diaspora within Ireland as a means of refiguring the
Irish nation, both as a networked player in context of globalising economic
competitive pressures, and as a sending country with a socially just
relationship to the Irish diaspora and those diasporas resident in Ireland.
Keywords: Diaspora, diaspora strategy, globalisation, migration, women.
The theme of diaspora emerged in the sociology of migration over
the past 20 years mainly as a way of thinking society, subjectivity and
belonging beyond the contained boundaries of the nation-state. As theoretical
engagements with diaspora proliferated in western contexts at least during the
1990s, the political embracing of diasporas by many sending countries was
also taking place with a variety of effects. This led to considerable conceptual
and methodological debate. While diaspora is deployed theoretically to
theorise different aspects of mobility, identity and belonging, diaspora
remains an elusive notion, which only comes into being as a specific object
of study via the discourses and practices of diaspora in specific contexts and
When I began writing this chapter, my plan was to examine the
ways in which the circulation of diaspora in social and cultural theory in the
1990s informed my research with Irish women migrants and their peers in
Ireland during that decade. However, my aim was to acknowledge its
contribution, but also to consider the limits of diaspora as a framework for
thinking about the politics of migration, and dispersed multigenerational
Researching the Irish Diaspora
ethnic groups. I was also jaded by the many attempts in the literature to
define and offer typologies of diaspora and by other attempts to deploy it as
emblematic of late-modern subjectivity: the idea that we are all diasporic
now, so that in the end, it seemed to have little analytic purchase. However,
when I began research for this chapter, I found that diasporas are now being
actively mobilised by global institutions such as the UN and UNESCO and
by numerous nation-states. Instead of moving beyond diaspora then, it seems
that the notion of diaspora is being re-enchanted in the 2000s as it is
politically mobilised by sending countries with support at global and local
levels. I became interested in why this was happening and how it might be
linked to globalisation and efforts to govern it.
This chapter is divided into three sections: first, I discuss my
research on women and migration from Ireland (1980s migration to London)
which was conducted in the mid-1990s, a time when the term diaspora was
taken up in social and cultural theory as a heuristic device for theorising
transnational lives and connections as well as intergenerational and hybrid
notions of identity formation; second, I summarise changing constructions of
out-migration by the southern state and elites in twentieth-century and the
emergence of a discourse of diaspora in the Republic of Ireland in the 1990s;
and finally, I argue that the Irish state and diaspora represent a unique case
study of how diasporas have gained political significance in the twenty-first
century as sending countries embrace diasporas as a means of networking
themselves into global systems and adopt diaspora strategies which
institutionalise, systematise and attempt to govern existing informal diasporic
networks and connections.
The Attraction of Diaspora - Theoretically and Empirically
The 1980s was the most recent decade experiencing considerable
out-migration from the Republic of Ireland with the majority migrating to
London and the southeast of England. In the mid-1990s, I conducted a study
of women migrants and non-migrants of this generation which was led by
two main questions: How might Irish migration be understood differently if
analysed from the perspectives and experience of Irish women? And, in what
ways might our understanding of migration be changed by focusing on the
overlooked dynamics between those who emigrate and those who stay-put?
The term diaspora appealed to me in this research because it potentially
moved us beyond the dichotomous activities of emigration and immigration
and placed homeland and countries of destination (and residents in these
countries) in relationship to one another. Diaspora also brings gender, and
women in particular, into focus because women are seen as biologically and
culturally reproducing diasporas, thus a normative heterosexuality tends to
underpin concerns with the survival of diasporas, and struggles over diasporic
boundary-making frequently focus on women’s bodies and behaviour.
Breda Gray
Despite these heteronormative assumptions, the refusal of binaries that marks
the term diaspora in cultural theory has been productively taken up by queer
theorists who focus on the unhomliness of diaspora, as well as its potential
for figuring transnational queer politics. Because all of these debates are
staged under the umbrella of diaspora studies, diaspora seemed a potentially
productive frame for researching the gendered dynamics of migration and
Sudesh Mishra’s grouping of the many academic ‘takes’ on diaspora
in the 1990s into three ‘scenes of exemplification’ is helpful and I adapt these
below to point to how each use of the term helped me to analyse different
aspects of 1980s Irish women’s migration and staying put.11 First, some
theorists take a dual territoriality approach in which the homeland and
receiving countries are imagined as coherent territorialised entities and
‘roots’ work is mobilised in such a way as to keep the ‘homeland’ central to
diasporic memory and imaginary.2 In this ‘aborescent view of diasporic
formations’, diaspora is suspended between the homeland and the receiving
country and the focus is on the subjective splits of those who live their lives
simultaneously in relation to both host land and homeland.3 The intensity of
this ‘in-between’ existence is deepened at the end of the twentieth century by
new communication technologies, speedier transport and new media.
