Diasporas in the New Media age: Identity, Politics and Community

Author:   Andoni Alonso and Pedro J. Oiarzabal (ed.)
Publisher:   University of Nevada Press
Reviewer:   Abhay Chawla
Designation:   journalist and a visiting faculty in CIC, Delhi University.


Diasporas in the New Media age: Identity, Politics and Community, Andoni  Alonso and Pedro J. Oiarzabal(ed.), University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada, 2010, ISBN 978-0-87417-815-9

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous. On the Internet, there are multiple digital social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The study of social networks can be traced back to the eighteenth-century Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler who solved the famous Königsberg bridge problem (i.e., how to cross the city’s seven bridges and get back to the starting point without crossing any one bridge more than once). With the new media age upon us social networks are heavily relied upon by citizens and diasporas for messaging and activism.

This book, with 18 multidisciplinary essays divided into two parts, tells the reader how the Internet and the digital social media are being used by diasporas to redefine identity, politics and community. 

Even though historically there has been a close link between technology and migration, i.e. technology advancements in communication and transport resulted in increase of population movements, Internet has taken it to a new level allowing people to look at places they wish to migrate before the actual travel, and have a ready link back to their homelands. In “Migration, IT and International Policy”, Jennifer M Brinkenhoff argues that digital diaspora has become a vehicle for disseminating information and advice to newly arrived migrants, hence it acts as a tool for soft assimilation into the host society as they combat marginalization, provide solidarity and facilitate access to public goods and services. As the Internet has become a tool for mobilizing collective identity of the diasporas into action by facilitating issue framing and confidence building, digital diaspora has policy implications for the host and homeland governments as well as international development policy makers and analysts.

Michel S Languerre goes further in Digital Diasporas (definitions and Models)” by bringing out the interplay between information technology and diaspora, and then constructs models of digital diaspora explaining the building blocks required for digital diaspora to emerge. Adela Ros in his essay “Interconnected immigrants in the information society” critically analyses interconnections in immigration and interrelationship between integration and elements that are transforming our way of life in an information society. He concludes that, in such a society, the need to remain in contact makes people buy mobiles even when they don’t have food to eat.

Andoni Alonso amd Inaki Arzoz in their essay “An activist common for people without states by cybergolem” argue that cybergolem has become something more than collective authorship; it has become an entity that changes, acquires different forms and tries to re-elaborate the idea of authorship in each work. The author gives the example of Basque shepherds who used to carve with knives, messages, slogans and drawings onto the white bark of poplars trees showing their condition, their dreams and their nostalgia for their homeland. Internet has evolved as an electronic forest for communication.

Part two of the book has dialogues across cyberspace, with essays on the African, Eritrean, Jamaican, Salvadorean, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Uyghur, Galician and Basque diaspora.  With internet making possible new kinds of communicative spaces and practices, the essay “Nationalist Networks, The Eritrean diaspora online” by Vistoria Bernal talks about the Eritrea online as a kind of virtual Eritrea and serving as a nationalist space on cyberworld.  The Eritrean diaspora having created a web based public space for debating national issues like the formulation of Eritrean constitution.

Even when Maffesoli considers relationships on virtual networks as being characterized by banality, superficiality and fragmentation, Javier Bustamante in his essay “Tidelike diasporas in Brazil, From slavery to Orkut” feels social media like Orkut and other diasporan websites allow for creating of totems around which people can assemble . He goes on to add that this factor is extremely important in order to keep a cohesive and collective identity, and that this identity is based on the search for and supply of support. Pedro Joiarzabal argues some of most potent and durable aspects of nationalism are national symbols, customs and ceremonies. These evoke an instant emotional response from all strata of the community especially the diaspora, since symbols are their last vestiges of ethnic identity.   He substantiates this argument with the example of online  re-creating of Grenika by 16 Basque diaspora associations. Grenika incidentally was destroyed by bombings of  Nazi Germany in 1937 and is subsequently used as an identity marker defining Basqueness.

Giving a counterpoint in her easy “The Internet and new Chinese migrants”, Brenda Chan feels that we cannot assume that internet will always be a powerful and effective medium in mobilizing migrants into collective action. She quotes Cass Sunstein that “Internet supports the development of deliberative enclaves and becomes the breeding ground for group polarization and extremism”.

Diasporas in the new media age is about theoretical studies and examples of the ways diaspora today is using technology to construct and represent notions of identity, nation and homeland, that is leading to the concept of digital transnationalism and long distance or internet nationalism. The digital diaspora are also processes of deterritorializing through which one latter territorializes a new locus of that displaced through virtual networks.

Some chapters while well written and internally cohesive somehow repeat the argument made in other chapters. For example the chapters on “The Internet and new Chinese migrants” by Brenda Chan and “Migration of Chinese professionals and the development of the Chinese ICT industry” by Yu Zhou could have been combined under overall Chinese migration with a section for those migrating to south-east Asia and those migrating to the west. An overall tighter editing would make the book a better read.      

With issues, debates and discourses in the field of digital diaspora and migration the present volume is of value to students and scholars of understanding the interplay between technology and diaspora studies. It will also be useful to students of international relations especially with the mobility as the new mantra in migration studies.



Abhay Chawla is a journalist and a visiting faculty in CIC, Delhi University. He teaches online journalism and his interdisciplinary topic for Ph.D  is “Marginalizations  and consumption of new media.”

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