- A Century of Transnationalism: Immigrants and Their Homeland Connections ed. by Nancy L. Green and Roger Waldinger
This collection of nine essays about immigrants’ transnational engagements in their home countries covers a wide range of groups—Italians, Portuguese, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, Jews, and Indians—in different countries/world regions examined in different time spans. The book is divided into two parts, one devoted to the role of sender and receiver states in shaping immigrant transnational pursuits, and the other to the importance of the temporal contexts of these engagements for the forms that they assume and the directions in which they evolve.
In the introduction, the editors announce the collection’s fourfold contributions: (1) to provide a better understanding of a heretofore underinvestigated role of sending and receiving states in triggering or constraining immigrants’ transnational engagements; (2) to offer insight into the changing circumstances and practices of immigrant transnational pursuits throughout a longue durée, which reveals far more complicated historical trajectories for this phenomenon than researchers usually acknowledge; (3) to highlight the importance of the period between the conventional “now” (present-day immigrants) and “then” (previous great-wave travelers), not recognized in scholarly studies of émigré transnationalism; and (4) to [End Page 245] challenge the assumption that migrations by the highly educated, and the kinds of transnational involvements that they generate, are a recent phenomenon by demonstrating nineteenth-century precedents. That the book is able to deliver on these promises makes it an asset for immigration historians, as well as for those interested in comparative studies of ethnic groups, times, and geographies.
A few regrets are worth noting. The first two are methodological in nature. The collection would have benefited from a conclusion that identifies the main “complexities” of immigrant transnational involvements across time and space, which, as announced in the introduction, are evident in the individual chapters. Such a conclusion could have drawn some general lessons from these findings to help comparatively inclined researchers to pursue further investigations. Without such reflections, readers are left to their own devices in trying to find those guideposts.
Furthermore, a historically oriented sociologist (such as this reviewer) would have preferred the essays to engage more explicitly in an interdisciplinary conversation. The chapters about the “periodization of transnationalism” (not the most felicitous title)—authored by historians and a geographer—demonstrate the cognitive gains derived from paying attention to time(-ing) in analyzing immigrant transnationalism, which is certainly welcome in view of social scientists’ notorious disregard of this dimension of social life. However, except for a few passing comments in Houda Asal’s discussion of the vagaries of political mobilization of Canada’s Arab minority, the various discussions do not consider the methodological implications of the presented evidence. Despite the different fields of interest among the contributors, A Century of Transnationalism largely replicates the standard faux “interdisciplinary” regimen—an assemblage of essays by representatives from different disciplines without any reflections to connect the agendas, conceptualizations, and modes of analysis with which they approach their common issues.
Finally, an important issue that is underexplored in studies of immigrant transnationalism, and not addressed in Green and Waldinger’s book either, deserves attention in future publications. A volume devoted not just to the effect of states on immigrants’ transnational engagements, as is this study, but also to the effect of immigrants’ transnational activities on states, both those sending and those receiving, would be desirable.