Diaspora: Moving beyond Minority Status

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The Philippine Research Project Team (PRPT) on marriage migration has just completed its pre-research phase. It discussed the concept of "diaspora" in its search of a theoretical framework and conducted a review of related literature. This paper contains ideas on "diaspora" which we found to have potential as analytical constructs, most of them coming from Dr. Avtar Brah's article entitled "Diaspora, Borders, and Transnational Identities."

Diaspora: A Range of Definitions

Filipino activists and advocates like me in the field of international labour migration have long used "diaspora" to refer to the "scattering" or "dispersal" the world over of more than 8 million Filipino workers. Beyond this, we have not done any closer investigation. Not until now, that is.

The Classical Diaspora Paradigm

Milton Esman (1996: 316) provides the "classic" definition. A diaspora is "a minority ethnic group of migrant origin which maintains sentimental or material links with its land of origin, either because of social exclusion, internal cohesion or other geo-political factors. It is never assimilated into the whole society but in time, develops a diasporic consciousness which carries out a collective sharing of space with others."

Safran (1991) identifies the key components of the classical diaspora paradigm: dispersal from a homeland, collective memory of the homeland, lack of integration in the receiving country, a "myth" of return, and a persistent link with the homeland.

What this paradigm underscores are two fundamental tenets: the link between a group and a particular territory (a homeland), and an essentialist identity paradigm of the nation-state (Toninato).

Postmodern Versions (Hall 1990, Gilroy 1993, Clifford 1994, Brah 1996)

Under postmodernism, diaspora ceases to be merely descriptive of a group. Postmodernist discourse now refers to a "condition" which arises from the "experience of being from one place and of another," and is linked "with the idea of particular sentiments towards the homeland, whilst being formed by those of the place of settlement. This place is one where one is constructed in and through difference, and yet is one that produces differential forms of cultural accommodation or syncretism: in some versions, hybridity" (Clifford: 1994).

Emphasis is on the particularities of the process of territorial and culture shifts such as issues on the destabilising effects of transition and movement of the individual's cultural certainties, and the changes that take place in all social parts, not only in the diasporic group.

This interpretation of "diaspora" refers to a process at the holistic level (political, cultural, and economic dimensions at the micro-meso-macro levels), and is not limited to group or intergroup relations/ dynamics.

The process takes place in the context of globalisation and cultural mixing (hybridity/syncretism).

Clifford's main ideas are as follows:

* Diasporas think globally but live locally. They are "bonds of ethnic ties, and the fixity of boundaries have been replaced by shifting and fluid identity boundaries ... that alter the ethnic landscape."

* Selective accommodation: the desire to stay and be different. Identity becomes more syncretic-e.g., British-born Cypriots, Australian Greeks, British Blacks. This challenges the notion of a nation-state as the embodiment of a given national group, constructing it as "trans-ethnic and transnational." (Implication: The myth of the purity of the bloodline of a receiving nation-state is challenged and deconstructed, eventually replaced by a new concept of a transnational, trans-ethnic one.)

* While their specific identities imply a certain degree of boundedness and stability, diasporas must be understood as social and cultural processes of movement and change. Imagined as communities, diasporas are transnational in nature rather than mere ethnic or immigrant minority groups situated in a specific nation-state since they represent "ways of conceiving community, citizenship, and identity as simultaneously here and elsewhere. …