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  • Irish State Diaspora Engagement—“The Network State” and “Netizens”*
  • Breda Gray (bio)

The status of Irish sovereignty is perhaps more in question now than at any other time since the foundation of the state following the recent financial crisis and subsequent European Union/European Central Bank/International Monetary Fund “bail out” and austerity program. This crisis and its aftermath reveal the extent to which sovereignty is increasingly conceived in terms of state effectiveness in harnessing the flows of global capitalism.1 For example, since the 2008 downturn, the Irish state has actively engaged global Irish business leaders in aiding economic recovery from their positions of influence abroad. In 2009 the state moved to formalize relationships with influential members of the diaspora by establishing the Global Irish Forum (GIEF)2 and the Global Irish Network (GIN).3 These two flagship diaspora-engagement initiatives are aimed at harnessing those flows within the diaspora that might help integrate Ireland more effectively in the global economy. In this article, I argue that through these initiatives, some state functions are globally networked, [End Page 244] creating a new form of networked membership. Sovereignty, in this context, works less as an effect of the will of the territorially bound people and more through the network state’s ability to achieve and maintain global competitiveness and economic growth.

It is true of course that state institutional arrangements pertaining to expatriates and diasporas have a long history, and Alan Gamlen argues that such “emigration state” systems are inherent in the nation state form itself.4 But while some forms of institutionalized state-diaspora relations are regular features of nation states,5 I argue that we are witnessing a neoinstitutionalization of state-diaspora relations. Indeed, diaspora engagement is increasingly promoted as a means of achieving neoliberal economic development and global competitiveness by world institutions such as the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration. Neoliberal economic development is understood here as involving a shift toward the regulation and organization of the state through market forces and a view of governance as primarily concerned with protecting the “entrepreneurial and competitive behaviour of economic-rational individuals.”6 The effect of this market-oriented governance is that sovereign borders are breached and buttressed “both to extend and to constrain the [End Page 245] regulatory ambit of states, both to valorize the local and to cast it into force fields well beyond itself.”7

Anticolonial Irish nationalists aspired to achieve an independent state with exclusive political authority within its boundaries based on the “will” of the people. However, the Irish state now shares “this authority with networks of international agencies and institutions, including bodies such as the European Union (EU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and transnational business corporations” as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).8 Gaynor notes that “while the Irish state, as a strongly capitalist state, has long negotiated its authority with domestic capitalist interests, this authority is now far more widely dispersed.”9 As such, state sovereignty and legitimacy requires the negotiation of effective state relationships with other institutions and actors globally while simultaneously protecting the interests and security of citizens within its borders.

In this article, I draw loosely on Manuel Castells’s concept of “the network state”10 and Cynthia Weber’s notion of “netizens”11 to argue that the GIEF and GIN provide an embryonic infrastructure for state networking in “the space of flows” to promote economic growth in Ireland.12 Although initiatives from within the diaspora are also important here, my focus in this article is specifically on state networking initiatives that engage sections of the diaspora in the project of economic governance. In the section that follows I introduce the concepts of citizenship, “network state”/“netizen” and diaspora as mobilized in this article. The conditions that led to the establishment of the GIEF and GIN are then discussed, followed by an account of how the Irish [End Page 246] state networks specific sections/members of the diaspora. The focus shifts in the next section to “the network state” and “netizens” as emergent formations of governance before turning in a further section to a discussion of how the Irish state mobilizes...


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pp. 244-270
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