University of Hawai'i Press
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  • Global Diasporas: An Introduction, and: The Politics of Migration
Global Diasporas: An Introduction. By Robin Cohen. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 228. $50 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).
The Politics of Migration. Edited by Robin Cohen and Zig Layton-Henry. International Library of Studies of Migration, 5. Cheltenham/Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 1997. Pp. xxvii + 341. $130 (cloth).

Robin Cohen has been busy. He’s the editor of a planned eighteen-book series on global diasporas and the editor of the International Library of Studies of Migration, consisting of six volumes. The former is or will be made up of original works, while the latter collects previously published articles on selected themes. International migration and diasporas constitute distinctive fields of inquiry, but there is considerable overlap between them. The study of international migration is broader in scope and partially subsumes diaspora studies. Diasporas arise from international migration. Constant interaction between diasporic communities in several sovereign jurisdictions and often with a homeland is a defining feature. Nonetheless, not all events in, processes concerning, and aspects of the diasporic life of, say, Jews or Armenians would necessarily interest students of international migration. What are termed Jewish or Armenian studies are more central to the study of diasporas than to the study of international migration.

Clearly, not all international migration gives rise to diasporas. But in Global Diasporas: An Introduction, Cohen wants to enlarge the scope of the latter term to include populations that, unlike the Jews and Armenians, have not suffered catastrophic traumas. He argues that there are nine common features of a diaspora, which serve to demarcate the scope of his inquiry. He then generates a typology to classify diasporas according to their prevalent nature—“victims,” such as the Armenians; “labor,” such as Indian contract workers; “trade,” such as Lebanese merchants in West Africa; “imperial,” such as British population movements to overseas dominions; and “cultural,” such as [End Page 441] Caribbeans living abroad. He notes that conditions surrounding diaspora communities evolve through time, so that groups like the Jews comprise several types. The typology structures the book. Successive chapters are devoted to comparisons of at least two diaspora populations according to type, save for the chapter on cultural diasporas. Chapter 2, for instance, on “victim” diasporas, compares Africans and Armenians.

Cohen’s erudition is vast. Chapter 1 examines Jewish history because of its singular connection to the term diaspora. We learn that the term originated with the ancient Greeks, who used it to refer to their migration and colonization. The Babylonian captivity of part of the ancient Jewish population, and then the destruction of the Second Temple in a.d. 70 by Romans and the subsequent dispersal of most Jews from the area of the ancient Jewish states, resulted in the Jewish diaspora. Cohen argues, however, that most Jews probably lived outside Palestine from the time of the Babylonian captivity onward. Some Jews would return and restore the Temple by 515 b.c., but Judaism was much changed by the encounter with Babylon. Cohen contends that Jewish communities in cities like Alexandria and Damascus became centers of civilization. The flourishing of Jewish communities outside the land of Israel is particularly noteworthy because Cohen sees the diasporic condition as potentially positive and beneficial. His understanding of Jewish history is at odds with much Zionist-inspired historiography. Indeed, throughout the volume, Cohen implicitly or explicitly criticizes Zionist versions of Jewish history and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and Lebanon.

In chapters 2–6 Cohen analyzes nine diasporas in considerable depth. The scope of comparison brings to mind Thomas Sowell’s effort in Migrations and Cultures: A World View (New York: Basic Books, 1996). But unlike Sowell’s frequently shallow and flawed grasp of history, Cohen’s interpretations are solid and well informed. There are minor flaws. He mistakenly refers to J. A. Armstrong, the scholar who coined the concepts of proletarian and mobilized diasporas, as female. The discussion of the Lebanese would have benefited from a reading of Kemal Karpat’s important articles on Arab emigration from the late Ottoman empire. Crémieux and the Damascus affair (c. 1840) was probably less important in the history of modern French anti-Semitism than were the Crémieux Decrees (c. 1870) granting French citizenship to most Algerian Jews, while Algerian Muslims were subordinated. By and large, one can only marvel at the scope of Cohen’s learning and the richness of his vocabulary.

The most difficult part is chapter 6, on cultural diasporas, which [End Page 442] Cohen illustrates by comparing Caribbean diasporas—from the United States and Canada to Central America, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Postmodern writings on identity and culture are reviewed. Cohen prefers the term syncretism to hybridity. There’s a fascinating discussion of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and his celebration of hybridity, impurity, and intermingling. Somewhat to Cohen’s surprise, he finds much of the postmodern scholarship reviewed highly suggestive. Cohen concludes that there is a Caribbean cultural diaspora, but that processes of indigenization and creolization in the Caribbean have not been adequately explained.