However, this mode of theorising tends to essentialise communities by
attaching them to particular places of origin and ethnic identities, thus
homogenising difference and producing forms of ethnic purity. Nonetheless,
an important finding in my research was the extent to which the lives of Irish
women living in London and Ireland were stretched between simultaneous
familial and other expectations of their involvement in both the spaces of
London and Ireland. Brah’s deployment the term ‘diaspora space’ to enable
an historicised analysis of the territorially located ‘economic, political,
cultural and psychic processes [...] where multiple subject positions are
juxtaposed, contested, proclaimed or disavowed’ was helpful in framing these
territorialised negotiations in less essentialised ways.4
A second approach in the literature is to celebrate transnational
mobility as a determinately de-territorialised formation characterised by
lateral rhizomorphic forms. This literature attempts to transcend nation-state
and ethnic particularity, seeing identities as strategic positionings, mobile
positionalities that are always contextually specific and in the process of
becoming.5 There is a shift away from roots, whether territorialised,
remembered or familial, towards rhizomatic routes and notions of situationspecific becoming. This is a decentred and multi-locational view of diasporic
mobilities and subjectivities. This approach can be critiqued for its ahistoric,
non-located celebration of mobility and new forms of becoming. Moreover,
the diaspora that emerges from this body of work can potentially be applied
to all modes of existence, thus stretching the possible meanings of diaspora to
Researching the Irish Diaspora
such an extent that it loses analytical power. Nonetheless, this intervention
challenged me to address the performative reproduction of normative
categories in my study.
Finally, Mishra points to a body of literature that moves away from
idealist discussions and adopts an archaeological approach to specific
diasporas - ‘the scene of archival specificity’.6 These studies draw on
archives or original research to investigate the formation of specific diasporas
in time and space and may focus on individual diasporic histories, or examine
similarities and differences between specific formations of diaspora and/or
changes in diasporic formation over time. However, methodological
discussion about how such studies might proceed and the kinds of approaches
that work best in the empirical study of diasporas is still embryonic. My
qualitative study (focus groups and interviews) offered one empirical account
of the Irish women’s diasporic experiences in Ireland and London in the mid1990s.
Changing Discourses of Emigration in 20th and early 21st
Century Ireland
In this section of the chapter I offer a condensed account of the
changing positioning of the southern Irish state and how these changes
shaped homeland relationships to the diaspora since independence in the
1920s. As the state moved from a decolonising/postcolonial state in the 1920s
and 30s (when, as a proportion of the population, out-migration from Ireland
was higher than for most other European countries), to a nation-building state
in the 1940s and 1950s, an EEC member state in the 1970s and 1980s, and
developmental ‘Celtic Tiger’ state from the late 1990s-early 2000s, its
espoused relationship to emigrants and the Irish community abroad changed.
In the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, the motif of exile
constituted emigration as involuntary; the result of colonial rule and forces
beyond individual and communal control.7 However, by the 1940s and 50s,
discourses of emigration as material necessity and an escape to modernity in
cities like London or New York constructed the new state as failing to
modernise economically and socially. In the 1980s, emigration was being
turned into a positive sign of mobile Irish citizenship through labels such as
‘the young Europeans’ (used by Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority
in the 1980s) or ‘the Ryanair generation’ (as cheap London-Dublin flights
became available from this newly launched budget airline).8 Migration was
gaining a different national valence in the more mobile world of globalised
The public use of the term ‘diaspora’ in Ireland emerged in the
1990s when Mary Robinson deployed diaspora as a leitmotif of her
presidency between 1990 and 1997. She embraced the diaspora partly as a
trope for moving beyond the territorialised nationalisms (Irish and British)
Breda Gray
that fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland, but also as a way of symbolising
a new more diverse and post-national Irish community and identity for the
late-twentieth century. In doing so, she drew on the work of intellectuals and
academics who, in the 1970s and 80s, saw the diaspora as a kind of ‘third
space’ that, amongst other things, included both the Scots-Irish Presbyterian
and the post-Famine Irish Catholic components of the diaspora in the USA,
thereby incorporating religious and national diversity within the category
‘Irish’. Since 1997, President McAleese has also given symbolic significance
to the diaspora via her use of trope of the ‘global Irish family’. These
symbolic representations and calls for pluralism gained official recognition
and momentum when the Good Friday Agreement included a provision that
the Irish state should acknowledge ‘the Irish abroad’ as part of the nation, and
a constitutional amendment to Article 2 was passed to this effect in 2000.
