Human Geopolitics: States, Emigrants and the Rise of Diaspora Institutions

Author:   Gamlen, Alan John
Publisher:   Oxford University Press
Reviewer:   Praveen Kumar Tiwari

Gamlen, Alan John (2019), Human Geopolitics: States, Emigrants and the Rise of Diaspora Institutions. Oxford University Press, 352 pages, ISBN-13: 9780198833499.

The need to invest into human resources has become much more evident in these times where focus is on acquiring skilled and beneficial population rather than territory, yet this component has not got the requisite attention when it comes to studying world politics. ‘Human geopolitics’ by Alan Gamlen resurrects in unanticipated ways the major reasons guiding the impetus behind governments’ renewed willingness to engage their emigrant diasporas.

The book is a commendable effort to adequately address the imbalance among researches which tend to focus mostly on the issues related to immigration while sidelining the emigration policies emanating from the migrants’ origin states. The author has made sure that the book falls well within his area of expertise and is excellently balanced and well researched. The author, Alan Gamlen, is Associate professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Alan has to his credits commendable research work when it comes to international migration and diaspora related fields.

The author provides reader with extensively researched account of the shifting focus on human geopolitics which saw springing up of a plethora of institutions and ministries dedicated to emigrants and their descendants. The book explores and presents a picture of the new diaspora relations in this century of intense connectivity and globalization.

Gamlen argues that various institutions dealing with emigrants and diaspora are a very recent phenomenon with most of them coming into existence in late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. He notes on their importance that, “diaspora institutions are theoretically surprising because they project domestic policies beyond state borders in ways that seem inconsistent with the territorial definitions of citizenship and sovereignty that underpin the modern international system” (p. 68). A total of 118 states now have some form of institution that deals with the diaspora.

He mentions a critical consequence of these institutions as he writes that they can at times appear to potentially interfering with the freedom of exit of migrants, with the sovereignty of other states, and with democratic processes of the origin country. This implication of diaspora related policies on the world politics need to be looked into much more carefully as for the time being, their impact on world politics has largely been underestimated.

The author has deeply researched about the theoretical underpinnings involving diaspora, emigrants and their countries of origin, along the lines of political geography. The author in his empirical research, has relied on both qualitative and quantitative data from interviews, surveys and study of relatable policy documents thus collecting a wide array of primary data. The book is a very important addition in the study of this very little explored field of diaspora and emigration. Studies and research work on such topics have preoccupied themselves with either single case studies or generalized observations which could not be exported to other cases as well. This book is a refreshing break from that practice as it tries to build on various important concepts to develop a concrete theory concerning policy making with regards to the emigration.

The central argument that Gamlen forwards, revolves around a distinction between three epochs that followed each other, starting from the end years of twentieth century to the early twenty first century, i.e., from a “world of nations” to a “world of regions” to a “governed globe”. The author has dealt with a huge number of cases and has conducted case studies of countries like Israel, Mexico, Eritrea, India and others. Gamlen has very skillfully touched upon the local contexts and the immediate causal factors for springing up of institutions for emigrants and diaspora in these countries and provides a chance to look at these issues from the origin state’s lenses while simultaneously throwing light on the global implications of these local policies on the wider human geopolitics at the international level.

The book feels like going through the modern world history from an alternative perspective that comprises of the viewpoint of emigrants and the diaspora as well as the various organizations and institutions concerning them. The author associates the rise in diaspora institutions with post-colonialism, as to how it led to the unraveling of fascism, coming up of the state of Israel, end of cold war with disintegration of the Soviet-Russian empire, democratization processes worldwide, regional integration in Europe and elsewhere, and the development of a global migration regime.

The book provides a major contribution when it comes to trying to give an all-encompassing theory that explains the springing up of diasporic institutions in the recent decades. A major takeaway from the book that has been discussed in the ending chapters is that this rise of human geopolitics as a separate field form territorial politics is attributed to the United Nations' efforts to “create a global governance regime for migration.”

I would personally recommend the book particularly because of the objective stance that the author has taken towards the subject. Gamlen has with utmost sincerity put forth both the positive and negative aspects of migration policies in the present International structure. While exploring the possibility of increased cooperation and a multipolar world order, he has also touched upon the limitations such as the recent anti immigrant sentiments being experienced in many first world nations. Moreover, the author talks about the misunderstandings and overlapping claims which could lead to animosity and even direct conflict which was evident in the tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea.

However, some questions were left unanswered in the book. The author failed to explain as to why despite such importance of diasporic institutions in recent times, many countries do not still have or even making any visible effort towards building any such institutions? Also, not all the states started building institutions since late twentieth century, for example states like Italy, Poland and others had similar institutions even before world war II. The author would have done a great work if he could have talked about these exceptions and related them to his central argument in the book.

Yet, despite all the shortcomings, the book by Gamlen, Human Geopolitics should be opted and must be recommended to all who are searching for good material and well researched in depth account of the states’ policies related to migration and diaspora in this highly globalized twenty first century. This book is the one, particularly for those who are pursuing their scholarly work in immigration and related fields and also gives valuable insight to related think tanks and policy makers thus making their decisions and analysis more informed.

Praveen Kumar Tiwari, M.A. Final Year Student, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.

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