In chapter 7, on diasporas and globalization, Cohen senses that there is a causal link between the two—that globalization generates diasporas. But he goes no further. He is cognizant of the difficulties involved in using the term globalization and of political reactions to it. The essence of his argument is that globalization has enhanced the roles of diasporas, making them particularly adaptive to the evolving circumstances of the post-Cold War world. Diasporas reinforce globalization and propel it further, although other factors are at work as well.

In the concluding chapter, Cohen struggles a bit with imagery and metaphors. The most successful metaphor is that of a diasporic rope consisting of fibers that intertwine—the nine common features of diasporas summarized in tabular form on page 26. He differentiates diasporas from world religions and from borderlands, such as the Rio Grande Valley, and from stranded minorities, such as the Russians living outside of the Russian Federation in the Commonwealth of Independent States. He terms Soviet efforts to encourage Russian emigration to other areas of the former Soviet Union a failed effort at creation of an imperial diaspora, such as that fostered by the United Kingdom.

Cohen sees promise in the proliferation of diasporas. But he acknowledges problems, such as the security concerns raised by political violence perpetrated by groups and organizations operating within diasporic settings. His historical case reveals that this concern is hardly novel. Cohen clearly sees the proliferation of diasporas and resultant syncretism as a challenge to territorial states. But he does not rule out adaptation by such states to evolving circumstances. His sympathies lie with those who view national states as outmoded, declining, and oppressive. The key question in his mind will turn on whether national states can manage diversity while permitting free expression and still generating enough legitimacy to ensure continuity of the state and its institutions.

The International Library of Studies of Migration tome, The Politics of Migration, consists of an introduction by Cohen, sixteen articles [End Page 443] by various scholars published between 1972 and 1991, and a name index. The politics of migration is an understudied dimension of international migration but, perhaps, over the long haul the most important. Immigration affects politics in multiple ways: it introduces potential new actors into a political system, links at least two different polities, and can have an important effect on political institutions and forces in the homeland and the receiving country. Study of the politics of migration was rare until the 1990s. The volume does a good job of bringing together key pieces from the 1970s and 1980s. However, several of the articles included might have appeared as well in a volume on immigration policies. Six of the articles focus on the United Kingdom and most of the others on the highly developed democracies of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which, it is shown, are less democratic than commonly thought.

In the introduction Cohen takes exception to some of the viewpoints expressed, most notably by Martin Heisler. He cites Immanuel Kant as a supporter of a world without borders. But, as the late F. H. Hinsley noted, Kant surely would have supported efforts by democratic states to regulate international migration. He would have enjoined them to grant legally admitted aliens the broadest rights possible. Moreover, he would have supported the prerogative of sovereign states to regulate migration—a notion apparently displeasing to Cohen, but not to several of the contributors, including Heisler, Gary Freeman, and Michael Teitelbaum.

Following the introduction, the volume begins with Heisler’s often misinterpreted article from a 1986 issue of The Annals. His focus was on the diminished autonomy of states, both homelands and receiving societies, and upon political and administrative problems of transnational populations of immigrants. Heisler did not regard international migrations as an unalloyed benefit to all involved, and this apparently sparked the editor’s ire. Freeman’s seminal piece on migration and the welfare state follows—an article whose importance has grown with time.

The next coupling of articles comprises the classic contributions of Manuel Castells and of Stephen Castles and Godula Kosack, respectively. They analyzed the function of international migration in advanced capitalism from a Marxist perspective. Indeed, it has been said that the Castles and Kosack piece for the New Left Review was the single best piece of research and writing produced by the rebellious generation of intellectuals who challenged what Sartre termed, c. 1968, the désordre établi. Castells, and Castles and Kosack, regarded the legal status of aliens and their socioeconomic condition—that is, [End Page 444] their exploitation—as reinforcing capitalist hegemony. Foreign workers were viewed as politically quiescent, although some of them were being mobilized into strikes and struggles that would contribute to a reassessment of the consequences of international migration by the mid-1970s. If capitalism benefited so much from international migration, why did the states of Western Europe curb further labor recruitment in the 1970s?

Part of the answer is to be found in analyses that documented growing impacts of immigration upon electoral results and upon institutions such as trade unions. The United Kingdom suddenly confronted a “black problem” and a rising tide of minority political activism, as attested to by A. Sivanahdan’s contribution to the volume. The analysis of Frank Bovenkerk, Gilles Verbunt, and Robert Miles focused on the state but found considerable variation between the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. For them, differences in historical contexts and institutions explained significant variations. Their approach merits revisiting today, when too many immigration scholars err by regarding state variables as inconsequential or of “residual” significance.

