Global Journeys: From Transnationalism to Diaspora

By Johnson, Nadja C. | Journal of International and Global Studies, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Global Journeys: From Transnationalism to Diaspora


Johnson, Nadja C., Journal of International and Global Studies


Global Journeys: From Transnationalism to Diaspora

Advances in information technology, increased accessibility to communication via the internet, and more affordable modes of transportation have facilitated the rapid mobility of information, capital, people, and power to nontraditional spheres. In the twenty first century, such nontraditional spheres include diasporas--groups of migrants originating from the same homeland who have formed transnational movements. "Diaspora--as both concept and social practice--is in vogue" (Dufoix, 2003). This quote by Stephane Dufoix can be contrasted to popular sentiment in previous years when scholars like when William Saffran (1991) observed that scholarship on ethnicity and immigration paid "little if any attention.... to diasporas" (as cited in Brubaker, 2005). The concept of "diaspora" has indeed become a "hot topic," the relevance, and significance, and negotiation of which are actively debated not only in academia (beginning especially in 1991 with the publication of the academic journal Diaspora) but also in real life, where governments, politicians, and economists all reference the term "disapora."

The political importance of diasporas across the globe is evident in the recent surge in discussions about their geo-political influence. The 2010-2011 Arab Spring (the revolutionary political demonstrations and protests in the Middle East) gained tremendous global coverage for the way in which residents were displaying levels of frustration and intolerance of injustice, but the uprising also was a platform from which diasporas connected to these countries were able to become directly involved in socio-political change. The important role of migrants in the Arab Spring resulted in political analysts, academics, and intellectuals developing renewed interest in the impact of diasporas. One online commentary, The National, published an article discussing the important role of diasporas not just in the revolutionary process of change but also in the future reconstruction of the countries affected by the Arab Spring. Specifically, the article highlighted the World Bank's appeal that these nations call on their diasporas to help them rebuild; the article's author quotes the organization's economist, Dilip Ratha, as saying, "The diaspora can be a friend in foul weather. If things are not going well in your country, and foreign investors aren't there, the diaspora will still be there" (Arnold, 2011). These kinds of discussions about diasporas are not unique to the Arab Spring or to countries experiencing political upheaval. For example, in 2012, the U.S. State Department hosted its second annual Global Diaspora Forum under the theme "Moving Forward by Giving Back." This conference took place in the nation's capital on July 25-26, 2012. According to the website for the forum,

   The Global Diaspora Forum is an annual celebration of America's
   diaspora communities. The gathering challenges diaspora communities
   to forge partnerships with the private sector, civil society, and
   public institutions in order to make their engagements with their
   countries of origin or ancestry effective, scalable, and
   sustainable.

Such examples of journalists, intellectuals, and political leaders hosting conferences and forums and making public attempts to facilitate the influence of diasporas on their home countries shows just how timely this research is.

This interest in diasporas is not limited to the developing world or to the host countries where migrants reside. Leaders in developing countries such as in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America are also are having conversations and reconsidering nontraditional resources that could help them become competitive. Noticeably, diasporas are frequently mentioned in these conversations, often cited as invaluable assets to aid in the country's development and, therefore, a major part of the solutions they seek. …

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