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Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment
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Diaspora 5:1 1996 Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment Khachig Tölölyan Wesleyan University Introduction Where once were dispersions, there now is diaspora. It may seem anachronistic to say so, since the Greek “diaspora” is the older term, and in its restrictive usage has been applied from Antiquity to Jewish, then also to Greek and Armenian, social formations. Yet the significant transformation of the last few decades is the move towards re-naming as diasporas the more recent communities of dispersion, those that were formed in the five centuries of the modern era and which were known by other names until the late 1960s: as exile groups, overseas communities, ethnic and racial minorities, and so forth. How and why this re-naming occurred, and at what cost, will be one of the main concerns of this essay, which will argue that the transformation is the result of change in the politics of discursive regimes as well as the product of extra-discursive phenomena. Even as migration, the re-configuring of ethnicity, transnationalism and globalization have increased the number of social formations that might sensibly be described as diasporas, rapid and major changes in discourse have both responded to and reciprocally shaped the impulse to re-name various forms of dispersion and to attribute new, “diasporic” meanings and values to them. The rapidity of material and discursive change in the past three decades has increased both the number of global diasporas and the range and diversity of the new semantic domain that the term “diaspora” inhabits; this essay will also explore that domain. Though much older than nation-states, by the early nineteenth century the three classical diasporas had been reduced by the rise of the nation-state to hierarchically encapsulated and dominated enclaves that labored mightily simply to remain linked to kindred enclaves in other nation-states or the homeland, and to cling to their identities and vestiges of self-representation. At the same time, non-diasporic or not-yet-diasporic dispersions lacked either the material resources, the sociopolitical infrastructure, or the discursive incentives to represent themselves as diasporas. In the xxxxxxxxxx 3 Diaspora 5:1 1996 past three decades, just as the nation-state has begun to encounter limits to its supremacy and perhaps even to lose some of its sovereignty , diasporas have emerged in scholarly and intellectual discourse as “the exemplary communities of the transnational moment ” (Tölölyan, “Nation-State” 5) or as “the exemplary condition of late modernity” (Mishra 426). To affirm this emergence, which has resonated particularly strongly in humanities-based diasporist discourse, is not to claim a universal shift: some scholars of dispersion prefer to retain the vocabulary of a changed but still not re-named “new ethnic order” (Weiner), or remain skeptical about the value of the category “diaspora” even as they deploy it for specific and limited purposes (Akenson). Despite such demurrals, the scholarly discourse of dispersion has shifted, and within the humanities has shifted decisively to diaspora. During the three recent decades of diaspora’s new prominence in discourse, important related changes occurred in the extraacademic , “real” world. Some nation-states reduced the formal pressures they previously exerted on diasporas, for example by abandoning assimilationist programs.1 Concurrently, the nationstate began to encounter resistance to its dominance in the discursive , economic and political arenas. As a result, today the nation’s aspiration to normative homogeneity is challenged not just by immigration but also by various forms of cultural practice and knowledge production, especially in major urban centers and in the arts and humanities departments of many North American and Australian universities. The state’s hegemony is challenged by transnational movements of capital, labor, ideas, information, cultural commodities, and even by intranational militias that are only a disturbing nuisance in the USA, so far, but have already proved a genuinely destructive force to weaker states, as in Lebanon or Bosnia. In the discursive realm, the state’s privileged position is undercut by the social sciences’ glacially changing understanding of the so-called “inter-national” order which, variously inflected and modified by claims about the workings of transnational capital, subnational autonomy, supranational organizations and globalizing processes, is, if...