- Mapping Diaspora Studies:(Un)settled Past, Heterogeneous Present, and Multidisciplinary Future(s)
[Published Winter 2020]
Despite its relatively recent appearance, the field of diaspora studies has known a meteoric rise in the last decades, generating an impressive body of scholarship across the humanities. Often considered as an offshoot of the field of postcolonial studies, diaspora studies has developed from similar coordinates into contiguous disciplines of the humanities—in particular, politics, the social sciences, and economics—and has embraced more recently emerging fields such as gender studies, queer studies, eco-criticism, disability studies, and the digital humanities, to name only a few. These multiple coordinates make this ever-morphing hydra a challenging object of study, one that the specialist has trouble keeping pace with, while the newcomer may struggle to find her way in. The Routledge Diaspora Studies Reader is therefore a much-awaited and very timely contribution to the field whose role is pivotal in mapping an extensive body of scholarship while pointing to new trends and emerging orientations.
Putting together an anthology requires a comprehensive knowledge of the field; it also requires a clear strategy that brings together an exhaustive approach with a diachronic perspective so as to convey a sense of the historical development of the field. It equally involves making a choice between established authors and emerging ones. A quarter of the texts included in The Routledge Diaspora Studies Reader are by household names in diaspora studies and postcolonial studies (Homi K. Bhabha, Avtar Brah, Robin Cohen, Paul Gilroy, Salman Rushdie, William Safran, and Steven Vertovec, to name only the most well known). The editors have made sufficient space to introduce the reader to specialists [End Page 391] of diaspora in contiguous fields such as sociology, for example, while also making room for texts that will not necessarily be known to the reader. Some of these lesser-known texts complement the field covered by household names, with others probing new directions. Certain texts constitute a most valuable counterpoint to the already-known chorus of the diaspora pantheon, which sometimes leaves too little room for unorthodox voices to be heard. In this respect, the Reader does justice to a field whose vitality and perspectival energy need no demonstration. The editors have made a point not only of charting the field in an exhaustive way; they have also sought and succeeded in making this Reader into a forum for sometimes dissenting voices, giving depth and dynamics to the debate. Leaving aside for a moment the academic readership of the Routledge Reader, it is also a very precious didactic tool that will help and even prompt students to form their own judgments and define their own positions with regard to the main debates in the field.
The Reader is divided into five parts: Part One, entitled "Origins," is itself subdivided into two sections, "Terms and Conceptions" and "Religion and Diaspora"; Part Two, entitled "Geopolitics," is divided into three sections: "Nation and Diaspora," "Citizenship and the Transglobal," and "(Inter)national Policy and Diaspora"; Part Three, "Identities," is divided into "Subjectivity," "Hybridity and Cultural Identity," and "Intersectionality"; Part Four, "Cultural Production," is itself divided into "Diaspora Literature" and "Diaspora and Visual Culture"; and Part Five, entitled "Community," is divided between "Home and Belonging" and "Digital Diasporas."
The main strength of the volume lies in the selection of texts, as well as the specific angle from which they are approached in the detailed introductions that precede each section. These introductions do not simply provide effective signposting; they bring out the key ideas in debates around a given question or notion.
The first part, for example, opens on a section that traces the debates back to the initial question of how to define diasporas and the limitations that should be imposed on the term. The term risks losing its value as an analytical tool should it be applied too loosely or metaphorically. This return to the seminal debates that framed the field and, in particular, the inclusion of an extract from William Safran's "Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return...