- Paradoxes of Homecoming:The Jews and Their Diasporas
There can be little doubt that the "homeland-diaspora" paradigm has firmly entered into the contemporary social-science vocabulary. It influences the ways in which many social scientists, historians, as well as the variety of media specialists, presently conceptualize critical features of the modern world. According to the paradigm, attention is focused upon groups that migrated or were driven from their native land (the "homeland"), and subsequently found their way to other places (a "diaspora") where, over lengthy time periods, they maintained their own distinct communities and dreamed of one-day returning to their Ancient Home.
Based upon this formulation—and also propelled to the forefront by globalization, population upheavals, and the pulsating world-wide currents of immigration—a barrage of published research has carved out a new field labeled "diaspora studies." These studies have focused upon, to cite several examples, Pakistani immigrants in England, Palestinians in Middle Eastern refugee camps and the Gulf States, Jews and Armenians in their respective diasporas, the "Black Atlantic" diasporas that grew out of the brutal slavery suffered by African populations, Turkish immigrants in Germany and other European countries, Indian [End Page 691] immigrants in North America, and a great many others.1 As is apparent, a wide range of difference exists between these migrating overseas groups, just as the societies within which they reside are equally different. Nonetheless, the growing number of studies has generally succeeded in showing how diasporic communities retain a certain separation and internal cohesion while at the same time adjusting to their new host society, and also how they maintain interactive contacts and involvement with their real or imagined homeland.
Now while this conceptualization has succeeded in providing fresh understandings of present-day migrations and their accompanying changes, the paradigm has also been subjected to various criticisms. Much of the critique has centered upon the difficulties encountered in employing a typological approach: Are all of what are labeled "diasporas" alike, and how can one account for the historically changing relevance or meaning of a "homeland?"2
Our own critique proceeds in a related, but quite different, direction. The problem is not only that the paradigm is overly general, but more important, that it is much too static and ignores the role nation-state rhetoric plays in defining, as well as constructing, diasporas. As we see it, a basic flaw in the model is that it is typically phrased in terms of a single "homeland" and its "diaspora," or, as is often the case, a number of diasporas. Irrespective of the scope or intensity of these relationships, the model assumes that the perception and understanding of which place is "homeland," and which is "diaspora," is always clear and unambiguous. This is what Levy has recently called the "solar system model" of homeland-diaspora relationships:
"By this term I refer to the literature that depicts diasporic communities as constructing and cultivating longings for their symbolic center, which is often perceived as the cradle of their innermost being…These communities thus perceive themselves as structured symbolically like satellites circulating around their cherished 'mother/father-sun' throughout history".(Levy 2005:69)3
This has certainly been the accepted way of thinking, and it underlies much of the research in this field: "diasporas" are typically conceived to be "satellites" that maintain an unswerving, positive attraction to their "homeland."
This formulation has been challenged on at least two counts. First, not only is it simplistic, it also is unable to convincingly interpret the historically changing relationships between homeland-diaspora. For example, with regard to the Jews, the Boyarins argue that the various Jewish diaspora communities [End Page 692] only paid lip-service to the dream of Return to Zion, while throughout many centuries they in fact maintained important creative relationships with one another, as well as enjoying a structural position that granted them a moral voice vis-à-vis their surrounding host societies (Boyarin and Boyarin 1993). The "satellites," in other words, may persist and prosper without any important, let alone a concrete, link with their cherished "mother/father/sun." Gilman takes this critique a step farther: these concepts are constructed, he...