Diasporas across the planet, from many different backgrounds, have constructed similar “homes” in the Internet: Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal

 

Migrant transnational networks between the country of origin and the country of residence constitute an increasingly important source of exchange of information and transfer of knowledge, says Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal in an interview with Dr. Sadananda Sahoo, Editor, Roots and Routes.

S.S: Dr.  Oiarzabal as we all observe the world is increasingly and intensively networked since the 1990s for which one can for sure give credit to ICTs and rapid and long-distance transport facilities. This has enormous impact on the way we live and work. The experience of being in the diaspora is quite different these days as compared to 30-40 years back. How do you think the diaspora and network shaping the global society today?

P.J: Maintaining instantaneous and reliable connectivity with those who remained back home would have been a dream come true for any pre-Information Society migrant. One can only wonder how different it would have been for many of the thousands of migrants and their descendants if they had had the possibility of connecting to the Internet and to any of the current social network sites. Having said that, diasporas across the planet, from many different backgrounds, have constructed similar “homes” in the Internet to promote their linguistic, cultural, economic, religious and political agendas. This, in turn, facilitates their communication strategies and their ability to disseminate information about themselves and their activities beyond their immediate communities, constructing, gradually, an interconnected global space.

S.S: Please tell us something on Basque communities and how it evolved as diaspora in the recent years. Do they have any distinctive feature as compared to other diasporas?

P.J: The Basque Country is a small region situated at the border between France and Spain. For hundreds of years, thousands and thousands of Basque people left their country in search of freedom, fortune and a better life, establishing dense and fluid transoceanic and cross-border networks. Nowadays, the centennial Basque diaspora had formed over 200 associations throughout 24 countries in America, Asia, Europe and Oceania, while securing a strong presence in cyberspace. For instance, over 130 diaspora associations have established formal groups on Facebook, which tell us about the increasingly significance of the Internet and the Web for migrant communities.

S.S: Research on diaspora has been proliferated in last one decade. A scholar like you has worked on variety of issues such as media, identity, network etc. May you suggest some areas which need to be focused in the research and policy domain?

P.J: The way I see my own research and how it has developed for the last decade, I can say that there is a need for more comparative and interdisciplinary research, while developing new methodological perspectives to address the complex phenomenon of global migration. Indeed, this call for a better networking between scholars across borders as well as a closer collaboration between academics, policy makers and non-governmental organizations in relation to issues such as forced migration, humanitarian aid and returnees.

S.S: What happens when more people live in the diaspora than within the homeland? Some countries have been experiencing this same situation. What kind of political and economic impact the diaspora will have when they are majority as compared to the population at homeland?

P.J: The Basque Country holds a total combined population of nearly 3 million people. However, its population abroad, with an institutional presence in over 20 countries, may well reach between 4.5 and 6 million people according to different estimates. As such, the issues of communication and contact—and the technologies that enable it—are of vast importance. This is also true for the establishing effective connections among co-diaspora communities and between them and the homeland.

The creation and development of migrant transnational networks between the country of origin and the country of residence constitute an increasingly important source of exchange of information and transfer of knowledge, in the physical as well as in the digital world, which can be activated for the socio-economic and financial development and rescue of home countries, particularly in the so-called underdeveloped or emergent countries, for instance. In the Basque case, this has not fully taken place, yet.

S.S: What is your next project on diaspora research?

At the moment, I am finalizing a manuscript that deals with the development of the Basque digital diaspora before the popularization of online social networks as a way to measure the implications of web technologies for a small but resilient diaspora such as the Basque. Also, I am initiating research on migrant associations in Spain and their integration in the so-called Information Society, while continuing collecting oral history interviews with Basque migrants and returnees in order to preserve and disseminate their collective memory.

S.S: Since you have been quite aware of the GRFDT activities, what are your suggestions for GRFDT?

P.J: Academics, researchers and students of international migration, diaspora and transnationalism share common issues, concerns and challenges in their daily work. Despite the fact that we come from different disciplines and traditions, we all work on similar issues that transcend local boundaries constructing new transnational spaces. Here is where initiatives such as GRFDT can have a major impact. GRFDT can raise awareness of the different studies that many academics are currently undertaking while providing a valuable forum where they can connect with each other. In this regard, I wish you all the best.

S.S: Thank you Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal for providing valuable insights on the several interconnected issues on Diaspora and transnationalism.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a PhD Researcher on Migration Studies at the Institute of Human Rights, University of Deusto (Bilbao, Spain). His work focuses on the social, cultural and political implications of information and communication technologies (ICTs) regarding migrant and diaspora communities, with special emphasis on the Basque people. He is also interested in public policy development regarding diasporans and returnees and the processes of historical memory among migrants. Among his latest publications are Migration and the Internet: Social Networking and Diasporas (JEMS, Vol. 38, No. 9, 2012; with U.-D. Reips) and Diasporas in the New Media Age: Identity, Politics, and Community (2010; with A. Alonso). Oiarzabal is currently working on a book on the Basque digital diaspora.

 



Interview Date:   Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013
Person Name:   Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal

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