Nancy L. Green and Roger Waldinger, Eds., A Century of Transnationalism: Immigrants and Their Homeland Connections (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2016)

By Weise, Julie M. | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Nancy L. Green and Roger Waldinger, Eds., A Century of Transnationalism: Immigrants and Their Homeland Connections (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2016)


Weise, Julie M., Labour/Le Travail


Nancy L. Green and Roger Waldinger, eds., A Century of Transnationalism: Immigrants and their Homeland Connections (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2016)

IN A CENTURY of Transnationalism, historian Nancy Green and sociologist Roger Waldinger marshal a collection of essays that they hope will put to rest any pretense that transnational phenomena in migration are "new." On the contrary, they argue in their introduction, social scientists who discovered the "novel" phenomenon in the 1990s overlooked countless histories of people and politics that ricocheted across borders in multiple directions since at least the late 19th century. Though historians did not begin labeling such phenomena "transnational" until after anthropologists popularized the term, some historical works written before the 1990s and even more written since then have identified circulations that were largely comparable to more recent transnationalism. Indeed, Green and Waldinger posit, "the technology of long-distance communication and travel has been in constant change throughout the migrations of the past two hundred years." (6) The invention of the Internet thus marked just one of many such changes, not a definitive break from the past.

The collection features historians, sociologists, and a geographer who have applied transnational concepts to their historical research. Notably, the use of translators brings together a uniquely international and multilingual group of scholars based in Europe and North America, giving Anglophone readers access to academic conversations usually conducted in not just English but also French and Portuguese. In general, the essays document changes in transnational practices over long periods of time in a given migrant circuit, rather than focusing on just a few decades of history. They examine Italian, Portuguese, Lebanese-and Syrian-Arab, Algerian, Russian-Jewish, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese migrants' political and social relationships with their homelands through various time periods since the late 19th century.

The book is divided into two sections, beginning with pieces that emphasize transnational practices driven by states (top-down) followed by those that emphasize processes driven by migrants (bottom-up). In practice, most chapters explore the interplay between states and migrants, sometimes with exquisite sensitivity. For example, France-based historian, Marie-Claude Blanc-Chaleard's chapter analyzes oral history interviews with migrants who have constructed lives between the Souf region of Algeria and Paris' Nanterre banlieue. Blanc-Chaleard shows how French and Algerian legal regimes and state projects have increasingly circumscribed migrants' lives over time. Most poignantly, she writes of the chibanis, Algerians who worked for years in France but have since retired to the Souf Valley. Antipathy from Algerian officials makes it difficult for them to draw their French pensions in Algeria, thus many work to keep their French resident cards valid by spending at least half the year in France. Yet Blanc-Chaleard notes that these state strictures often provide chibanis needed "breathing space," justifying a transnational lifestyle that many actually prefer. Said one such man, "You never know what might happen. You have to keep the connection, the papers. And then, I've spent nearly all my life over there." (250) The story is just one of many in the book highlighting migrants' creative strategies to live the best lives possible in the face of the countless restrictions and discourses that states of origin and destination have thrown at them.

As the case of the French-Algerians also shows, several of the authors emphasize the limits and restrictions on transnational migrants in a world of nation-states--a reality, they and the editors correctly argue, that the first wave of transnational anthropology ignored. As Green and Waldinger write in their introduction, "Some migrants may behave just as described in Nations Unbound," the seminal 1994 book that established the subfield of transnational migration anthropology, "but not all do. …

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