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  • Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse1
  • Kim D. Butler (bio)
Kim D. Butler
Rutgers University
Kim D. Butler

Kim Butler is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Rutgers University. She is the author of Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Säo Paulo and Salvador (Rutgers UP, 1998), which won both the Wesley-Logan Prize for African Diaspora History conferred by the American Historical Association and the Letitia Woods Brown Prize of the Association of Black Women Historians. She has also published a dozen articles and reviews, among them the forthcoming "Garveyism in Brazil"; "Africa in the Reinvention of Nineteenth Century Afro-Bahian Identity" (Slavery and Abolition, 2001); and "From Black History to Diasporan History: Brazilian Abolition in Afro-Atlantic Context" in Comparative History of Black People in Diaspora, edited by D.C. Hine (Indiana UP, 1999).


1. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, the Rutgers University Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, the Rutgers University Black Atlantic/African Diaspora Seminar Series, Yale University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I am greatly indebted to all those who commented and helped me think through these issues, with special thanks to Colin Palmer and Khachig Tölölyan. This article was completed with the support of the Scholars-in-Residence Program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

2. Diasporan theorists have noted that this definition, as offered by Walker Connor (among others), is too broad to be useful. (For a critique of Connor, see Safran 83; Tölölyan, "Rethinking" 15, 29-30).

3. Egg creams (which, incidentally, contain neither eggs nor cream) were once a popular fountain drink in New York City.

4. Tölölyan discusses a host of factors contributing towards the increase in usage of the construct of diaspora in "Rethinking Diaspora(s)"

5. A survey of the Dissertation Abstracts International database identified 487 dissertations published between 1990 and 2000 with the word "diaspora" in either the title or the abstract.

6. "Without such a realization," he wrote, "the expression African diaspora may be doomed to the study of enforced dispersal only—to slavery" (Shepperson 51). Jon Stratton revisits the Jewish paradigm in light of its recent representations by diasporan scholars.

7. Safran's final two categories differentiate between (5) commitment to the maintenance and safety of the homeland and (6) a more generalized connection to the homeland that defines the diaspora's "ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity."

8. For example, Tölölyan points out that the traditional understanding of coercion into diaspora now extends to economic coercion. He also highlights the fact that diasporas need not exist as a distinct ethnic group in the homeland but may, instead, form as a result of diasporization.

9. Robin Cohen also makes this modification to Safran's list ("Diasporas" 514-5).

10. This provocative phrase, coined by Benedict Anderson, has been especially useful in developing theories of diaspora.

11. Gérard Chaliand and Jean-Pierre Rageau included the criterion of time in their definition of diaspora (xiv-xvii).

12. This problem is addressed by Robin Cohen in "The Diaspora of a Diaspora."

13. This approach differs from that of James Clifford, who has suggested defining what is or is not a diaspora through relational positioning. He writes, "Rather than locating essential features, we might focus on diaspora's borders, on what it defines itself against ... Diasporas are caught up with and defined against (1) the norms of nation-states and (2) indigenous, and especially autochthonous, claims by 'tribal' peoples" (307). While I am proposing an alternative way of defining diaspora studies, Clifford (and others) nonetheless raise issues of vital concern that must be addressed as points of analysis within the field, some of which are addressed in the body of this article.

14. The First African Diaspora Studies Institute (FADSI), held in 1979, came to "the strong consensus among delegates at FADSI that African descendants abroad should be conceptualized as an extension of African history" (Harris 5).

15. For a more detailed discussion of the alternative perspectives afforded by a diasporan approach to Afro-Brazilian...


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