28 January 2012

Understanding Diaspora from Sociological point-of-view

Citation source:

Hussain, Yasmin. 2005. "Writing diaspora: South Asian women, culture, and ethnicity" (p. 5-8). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd: UK.

Diaspora has become a breeding ground for new sociological concepts withing scholarly work. The rise of migration, nomadism, religious movements, urbanisation and pilgrimages have all helped precipitate the arrival of new sociological constructs of culture. In recent times diaspora has penetrated the discipline of sociology and provides new ways of thinking about race and ethnicity. The advent of hyphenated identities and multinational attachments reveal not so much loopholes in the traditional ways of analysing culture, but previously uncharted territory within the discipline itself (Werbner, 1997). Consequently, earlier anthropological conceptualisations of culture are rendered inadequate and inappropriate models for analysing the heterogenous composition of group collectivities in contemporary society.

A growing scholarly literature has responded to the evident expansion of the concept and discourse of diaspora and attempts to probe its salient features and limits (Safran, 1991; Totolyan, 1991 and 1996; Hall, 1990; Gilroy, 1993; Clifford, 1994; Brah, 1996; Werbner, 1990).

The advent of new subjectivities and hyphenated identities are issues dealt with within South Asian literature since they describe the possibilities of new identity formations within ethnic and minority of cultural spaces. This relates to how we might understand diasporic activities. According to Brah, different historical and contemporary contexts of diasporic activity must be understood not separately or comparatively, but 'in their dia-synchronic relationality' (1996, p. 190).

The concept of diaspora is entwined with the concept of power, because power determines the relations between minorities and majorities and often determines their insertion within the social relations of class, gender, racism and sexuality (Brah, 1996). The situating of a group within a country in terms of its economic, political and social  structure is also critical to its future interpretation. This relational positioning allows a deconstruction of the power which operates to determine the differences between one group and another with respect to the position that it holds within the cultural framework. Each diaspora has to be analysed in its own historical specificity, and its relational positioning to that of other diasporas and more importantly the dominant group in society (Brah, 1996).

Central to the concept of diaspora is the image of a journey; however, not all journeys can be understood as diaspora. Diasporic journeys are not the same as casual travel; they are about 'setting down and putting roots elsewhere' (Brah, 1996, p. 182) -- crossing geographical and mental borders. These discussions of diaspora are inevitably bound up with the notion of 'borders and territories' -- the arbitrary lines of social, cultural and psychic demarcation. Borders are politically and ideologically constructed as well as forming an analytical category. They have always been used as a means for refleting upon the indigenous condition of social relations with a restricted area. However both borders and diaspora are concepts constructed around references to the theme of locations, displacement and dislocation.

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