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Diaspora 9:1 2000 Introduction: The Materiality of Diaspora—Between Aesthetic and "Real" Politics Pnina Werbner Keele University, UK The prizing open ofa familiar concept inaugurates new directions for research. It also leads to a proliferation of definitions and typologies as, over time, the concept comes to be reworked from different disciplinary vantage points and re-interpolated into widely divergent ethnographic accounts or aesthetic texts. This complex, often dialectical process of thinking through a concept anew is not simply linear; it loops back on itselfin creative tension with earlier theoretical insights. So too with diaspora: as the concept has traveled, certain new generalizations have come to be widely accepted and often repeatedly rediscovered. For example, early discussions ofcultural hybridity have been augmented by a far broader consensual stress in the literature on the social heterogeneity of diasporas, the fact that as social formations they are internally divided.1 Not just a fusion of discourses but a multiplicity of discourses, some intersecting, some mutually clashing and contradictory, is widely recognized to underpin the representation ofdiaspora and its organizational structures. A second emergent consensus in the literature reiterates that diasporas are historical formations in process; invariably, they change over time and respond to the different political and social contexts in which their members find themselves. They are reconstructed and reinvented imaginatively and socially as they move into new places or as political circumstances in their place of settlement change. Diaspora communities are both hybrid and heterogeneous in their own peculiar, historically determined, ways. Linked to this idea is a growing emphasis in the literature on the dual orientation of diaspora communities: on the one hand, to fight for citizenship and equal rights in the place of settlement, often alongside other ethnic groups; and, on the other, to continue to foster transnational relations and to live with a sense of displacement and of loyalty to other places and groups beyond the place of settlement.2 A third emergent consensus in the literature is that many diasporas are deeply implicated both ideologically and materially in the nationalist projects of their homelands. While these are often 5- Diaspora 9:1 2000 emancipatory and democratic,3 by the same token diasporics also feel free to endorse and actively support ethnicist, nationalistic, and exclusionary movements. They engage in "long distance nationalism " without accountability (Anderson, Long Distance, "Exodus"): they support the IRA, Hindu Nationalist movements (Gopinath 315-6), Greek Cypriot separatism (Anthias), or religious zealotry in Israel. The ability ofdiasporas to actively participate and intervene in the politics of the homeland has been greatly enhanced and facilitated by the spectacular development ofglobal media and communication technologies. Although transnationalism is by no means a new phenomenon, today sending societies often encourage such participation , while receiving societies range from those that refuse to assimilate newcomers to those, such as Britain and the USA, that tolerate cultural pluralism, dual citizenship, and transnational activism as never before (Foner). This points to one ofthe dilemmas that the new concept of diaspora has thrown up. The powerful attraction of diaspora for postcolonial theorists was that, as transnational social formations, diasporas challenged the hegemony and boundedness ofthe nationstate and, indeed, of any pure imaginarles of nationhood (Clifford; Gilroy; Hall, "Cultural Identity" 235). The creative work ofdiasporic intellectuals on the margins is celebrated for transgressing hegemonic constructions ofnational homogeneity. The more recent scholarly riposte to this view has highlighted the continued imbrication ofdiasporas innationalistrhetoric. Again, the new postmodern interpretation challenged simplistic paradigms ofdiasporas as scattered communities yearning for a lost national homeland, whether real or imaginary (Boyarín and Boyarín; Ghosh; Hall, "Cultural Identity" 235). The growing consensus is, by contrast, that such imagined attachments to a place of origin and/or collective historical trauma are still powerfully implicated in the late modern organization of diasporas. Diasporas, it seems, are both ethnic-parochial and cosmopolitan . The challenge remains, however, to disclose how the tension between these two tendencies is played out in actual situations. The new way ofthinking about a concept such as diaspora, then, has generated unexpected theoretical conundrums, and with them difficult but potentially important debates. One such debate is the topic ofthe present issue of Diaspora. It arises out of our shared...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 5-20
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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