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  • Dispersal as a Resource
  • Emmanuel Ma Mung (bio)

Dispersal as a Resource

How can the geographic dispersion of a social entity be used as a "spatial resource"? The notion of the spatial resource deserves to be elaborated: to my knowledge, it has never been defined as such before. Yet it is especially applicable to the study of how international migrants organize certain movements of people and material or immaterial goods in the contemporary world. This article is a contribution to the elaboration of such a notion.

As long as the geographic scattering of subjects is pure and simple dispersion, to the exclusion of relationships between them, the resource does not exist. In fact, under such circumstances, the dispersion may even be perceived as a loss. Migration can be a negative experience: an isolated individual, far from his land of birth, may perceive his situation as exile. Grieving for his homeland, he often waxes nostalgic: a wealth of literature describes this situation. However, migration becomes positive when it is optimized and claimed by its subject. This act of claiming can be observed in certain interviews with migrants: the fact that one has family or relations in other countries is presented as a source of satisfaction and pride, proportional to the number of different countries and relations one has (Ma Mung, La Diaspora; Poisson). The dispersion can then be used to accomplish things that would otherwise be beyond one's means.

When a certain spatial arrangement is the key to accomplishments that would be difficult to achieve in another situation, the spatial arrangement becomes an asset. Indeed, it also becomes a social arrangement, because this spatial arrangement may become the argument that justifies a certain way of conceiving oneself as a social entity. Therefore, a spatial resource can be defined as a spatial arrangement that is available for the subjects of dispersion to use for their personal benefit. [End Page 211]

How can dispersion be transformed into a resource? The Chinese diaspora provides us with one illustration.

Several closely interwoven processes are factors in this transformation. Their source lies in the special relationship the diaspora maintains to the dispersion's territory and in the effort that is made within the diaspora to think of the dispersed community as a single entity.2 The special relationship to the territory derives from the fabrication of a genealogical continuity based on the creation of a memory/history specific to the diaspora. A second process concerns the way in which this genealogical continuity enables the creation of a geographic contiguity. Lastly, a third process consists in the way the relationship to the territory, in the classical definition of the term as a space circumscribed by the ongoing presence of a population, is replaced by a sense of extraterritoriality. After describing these processes, I shall show how spatial resources are mobilized.

Genealogical Continuity

The Chinese overseas constitute a diaspora in both senses of the term: not only is the population scattered throughout space, thanks to a multi-polarization of the migration and the inter-polarity of the relationships, but the population is also aware of this arrangement (Ma Mung, "Groundlessness"). This brings us to the morphological characteristics that, in my opinion, define a diaspora: a multi-polar migration that corresponds to the etymological meaning of the word "diaspora" (from the Greek speirein, "to scatter seed") and to the inter-polarity of relationships: that is, the existence of relationships between the various poles of the diaspora. The Chinese diaspora3 is made up of local communities connected to one another by various relationships and flows of migrants, of information, of wealth, and so on. Economically integrated into modern nation-states, these communities are confronted by social integration models that vary greatly from country to country. In certain cases, their presence is tolerated; in others, they are discriminated against, and the threat of expulsion is often present. In extreme cases, their physical integrity may be at stake (as in Indonesia in 1965 and 1998).4 Although they are integrated as citizens,5 they nevertheless fabricate their integration in the diaspora by constituting a memory and collective history specific to their ethnic group, which is the matrix for genealogies and...


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pp. 211-225
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