One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that since migration is such a complex issue, there cannot, or at least in my view, there ought not to be a general theory of migration. As much as migration is as old as human history, theoretical currents on this topic shift, change, and emerge at different times through different lenses. I think Faist denoted that at the start of the article when he noted that the “term ‘theory’ here relates to theoretically guided empirical propositions, ranging from thick descriptions aiming at particular events and sites, on one end of the continuum, to grand general theory at the other end. Neither is this an effort to develop an integrated theory of diaspora and transnationalism.”
Since human mobility as does the perception of it depending on the geography where one lives, as well as different conceptions of what migration should and ought to look at, the view of transnationalism and diaspora bring forth interesting debates.
The word ‘diaspora’ has, for a long time meant to describe the struggles and forced migrations of Jewish, and, later Armenian communities. This has changed during the last decade or two with the perceived increased in international migrations, and the coining of the ‘transnational’, which a number of people have intertwined with diaspora. The reason I say perceived, is that in actual terms, the percentage of people migrating, has actually dropped somewhat since the last great migration(s) that took place between 1849 – 1914, where almost 6% of the globe was on the move, opposed to about 3.5-4% today. Human mobility has not changed as much as people’s, societies, and governments’ view have.
This is where diaspora and transnationalism come together. Since diaspora brings forth images of dispersion, yet at the same time keeping a community as one even if geographically dispersed; transnationalism brings together communities that have a present geographic entity, the contemporary nation-state that brings everyone together as one.
The idea behind transnationalism is the extension of the nation-state across its geographic borders. Although the nation-state is not that old, it has taken over the way people view things such as citizenship, political rights, etc. However, people residing outside their state of citizenship have not always been looked at in a positive manner. It was about 20 years ago that many countries saw the benefits that remittances were having on sending countries such as Mexico, India, Peru, etc. This economic impact was one of the drivers that led many nation-states to shift their perceptions from ‘traitors’ to the nation to ‘heroes’ sacrificing for the nation. This qualitative shift became one of the drivers, which led to interest in the rise of ‘transnational communities’, many of which already existed for many years under a dark cloud as people that abandoned their homeland.
This shift in perception brought forth a number of changes in how populations were viewed. Transnational communities through the prisms of networks, imagined communities, de-territorialized yet connected became an important aspect of academic inquiry. This shift brought many communities ‘out from the cold’, which also played a vital role in accessing political rights such as voting in national elections, as well as political recognition that these communities also wielded a strong political voice, while residing in other countries. Transnationalism has also led to an increase in dual citizenship, social and economic networks working across boundaries for the betterment of the localities people hail from. All this has been accelerated through the Internet, and cheaper and faster transportation.
Diaspora on the other hand is one of the original terms of displaced communities and populations usually linked through ethnic and/or religious ties. As the author mentions, rightly I think, is that diaspora as an analytical concept can be difficult to research without the political component.
Having said this, what do you guys think of the reading?