Transnationalism, Active Citizenship, and Belonging in Canada

By Wong, Lloyd L. | International Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Transnationalism, Active Citizenship, and Belonging in Canada


Wong, Lloyd L., International Journal


Transnational identities, practices, and institutions are not really new and have likely existed in some form over the past few hundred years and perhaps back to the peace of Westphalia in the mid iooos. While the technological transformations in previous centuries facilitated transnationalism, such as trans-oceanic steamships and the telegraph, it has only been recently that the cost of bridging long geographic distances has been cut dramatically.1 As a result what is new is the emergence of transnationalism on a mass scale. Technological conditions for earlier immigrants did not make transnational practices rapid or easy but now they have and this has only been a relatively recent and new phenomenon.2 This has had an affect on the types of communities with which individuals and institutions identify and in which they participate. Economic globalization over the past several decades has led to the rise of a global economy with a plethora of transnational and multinational corporations. Following this economic globalization has been a cultural globalization that includes an ethnoscape with an increasing multitude of diasporic and transnational communities. As many people in these communities engage in transnational identities and practices, questions arise as to their rights and responsibilities of citizenship within a particular nation. Further, with criticisms of multiculturalism becoming more prevalent in recent years-particularly in the post 9/11 era-including the Madrid train bombings of 2004, the London bombings of 2005, and the Canadian suspected terrorism case of 2006-the "darker" side of transnational practices has been prominent in public discourse. This discourse is based on the perception that multiculturalism is not working and, along with transnational practices, leads to fragmentation and segregation rather than the integration of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups. The argument is made that multiculturalism and transnationalism make social cohesion in Canadian society difficult if not impossible to achieve. More specifically, those engaged in transnational identities and practices are viewed as practicing a "thin" citizenship with limited active citizenship engagement within Canada and minimal shared values, cultural identity, and sense of belonging to Canada. This article begins with a discussion of how transnationalism and active citizenship are conceptualized. It then examines how these two processes are allegedly divergent and contradictory. This is followed by an empirical investigation of these allegations comprising three research questions. I outline the methodology used to answer the questions, how the key variables of transnationalism are measured, and present the findings.

CONCEPTUALIZING TRANSNATIONALISM

While the introduction and popularization of the term transnationalism emerged in the social sciences over the past decade and a half, sociologist Anthony Richmond coined a somewhat similar term-transilience-in 1969- Transilience referred to the exchanges of skilled and highly qualified migrants between advanced industrial societies. The migrants themselves were referred to as transilients; he predicted they would become numerically more important in the future. These terms were used in his writings up to the mid-1990s and by that time Richmond was using the term more broadly to apply to a wide range of movers whose permanence in one locale was neither expected nor necessary.3 Transilients do not necessarily assimilate, acculturate, or integrate fully into the receiving society but rather maintain close ties with family and friends; are aware of changing economic, political, and social conditions in their former country and elsewhere; and have high rates of remigration and return. As such, the concept of transilience can be considered the forerunner to contemporary notions of transnationalism.

With the publication of Nina Glick Schiller's, Linda Basch's, and Christina Blanc-Szantoris books Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration in 1992, and Nations Unbound in 1994, the transnationalism paradigm emerged as a "new" perspective to characterize processes of immigrant settlement, adaptation, and integration, particularly in Britain and the United States. …

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