Author:   Stephane Dufoix
Publisher:   University of California Press
Reviewer:   Dr. M. Mahalingam
Designation:   Research Fellow, Centre For Policy Analysis, New Delhi. Email: linga-bharathi@gmail.com

Dufoix, Stephane (2008), Diasporas, Berkeley: University of California Press, Paperback, 160 pages ISBN: 9780520253605


As we all very much aware that the word ‘diaspora’ referred only to religious group and Jewish migration experience at early stage. Later, it has assumed different connotations due to its application in diverse fields. In 1990s, the word was applied to world people who had migrated to different parts of the world due to various reasons and the word was further being applied to professional groups. At present, Diaspora means that it is nothing but the idea of displacement and the maintenance of a connection with a real or imagined homeland. The critics argued that owing to wider application, the usage of the term has become ambiguous. At this juncture, the scholars like Robin Cohen and Steven Vertovec tried to concretize the theoretical meaning of the term.  In this light, the contribution of Stephane Dufoix is note worthy.

The book was originally written in French and it was translated to English by William Rodarmor. It is an indispensable guide for those who want to understand Diaspora as intellectual phenomenon and a social process. The book starts with a brief introduction by citing the popular usage of term in different fields and the divided views on Diaspora as a concept. Dufoix suggests a broader analytical framework for depicting the homeland relations of dispersed populations which is a unique  theoretical contribution by Dufoix. Further, he has coined a new term ‘referent origin’ instead of calling it homeland as envisaged by others. The first chapter entitled as what is a Diaspora?  exemplifies the etymological origin of the term in the beginning  and then, he  provides  two  classic examples of  different  diasporic experiences such as the ‘Jewish Diaspora’ and the ‘Black Diaspora’ as it is linked and opposed to each other. Followed by, he describes the recent historiography of the term. Having discussed that, he surveys and distinguishes three kinds of existing definitions on the term such as open, categorical and oxymoronic. For instance, oxymoronic definitions are based on the postmodern thought which is radically different from open and categorical definitions. Postmodern definitions focus upon paradoxical identity, the noncenter, and hybridity. The works of Stuart Hall, James Clifford and Paul Gilroy can be put under this category. A phenomenon called Diaspora to happen, first of all, dispersion should take place. He analyses the dispersion of the people around the globe in the second chapter  called as ‘the spaces of dispersion,’ which throws light on the nature, patterns,  and phases of migration of people.

Dufoix discusses about four kinds of migratory groups namely the Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Armenians and their global spread. Having spread over space and time by diasporas, the establishment of connection with the referent origin is another important feature of dispersed population.  He addresses this aspect in the third chapter entitled as ‘maintaining connections’ in which he develops a broader framework for homeland relations and collective experience abroad. He uses the Max Weber’s methodology ‘Ideal type’ to identify as well as to structurise the different dimensions of homeland relationships. He proposes four ideal types such as ‘centro-peripheral,’ ‘enclaved,’ ‘atopic,’ and ‘antagonistic’ which are  fluid in nature. Drawing on wealth of examples, he shows how populations can move from one mode to another. He shows that the Jewish Diaspora had transformed from atopic mode to centro-peripheral mode after the creation of the state of Israel. By doing so, he brings out the dynamic aspect of Diaspora relations rather than static thinking on the term. Besides, he shows with illustrations and tables the shifting nature of collective experience of the dispersed populations. In Chapter four ‘Managing Distance’ where he exemplifies the management and leverage of one’s diasporic population and also explains the construction and imagination of Diaspora draws one’s attention.  For instance, he discusses about long distance nationalism by diasporas and the arrival of internet has reduced the distance which has paved the way for creation of ‘imaginary community.’  He concludes by saying that Diaspora has become a global word and is a common noun at present. It is no longer refers to misery, persecution and punishment of immigrant groups, he delineates that the term is perfectly suited to the modern process of Diasporic phenomenon.

Dufoix must be appreciated for analyzing the travel of the term from past to present with innumerable examples drawn from around the globe. He tries to make the term very inclusive given its position in the modern context. Over all, the book is a comprehensive and thorough account on the phenomenon called Diaspora. Though it is a small volume but it has all the ingredients. It is very much coherent, well structured and lucid written one. The illustrations and tables are self explanatory. The contents of the book aptly stands up to the title of the book  ‘diasporas.’ Certainly, Dufoix differs from other scholars for his dynamic approach in terms of conceptualizing and interpreting the term. The book will be a rewarding one for the scholars, students and those who are perplexed over understanding the term.



Dr. M. Mahalingam, Research Fellow, Centre For Policy Analysis, New Delhi. Email: linga-bharathi@gmail.com

Publication Date:   Thursday, Apr 25, 2013
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