Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Former Soviet Jews in Israel and in the West: Integration, Exclusion and Transnationalism

Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Former Soviet Jews in Israel and in the West: Integration, Exclusion and Transnationalism

Article excerpt

Introduction: Transnational immigrant communities

The concept of transnationalism, described as an integral part of the globalization process, is becoming increasingly popular in social and political sciences (Glick Schiller et al., 1995; Guarnizo & Smith, 1998; Portes et al., 1999; Faist, 2000). Originally coined in international economics to describe flows of capital and labor across national borders in the second half of the 20th century, this concept was later applied to the study of migrations and ethnic diasporas. The lens of transnationalism became increasingly useful for exploring such issues as immigrant economic integration, identity, citizenship and cultural retention.

Some authors argue that transnationalism may actually be a new name for an old phenomenon, in the sense that most big immigration waves of the past were typified by ethno-cultural retention and contacts with co-ethnics abroad (Van Hear, 1998; Guarnizo and Smith, 1998). Indeed, historic studies of ethnic diasporas show that immigrants never fully severed their links with the homeland. Yet, due to technical and financial limitations of the time, for most migrants these links remained mainly in the sentimental and cultural realm, and were seldom expressed in active shuttle movement or communication across borders. Economic ties with countries of origin were typically limited to monetary remittances to family members. Although up to one-quarter of transatlantic migrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries eventually returned to their homelands, the decision to repatriate was in fact another critical and irreversible choice to be made. Hence, for the majority of historic migrants, resettlement was an irreversible process always involving a dichotomy: stay or emigrate, or else stay or return (Jacobson, 1995; Van Hear, 1998).

In the late 20th century efficient and relatively cheap means of communication and transportation (time- and space-compressing technologies) made this old dichotomy largely irrelevant. As Castells (1996) has pointed out in his book "The Rise of the Network Society," new technologies have virtually created new patterns of social relations, or at lest strongly reinforced pre-existing tendencies. They allowed numerous diasporic immigrants to live in two or more countries at a time, via maintaining close physical and social links with their places of origin. Transnational activities and lifestyles became widely spread, embracing large numbers of people and playing a significant role in economy, politics and social life of both sending and receiving countries. Guarnizo & Smith (1998) have introduced a useful distinction between the two types of transnationalism--'from above' and 'from below'. The former refers to institutionalized economic and political activities of multinational corporations and organizations such as UN, Amnesty International or Greenpeace, which set in motion large-scale global exchange of financial and human capital. On the other hand, the increasing role in these networks belongs to ordinary migrants--grassroots agents of transnationalism who run small businesses in their home countries, organize exchange of material (e.g., ethnic food) and cultural (e.g., tours of folk artists) goods within the diaspora, pay regular visits to their birthplace, receive co-ethnic guests, and so on.

Migration experience in the context of global society, where constant exchange of people, products and ideas is reinforced by transnational media networks, has attained a whole new quality. The full-time loyalty to one country and one culture is no longer self-evident: people may actually divide their physical pastime, effort and identity between several societies. Citizenship and political participation are also becoming bi-focal or even multi-focal, since some sending countries allow their expatriates to remain citizens, vote in national elections and establish political movements. In this context, international migrants are becoming transmigrants, developing economic activities, enjoying cultural life and keeping dense informal networks not only with their home country, but also with other national branches of their diaspora. …

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