Emigrants and the diaspora became official objects of governance
when the government established a Task Force on Policy regarding
Emigrants in 2001 to respond to this ‘new context in which to view the
phenomenon of Irish emigration and…opportunity to put in place a new
approach to meeting the needs of Irish emigrants’.9 Thus, the diaspora was
officially named as ‘the Irish Abroad’ and identified as a constituency whose
welfare and cultural needs were the concern of the Irish government. The
Task Force Report acknowledged that the nation’s relationship to its
emigrants and diaspora must now be problematised in the context of the
national response to ‘other’ migrants and diasporas now resident in Ireland.10
In 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs established the Irish Abroad Unit
and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, in his opening address to
a Department of Foreign Affairs Conference at Dublin Castle in April 2007
entitled ‘Ireland’s Attitude to its Diaspora’, stated that:
The Unit’s remit is to co-ordinate the provision of
Government support to Irish emigrants, those considering
emigration and those who wish to return to Ireland. This
includes supporting voluntary agencies working with Irish
emigrants and, in accordance with Article Two of the
Constitution, strengthening links with the Irish and people
of Irish ancestry living abroad [...] our attitudes to our
Diaspora have never been fixed, but have constantly
changed over the ages [...] Today I am calling for a national
debate on this country’s attitude to our overseas
communities. Policy in this area should not be the preserve
of any group [...] We can never acquit the debt of gratitude
we owe to generations of emigrants. But we can, and
should, share our new resources to cherish our Diaspora.11
Researching the Irish Diaspora
No systematic plan or policy is offered here. However, in a later article
(December 2007) the Minister refers to a Diaspora strategy:
To administer this Diaspora strategy and the extra
resources, the government established a dedicated unit
within the Department of Foreign Affairs [...] Its
programmes are wide ranging and innovative [...] We have
to ensure that we maintain the interest of our communities
abroad in Ireland as the generations go by [...] I am fully
committed to maintaining this new outreach to our people our global family – overseas.12
Thus, it seems that we have moved from the symbolic embracing of the
diaspora by the Presidents in particular, to an embryonic institutional
infrastructure for maintaining connections and the view that a diaspora
strategy is worthwhile. This appeal to diaspora strategy reflects the position
of a recent UN Economic and Social Council Paper on diasporas, which
noted that
There is a growing need to govern migration at a global
level [...] it is in migrant-sending countries’ interests to
have good diaspora policies – so that they can capitalize on
opportunities to promote migration and development, and
so that they can manage the impacts of transnationalism on
existing public institutions and policies. 13
Many have noted the increasing efforts to govern migration at a global level
and changing norms with regard to how sending states relate to expatriates. 14
However, it is also important to consider the potential of the diaspora for
bottom-up action and for producing diasporic spaces of contestation that can
speak back to these transnational modes of population management.
