Diaspora, Identity, and Religion: New Directions in Theory and Research

By Waltraud Kokot; Khachig Tölölyan et al. | Go to book overview

3

Place, movement and identity

Processes of inclusion and exclusion in a 'Caribbean' family

Karen Fog Olwig


Introduction

The notions of 'diaspora' and 'transnationalism' have helped to redirect migration research towards important new areas of inquiry. Nevertheless, I shall here argue that they may unnecessarily narrow the field of study in ways that make it difficult to grasp the breadth of experience and the complexity of socio-cultural systems found among people who have engaged in migratory movements. In recent years I have carried out life story interviews with members of global family networks of Caribbean background with a view to conducting an exploratory ethnographic study of a group of people who have engaged in a great deal of movement. In this chapter, which focuses on life stories related by family members who have moved to Canada, I shall first investigate how family members have experienced being designated as a 'visible minority' in Canadian society. I shall then examine the significance of the global family network as a site of relatedness and belonging within and outside Canadian society. I conclude by arguing that more broad-based ethnographic studies may allow for wider analysis of important commonalities, as well as differences, in the sort of lives people explore today, regardless of their particular place of origins.

In several recent articles Ortner (1993, 1997, 1998a, 1998b) has discussed her fieldwork among old classmates from Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey, from which she graduated in 1958. This research basically involved going on the turnpike 'to look for America', because most of Ortner's classmates had moved away after graduating from the local high school to pursue their careers. Ortner's research therefore entailed driving thousands of miles as she criss-crossed the United States to interview this scattered group of people, and their grown children, about the sort of lives that they had lived. The field site, in other words, was not localized in the conventional sense of having taken place in a small, local community. Rather the United States as such was the field site, Ortner's overall purpose being to carry out an ethnographic study of American society. Indeed, Ortner suggests that the once localized, now scattered group of people that she studied constitutes a 'standard mode of community in contemporary America'. This is because, 'people for the most part still grow up in "communities" in the traditional sense, in towns or suburbs or neighbourhoods where people know one

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