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Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment
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Khachig Tölölyan  

Khachig Tölölyan is Professor of English at Wesleyan University, co-editor of Pynchon Notes and editor of Diaspora. He has published articles on American novels, particularly those of Thomas Pynchon, as well as on postmodernism, Armenian terrorism, and the history and structure of the Armenian diaspora. He has written, in Armenian, Spurki Mech ["In the Diaspora," Haratch Press, Paris], and many articles on Armenian issues and topics. He is at work on a book, Stateless Power: Diasporas in the Transnational Moment and is editing a collection of articles by historians on various diasporas.


This essay draws upon a work in progress, Stateless Power: Diasporas in the Transnational Moment. I am grateful to Ellen Rooney for her scrupulous and helpful reading of several drafts of this work.

1. Only some nation-states have done so. While subnational, territorialized minorities (for example, the Catalans in Spain, the Québécois in Canada) and some diasporan groups (for example, Jews in post-Soviet Russia, Cubans in America) have recently experienced an unprecedented range of linguistic, religious, cultural and even political choices, other ethno-national groups (for example, the Kurds in Turkey, the Chechens in Russia) and diasporan populations (for example, Palestinians in Kuwait, Indians in Uganda) have been persecuted by nation-states. Forms of discrimination less direct than such persecution remain pervasive.

2. The fact that nation-states are often problematic should not lead to a hasty celebration of multinational states, however. There have been a number of multinational polities (the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Yugoslav Republic). Each did relatively well for a time, satisfying some or many of the smaller nations that lived within the system without equal access to its state-apparatus and high culture. Each eventually felt disadvantaged or oppressed by some aspects of the system. In several, the collapse of the system was accompanied by the scapegoating and ethnocide of one of the discontented polities (arguably the Chechen and Bosnian cases) and even their genocide (Armenians in the Ottoman Empire).

3. Of course, some form of global socialism once offered such a vision, and may again do so some day. But, at the moment, both discourse and political action are failing to reformulate that order plausibly. Furthermore, much of diasporist discourse is all but explicitly based on a rejection of socialism even when it pays some lip-service to class; its real hope is placed in a fierce advocacy of other types of transnational coalition. The enthusiasm of diasporists for non-socialist, transnational political activity has recently been deplored by Bruce Robbins, who is skeptical about the possibility that the US government will "listen and learn from its hyphenated citizens" and feels that Diaspora itself is host to a "politically complacent internationalism" (98).

4. To be fair, the capitulation to transnational elites has been preceded, for nearly two decades, by a "pioneering" capitulation to other anti-national, anti-statist interests within the US. As the Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley recently noted, the ideological basis for the crippling of the American State has been the notion of empowering states and ordinary citizens. But, as he writes, "modern society has many centers of concentrated power, of which the Government is only one and not always the most important. The large interests that shape our world are more numerous and more powerful even than those the populists of the late nineteenth century decried: corporate bureaucracies, the great institutions of the media, banks and financial institutions, trade associations and lobbying groups, and many others" (37). The absence of transnational elites in this list is suprising, but can be explained by the fact that the great corporate bureaucracies specialize in the care and feeding of same.

5. For the differences between intra- and inter-state diasporas, see Tölölyan, "Exile Government."