Globalising neo-liberal Capitalism involves a range of institutions and
processes such as transnational corporations, outsourcing, a proliferation of
transnational investment conferences, and the development of global
institutions such as the WTO, IMF, NAFTA and World Bank, which
contribute to the transnationalising of the ground rules governing trade,
production and finance and re-organise the very domain of the political, often
making governments more accountable to global capitalism than to any
public. 15
As global institutions and nation-states develop targeted diaspora
strategies, it seems ever more important that new transnational spaces outside
of the global market are created that can render governments, global
institutions and markets accountable to new diasporic and transnational
Breda Gray
networks and interests.16 At a time when migrations, diasporas, dual
citizenship arrangements and pluri-national residency are proliferating, it is
important to consider how transnational or diasporic spaces might be
generated and expanded into a bottom-up diasporic strategy. The
contemporary assemblage of transnational processes, as Fraser argues, raises
new questions about how those with a stake in the outcome of political claims
making can make their voices heard. Fraser argues for an ‘all-affected’
principle, (i.e. all those co-imbricated ‘in a common set of structures and/or
institutions that affect their lives’) as the basis for a diasporic public, rather
than traditional notions of nation-state citizenship.17
Diaspora strategies are technologies of governance that are active in
the constitution of new spaces and subjects with distinctive characteristics
which are seen by some as the vehicles for imagining and institutionalising
globalisation.18 Perhaps in response to the Irish state’s reluctance to define a
strategy, two academics, Boyle and Kitchin, have produced a position paper
‘Towards an Irish Diaspora Strategy’ in which they state that
it is important to conceive of the Diaspora not as a primed
resource waiting to be tapped, but rather as a precious
resource to be cared for and tended, valued and
reenergised. As such, a strategy should not be conceived in
terms of using the Diaspora but growing in partnership with
it [...] The strategy should be as inclusive as possible and
include the development of an affinity Diaspora (the socalled ‘New Irish’ who would be encouraged to continue to
play for ‘Team Ireland’ if they return to their home country
or migrate to another country from Ireland). It should also
include the Irish Diaspora in its broadest form embracing
individuals and organisations from all parts of the island
(North and South) and of different religions (Catholic,
Protestant, Jewish, etc.) [...] By strategy we are envisaging
the creation of a set of tools designed to encourage,
promote, foster and nurture the diverse relationships
between Ireland, its Diaspora and the ‘New Irish’ rather
than the creation of a set of rigid, prescriptive management
techniques. 19
Here the relationship between the diaspora and the homeland is characterised
as more than the state seeking to capitalise on the financial, human and social
capital of the diaspora. It is also about redeeming a debt owed to the diaspora
by those who remain in Ireland and about constructing a more inclusive
community of affinity that is inclusive of diasporas resident in Ireland today.
In the view of the authors, the role of the state and its agencies should be
Researching the Irish Diaspora
facilitative rather than directive by supporting existing networks and
organisations and ‘lightly’ incubating new schemes and networks.
Theoretical debates about diaspora in the 1990s offered a vocabulary
and expanded if shaky conceptual language that signals boundary crossing
and the impossibilities of categorisation. In my view, all attempts to hold
diaspora together as a conceptual framework fall apart. Nonetheless, diaspora
is performatively reproduced in everyday political, social and cultural
discourses and practices. In Ireland it is enacted as a symbol of a ‘third space’
beyond the nation and nationalism where it is potentially possible to be of
any religion, skin colour, sexuality etc. and also be Irish, and it was mobilised
in this way most notably by President Mary Robinson during her presidency
1990-1997. Today, the Irish diaspora is being institutionalised by the Irish
state, global institutional policies and academics via strategies that work in
three main ways: first, as a way of redeeming an unresolved history of
indebtedness to those who were forced to leave Ireland; second, as a term that
can apply to those who are Irish and non-Irish immigrants in Ireland who are
part of other diasporas, but by their residence in Ireland, even if they move on
or return to their country of origin, are entitled to claim membership of the
Irish diaspora (Team Ireland); third, and perhaps most fundamentally, as a
technology of national and global governance of integration in the global
economy. Diaspora here is a way of thinking about populations and
producing them as a governmental category that is constitutive of new
geographies and economics of globalisation.
With regard to the future, at least three issues may give rise to new
formations of diaspora. First, if the current global and sending state trend
towards the conscious and organised mobilisation of diasporas as resources
continues, the often romantic and nostalgic diasporic relationship to the
homeland will shift towards a more pragmatic and politicised relationship
where, often rosy images and memories, will be replaced by political claimsmaking about mutual responsibilities, duties and rights. What’s in it for the
diaspora? Second, such global, national and local governmental shifts with
regard to the management of diasporic populations may stimulate the
emergence of diasporic spaces and institutions that facilitate a speaking back
to nation-state and global governance (if not, such bottom-up spaces need
cultivation). Finally, it seems important that diasporic formations at all levels
resist the seductions of purely ethnically defined diasporic identities and
instead produce diasporic possibilities that enable politics of solidarity and
Breda Gray
S Mishra, Diaspora Criticism, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh,
2006, p. 15
W Safran, ‘Diasporas in Modern Societies’, Diaspora, vol.1, no. 1, 1991
and R. Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, UCL Press, London, 1997
S Mishra, p. 16
A Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, Routledge,
London, 1996, p. 208
S S Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’. J. Rutherford (ed.) Identity:
Community, Culture, Difference. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1990; P.
Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Verso,
London, 1993; J. Clifford, ‘Diasporas’. Cultural Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 3,
S Mishra, p. 18
K A Miller, ‘Emigration, Capitalism, and Ideology in Post-Famine Ireland’,
Migrations: The Irish at Home and Abroad, R. Kearney (ed) Wolfhound,
Dublin, 1990.
B Gray, Women and the Irish Diaspora, Routledge, London and New York,
Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants Report, Department of Foreign
Affairs, Dublin, 2001, p.3.
B Gray, ‘Redefining the nation through economic growth and migration:
changing rationalities of governance in the Republic of Ireland’, Mobilities,
vol. 1, no. 3, 2006a and B Gray, ‘Migrant Integration Policy: A Nationalist
Fantasy of Management and Control?’, Translocations: Migration and Social
Change, vol.1, no. 1, 2006b.
D Ahern, (Minister for Foreign Affairs) Opening Address to Department
of Foreign Affairs Conference: Ireland’s Attitude to its Diaspora, April 2007
www.IrishEmigrant.com (accessed 2 June, 2008)
UN Economic and Social Council, ‘Why is it important to know about
Diasporas?’ Seminar on Measuring Population Movement and Integration in
a Globalized World ECE/CES/2008/261213
N Fraser, ‘Transnationalizing the Public Sphere. On Legitimacy and
Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World’. Theory, Culture
and Society, vol. 24, no.4, 2007.
ibid., p.23
ibid., p.22
Researching the Irish Diaspora
W Larner, ‘Expatriate Experts and Globalising Governmentalities: The
New Zealand Diaspora Strategy’, Transactions of the Institute of British
Geographers, vol.32, 2007, p. 333
M Boyle, and R. Kitchin, Towards an Irish Diaspora Strategy, NIRSA,
Dublin, 2008, pp. 7-14.
Boyle, M. and Kitchin, R., Towards an Irish Diaspora Strategy. NIRSA,
Dublin, 2008
Brah, A., Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. Routledgte,
London 1996
Clifford, J., ‘Diasporas’. Cultural Anthropology, vol. 9. no. 3, 1994, pp 30238
Cohen, R., Global Diasporas: An Introduction. UCL Press, London, 1997
Economic and Social Council, UN. Seminar on Measuring Population
Movement and Integration in a Globalized World. Why is it important to
know about diasporas? United Nations, 2008
Fraser, N., ‘Transnationalizing the Public Sphere. On Legitimacy and
Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World’. Theory, Culture
and Society, vol. 24, no 4. 2007, pp. 7-30
Gilroy, P., The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Verso,
London, 1993
Gray, B., Women and the Irish Diaspora, Routledge, London, 2004
——, ‘Redefining the Nation through Economic Growth and Migration:
Changing Rationalities of Governance in the Republic of Ireland’, Mobilities,
vol. 1, no. 3, 2006a, pp. 353-72
——, ‘Migrant Integration Policy: A Nationalist Fantasy of Management and
Control?’ Translocations: Migration and Social Change, vol. 1, no.1, 2006b.
Breda Gray
Hall, S., ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’ in Identity: Community, Culture,
Difference. J. Rutherford (ed.) Lawrence & Wishard, London, 1990, pp. 22237
Larner, W., ‘Expatriate Experts and Globalising Governmentalities: The New
Zealand Diaspora Strategy’, Transactions of the Institute of British
Geographers, vol. 32, 2007, pp. 331-45
Miller, K. A., ‘Emigration, Capitalism and Ideology in Post-Famine Ireland’
in Migrations: The Irish at Home and Abroad, R. Kearney (ed.), Wolfhound,
Dublin, 1990, pp. 91-108
Mishra, S., Diaspora Criticism, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006
Safran, S., ‘Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return’,
Diaspora, vol. 1. no. 1, 1991, pp. 83-99
Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants Report, Department of Foreign
Affairs, Dublin, 2001
UN Economic and Social Council., ‘Why Is It Important to Know about
Diasporas?’ Seminar on Measuring Population Movement and Integration in
a Globalized World, ECE/CES/2008/26
Breda Gray is Head of Research in the Department of Sociology at the
University of Lancaster in northwest England. She has published widely on
the subject of the Irish diaspora.
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