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Diaspora 12:3 2003 Recent French Conceptualizations of Diaspora William Safran University of Colorado at Boulder Les Diasporas. Stéphane Dufoix. Paris: Que sais-je, Presses Universitaires de France, 2003. This book by sociologist Stéphane Dufoix is a tour d’horizon of the state of contemporary scholarship concerning diasporas. It ranges across a variety of disciplines. It is particularly welcome because it is concise and tightly argued and because it covers virtually all the basic aspects of the subject. Moreover, it is solidly grounded in the existing literature. In defining the concept “diaspora” and tracing the evolution of its meaning, the author begins by addressing himself to the historical origin of the phenomenon and its association with the Jewish “classical ” perspective. That perspective, long regarded as paradigmatic, informed in the twentieth century the work of the historian Simon Dubnow—who also applied it to the Armenian and Greek cases— and the political scientist Daniel Elazar. Over the course of the past four decades, the concept was first extended to the African and Chinese cases and then increasingly applied and adapted to many other cases. Dufoix takes up a number of competing typologies of diaspora—including, notably, the religious, mercantile, imperial, labor, and mobilized diasporas of John Armstrong and Robin Cohen and the modern, dormant, and potential diasporas of Gabriel Sheffer. Dufoix provides summary sub-chapters on specific “migratory” peoples. In dealing with these, he stresses the role played by religion, the homeland, and memory, especially the memory of tragedy, in fostering long-distance nationalism and “return” movements. At the same time, he warns us against an essentialist approach: it is not enough for a group of people to define itself as a diaspora. He argues that in order for a community to fit properly under that rubric, its diasporic character must be based on reality, as reflected in such dimensions as include identity, differentiation, and historicity. But these dimensions may also be illusory, as when essence, community, and continuity are claimed. 437 Diaspora 12:3 2003 In discussing the scholarly writings on diaspora, the author shows a sophisticated awareness of the ambiguities that have been introduced as the concept has been stretched to cover a varied assortment of social phenomena, transnational relationships, cultural endeavors, and identitarian orientations and disorientations. In his own approach, he keeps close to empirical reality by focusing at length on the phenomenon of migration. At the same time, he is aware of the contested applications of the concept, as he compares three definitions of diaspora that he labels “open,” “ categoric,” and “oxymoronic.” According to the “open” definition, the concept is extended to a minority ethnic community without a territorial base; what suffices is the desire of a sub-community to preserve its identity , whether or not it is inspired by, or oriented toward, a homeland of origin. The “categoric” definition, as used by Gérard Chaliand , Robin Cohen, and the present reviewer, suggests the use of more precise, and somewhat more restrictive, criteria to avoid conflation with refugee, ethnic community, immigrant, or expatriate groups or confusion with ethno-religious minorities tout court. These criteria apply to a growing number of ethnonational groups but not to all of them. Dufoix briefly deals with the question of whether such precision leans too much on the Jewish/Armenian ideal/typical experience and may perhaps be too restrictive. In the eyes of some scholars, notably anthropologists and specialists in cultural studies, diaspora is a label that can be applied to almost any subculture. Postmodernists go even further: for them, diaspora is not a reflection of empirical reality (i.e., dispersion and its aftermath) but a metaphor for a collective identity, often enough an alienated one, developed as a consequence of imperialism, slavery , or some other tragic experience. For some postmodernists, diaspora need not connote anything negative at all; on the contrary, it may be a reflection of an “imaginary” based on a happy sort of hybridity. Much of this position is subsumed under Dufoix’s category of the “oxymoronic.” According to such a definition, which is embraced by, inter alia, Stuart Hall, James Clifford, and Paul Gilroy, diaspora has little, if anything, to do with dispersion and everything to...


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pp. 437-441
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