Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods

Author:   Rainer Bauböck and Thomas Faist (eds.)
Publisher:   Amsterdam University Press
Reviewer:   Dr. Sudhansubala Sahu
Designation:   Central University of Hyderabad


Rainer Bauböck and Thomas Faist (eds.), Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods. IMISCOE Research, Amsterdam University Press, 2010, 352 p., ISBN: 9789089642387

Diaspora and transnationalism are interrelated and prominent features of globalization today. Scholars in academia, public policy and other areas have overwhelmingly responded to the phenomenon of diaspora and transnationalism. Historically, though it was associated with the jews, diaspora became a global issue since 1990s. Thanks to the effect of liberalization which provided more effective articulation to many developing countries to treat their emigrants conveniently as diaspora. Both diaspora and transnationalism are now widely used and discussed. However, a well defined concept and theories are yet to emerge. The theories and concepts that have emerged in the diaspora scholarships are not only diverse but also wide ranging, the fluidity often difficult to comprehend.  Cross cultural and comparative studies were not a prominent trend in the diaspora studies in the early days. However, this trend is changing in the recent years.

Diaspora and transnational studies are closely linked to migration studies, literature and cultural studies and more recently among the development studies. Though diaspora and transnational studies emerged as subcategories in many established disciplines from diverse areas, a distinctive scholarship emerged with the work of William Safran, Steven Vertovec, Ravindra Jain, Arjun Apadurai, Clifford, Robin Cohen , Tölölyan et.al.

As the title suggests this volume revolves around these two concepts. It comprises of fifteen articles by authors who are firmly rooted in specific disciplines like Bruneau in human geography, Dahinden in sociology, Weinar in political science and Paerregaard in cultural anthropology. Their work compares and contrasts these two cross border processes across a range of social science disciplines – sociology, political science, geography and anthropology. Methodologically also the contributions come from very different disciplinary traditions, e.g. multi-sitedness comes from geography and anthropology, network analysis from sociology, internet research from communication studies and survey research from political science and sociology.

The first article introduces the concepts diaspora and transnationalism, summarises the debate in the other contributions in this book and draws conclusion. Here Thomas Faist discusses what the two concepts have in common and what distinguishes them from other branches of globalisation studies. He also attempts to find out what distinguishes transnationalism from diaspora studies and how they can be fruitfully used.

The article by Bruneau addresses the concept of diaspora from a geographical standpoint, taking into account its materiality in terms of space, place and territory. He differentiates the concept of diaspora from migration, minority, transnational community and territory of movement, and then complements it with a typology of diasporas such as entrepreneurship, politics, religion and ethnicity/ race.

In her article, Dahinden argues that transnational formations result from a combination of transnational mobility and locality in the sending or/and receiving country. She does not contrast diaspora with transnationalism, but builds on the sedentary/ nomadic distinction within transnational studies.

The article by Weinar analyses the emerging functional definitions of diaspora against the policy-based indicators and attempts to understand how diaspora is framed as a migration policy actor in the EU documents. Here the analysis suggests that policy debates adopted at the international level have an impact on how the distinction between transnational community and diaspora is framed in public discourse.

The article by Paerregaard suggests that diaspora serves as an analytical category to study particular aspects of migration processes rather than as a general term for all forms of hybridity and mobility. He focuses on the political constitution of diaspora using the case of Peruvian migration.

These articles deal with the history and evolution of diaspora and transnationalism whereas the next five chapters (i.e 6 to 10) compare how different social, cultural and political theories explain the formation of diasporas and the emergence of transnationalism. They also assess what weight these phenomena are given in broader theoretical accounts of change in contemporary society. The article by Schiller elaborates a critique of the use of the term nation-state as a unit of analysis that underlies much of migration scholarship including transnational migration. 

She argues that ‘highlighting transnational processes, past and present, and  addressing institutionalised power can serve as a conceptual starting point for new perspectives on migration called a ‘global power analysis of migration’ (110). This can bring together the various apparently contradictory trends within migration discourses and scholarship, and explain their simultaneous emergence and relationships.

The article by Waterbury looks at the similarities in the structure and political dynamics of diaspora engagement by a variety of kin and migrant-sending states, and constructs a broadly comparative model of how and why states make policy towards their national populations abroad. It develops a model of ‘diaspora as resource’ which offers a useful framework for explaining the motives for, and modes of engagement with, those outside state borders.

The article by Koinova focuses on theorising the role of diasporas in world politics. Here the author argues that diasporas utilise democratic discourses and procedures in order to pursue nationalist projects related to their land of origin.

The article by King and Christou brings in the phenomenon of second- generation return into focus and, and explore its theoretical and conceptual implications.

The next article which is an ethnographic study by Boccagni focuses on the meaning of transnationalism, and highlights the variable relevance of transnational ties in the everyday lives of the immigrants.

The last four articles (i.e.11 to 14) in the volume deal with developing methodological toolboxes and innovations for studying transnational and diasporic phenomena empirically. For example, the article by Mazzucato explores a simultaneous matched sample (SMS) methodology in which a relatively large matched sample of respondents is studied simultaneously and intensively. The chapter reflects on the experiences of using such a methodology from the Ghana TransNet research programme. The article by Jonkers examines the specific field of scientific collaboration across international borders that uses ethnic origin and migration experience as a resource. The article by Kissau and Uwe Hunger suggests internet as finely meshed tool, constituting an appropriate research site for advancing the study and understanding of migrant networks and influence abroad. It deals with how the internet can be used to study developments in migrants’ networks and thus differentiate between transnational online communities, virtual diasporas and ethnic online public spheres. Morales and Jorba contribute to a methodologically sophisticated understanding of ‘organisational transnationalism’ through a systematic analysis of the transnational practices of migrants’ organisations in three Spanish cities: Barcelona, Madrid and Murcia.

In the concluding chapter Rainer Bauböck draws a political theory perspective on transnationalism. He argues that the study of transnational citizenship and diasporic identities can be seen as complementing each other, rather than as providing alternative interpretations for the same phenomena.

A wide range of themes and complex issues such as ethnic conflicts, international relations, generational change, entrepreneurship and the comparative studies of diaspora and transnational community makes the book worthy for the interdisciplinary reading. This is definitely another important scholastic addition by the IMISCOE Research Forum and a very valuable contribution to the understanding of the evolving phenomenon. The book is still heavily loaded with western scholarships. The contributions of Arjun Apadurai, Ravindra Jain and a host of Asian and African and scholars are being overlooked.




Dr. Sudhansubala Sahu, PhD in Sociology, Central University of Hyderabad, Email id: [email protected]


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