Two specific themes predominate in the second half of the volume: the electoral consequences of immigration and the resistance of party systems to minority expression. Articles by W. C. Miller and Donley Studlar attested that immigration issues broadened the electoral appeal of the British Conservative Party in the 1970s, although the precise measurement of the electoral benefit to Conservatives in several elections of the 1970s was contested. An article by Paul Whitely analyzed the National Front vote in the 1977 elections in the United Kingdom. By 1979 the new Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, would short-circuit the electoral appeal of the British National Front by championing law-and-order issues in the Conservative campaign. The British two-party system prevailed. Likewise, the rootedness of class conceptions in the Labour Party made it very difficult for blacks and other immigrant minorities to place minority-specific demands on the political agenda. Robert Miles and Annie Phizacklea found slim prospects for viable ethnic organization of minorities in the British context. They speculated that the hostility of British workers to immigrants might lead to efforts to build political organizations on an ethnic basis, but that minorities participated in trade unions and Labour Party structures despite the inadequacy of their response to specific minority concerns. Miles and Phizacklea noted the homeland orientation of many politically conscious immigrants. However, the volume sheds little light on this dimension of the politics of migration. [End Page 445]

The electoral effects of immigration were quite different in France, as evidenced by Martin Schain’s contribution. The 1980s were marked by the decline of the electoral appeal of the French Communist Party and the emergence of the National Front as a force capable of attracting 15% of the national vote in the first round of French general elections. Historic differences between the two-party British system and the French multiparty system help explain the different outcomes on either side of the Channel. Schain focused on the reaction of the French Communist Party (PCF) to immigrants and contended that by the late 1980s the PCF embraced anti-immigrant themes and positions. The upshot of his analysis is that the PCF somehow legitimated National Front contentions and more or less paved the way to the growing electoral appeal of the National Front.

Schain was too harsh in his criticism of the PCF. He delved into the practical problems faced by Communist mayors in suburbs that were demographically transformed by immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s. Mayors wanted to limit immigrant influxes as schools and public housing units faced enormous integration problems. Particularly troublesome were dwellings overcrowded with immigrants, many of whom were illegally resident and who often slept in shifts. Efforts by mayors to enforce housing standards were often resisted by immigrants, sometimes with the help of extreme leftists. Long-simmering problems sometimes led to extreme measures, as when the mayor of one Parisian suburb called in bulldozers to flatten housing occupied by African immigrants. Though deplorable, such extreme measures arose in long-troubled contexts. The desperate and unwise measures of several Communist mayors did not constitute PCF policy.

The PCF opposed illegal immigration and manifestly supported enforcement of labor laws and housing regulations. It favored equality of rights for legally admitted aliens, except in the area of local voting rights. Its policies were, in fact, antithetical to those of the National Front and were manifestly anti-racist. Somehow these verities were lost in Schain’s analysis. Schain did not attribute the growth in electoral support for the National Front to defections or switchovers by former Communists. Some former Communist voters have become supporters of the National Front, but most of these were protest voters, voters whose alienation leads them to support the most antisystem party regardless of its platform.

The volume also includes an important article by the Austrian political scientist Rainer Bauboeck on migration and citizenship. Bauboeck contrasted communitarian and egalitarian concepts of citizenship. He concluded that legally admitted immigrants should not be [End Page 446] excluded from citizenship but that immigration could be justifiably restricted. In this sense, Bauboeck’s analysis seems to accord more with Kant than does Cohen in the introduction. Frederick Whelan explored the right to leave but did not find that this gave rise to a corresponding right to immigrate. He found the current practice of Western states regulating international migration “to represent a reasonable compromise between competing, extreme conceptions.”

The volume contains both Marxist and non-Marxist authors and several articles that are quite critical of established left-wing political parties, such as the PCF and the British Labour Party. A variety of scholarly viewpoints are expressed, sometimes to the discomfiture of at least one of the editors. The tome sheds little light on several important dimensions of the politics of migration—such as politics in less-developed settings, emigrant-homeland political dynamics, or conflicts arising from the contested presence of refugees or immigrants, as in the case of Lebanon. The focus is very much within states, although international migration has important effects on international relations and foreign policies. Michael Teitelbaum’s contribution comes closest to addressing this still too little studied dimension of the politics of migration.

The Politics of Migration reflects the principal ways in which the subject was studied in the 1970s and 1980s. In this sense, the preponderance of Marxist scholarship is fully appropriate. One suspects, however, that a similar volume published twenty or thirty years from now will look very different. It is an open question whether the pro-immigrant leanings of most pioneering scholarship on the politics of international migration will give way to different perspectives.

Mark J. Miller
University of Delaware

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