[URBANTH-L] ANN: Conference on diaspora and transnationalism (Florence, Italy)

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Wed Dec 5 15:49:49 EST 2007

[forwarded from H-SAE at h-net.msu.edu]

From: Neni Panourgia <np255 at columbia.edu>

Conference on diaspora and transnationalism

10 - 11 April 2008 European University Institute, Florence

This workshop will be combined with an IMISCOE theory conference.
IMISCOE is a network of excellence on migration research funded by the
 6th framework programme of the EU.

1. The conference theme:

The terms transnationalism and diaspora have diffused widely over the
 past years. Diaspora is a very old concept, transnationalism is a
relatively new one. We propose an IMISCOE theory workshop that explores
the broad range of phenomena that are variously described under these
rubrics with the aim of clarifying their conceptual uses, exploring their
embeddedness in specific strands of social, political, cultural and
historical theories, and discussing their methodological implications and
possible operationalizations in various disciplines.

The concept of transnationalism is not obviously limited to
migration-related phenomena, but refers to a wider class of actions,
processes and institutions that cross the boundaries of states or
national-communities. Its probably earliest use with reference to
immigration is a famous essay by Randolph Bourne from 1916 in which he
described America as a "transnational nation" composed of, and
constantly changed through, immigration from diverse origins. In
contemporary debates, the notion of transnationalism has been generally
used instead  to refer to migrants' ongoing ties with source countries. Do
we need to  shift from a focus on transnational communities to
transnational practices in order to avoid essentialized conceptions of
migrant groups as inherently transnational? Can transnationalism in
contexts of migration be defined more broadly as a triangular relation
between migrants, source and destination countries? What is the relation
between migrant agency, government policies and institutional arrangements
of transnational citizenship? These are some of the questions we would
like to raise and clarify with regard to transnationalism.

The term diaspora has achieved significance beyond the migratory realm,
and in some discussions signals a broader postcolonial debate on
overcoming Eurocentric approaches. For example, some authors have
 referred to it as a paradigm denoting the postcolonial condition (for
example,  The Black Atlantic). Yet, the question arises whether it is
possible to discuss both ethnic and national categories, on the one hand,
and more lateral ties - religious or issue-based movements, such as
environmentalist and human rights movements - under the same
umbrella. Some of the latter labels are used in the struggle to overcome
ethnic and national divisions. In short, while in some contexts diaspora
relates to parochial concerns of nation-state formation or secession, in
others diaspora figures as a symbol related to new forms of

Both groups of mobile persons themselves, on the one hand, and
international organisations and state authorities, on the other hand,
 have increasingly embraced the two terms. For example, some states
experiencing significant rates of emigration, such as the Philippines or
Vietnam, have stopped calling their citizens abroad "traitors" and
celebrate them as "our heroes" abroad. Others, such as recent Mexican
and Turkish governments, have even encouraged their citizens abroad
to naturalize. And immigration states have started to actively support
the "diaspora" to engage in development cooperation, tapping into the
allegedly rich resources of financial remittances, human capital and 'social
remittances' transferred, among other channels, through diaspora groups,
such as religious communities and hometown associations. A new
development agent is emerging; in addition to states, international
organizations, development organisations and NGOs. An interesting
question concerns the evolution of this new category of political actor.
Overall, "diaspora" and "transnational communities" have come to achieve
prominence in the migration-development nexus in particular, and in the
emerging and budding field of inter- or transnational, sometimes even
called global social policy.

The term "diaspora" has thus come a long way from its classical use for
categories of persons forcefully dispersed from their homeland, having
close symbolic or even social ties to the region of origin, and
maintaining rather strong cultural boundaries vis-à-vis the "host"
countries. Nowadays, it is often used in reference to groups who have
migrated transnationally ranging from voluntary to forced exit, who
engage in some kind of cross-border activities, and who maintain cultural
practices somewhat distinct from so-called majority groups. This rather
broad notion of the term diaspora covers almost all of those who are
engaged in some kind of cross-border movement and activity. Some
critics have noted that the term diaspora has emerged as a key term in
political debates and is of great importance discursively but is of little
value analytically.

Nonetheless, the discursive and semantic inflation of diaspora as well
as transnationalism can be used productively to engage in central
questions of social and political change. In order to avoid conceptual
confusion and talking past each other across academic disciplines, three
steps are required:
(1) We need to study the history and evolution of the two concepts and
attempt to clarify their uses for theoretical purposes across different
(2) We need to compare how different social, cultural and political
theories explain the formation of diasporas and the emergence of
transnationalism and what weight these phenomena are given in broader
theoretical accounts of change of contemporary society.
(3) We need to develop methodological toolboxes and innovations for
studying transnational phenomena empirically without falling into the
traps of methodological nationalism or essentializing groupism.

These three tasks provide the general structure of the conference. In
order to achieve them, we will commission a small number of general
overview papers and will invite additional contributions from the
IMSICOE network and from EUI researchers, fellows or faculty. Both
explicit theoretical analyses and empirical research papers with a clear
exposition of the conceptual, theoretical and methodological approach
taken will be accepted.

 2. Thematic structure of the conference

Thu 10 April morning

Session 1: Defining Diaspora and Transnationalism: Tracing their
conceptual histories and current uses

The first session will focus on the origins of the two concepts, their
expanding interpretation and applications to novel phenomena and the
links between academic and wider public discourses. Alongside papers
with a focus on the history of concepts and discourse analysis, we also
invite analytical contributions that propose definitions of the two concepts
and analytical distinctions between them or try to identify their various
dimensions and contextual specifications.

The general perspective of papers in this session should be 
One overview paper will be commissioned, up to 3 papers can be added
from the IMISCOE call for papers. We call specifically for papers on:

* The conceptual history and evolution of diaspora and
* Current interpretations of diaspora and transnationalism in
academic and political discourses
* Ties across borders: religious, ethnic and other modes of diaspora
and transnationalism
* Comparing migratory and other origins of transnational and
diasporic phenomena (globalization, national self-determination
 struggles and shifting international borders)
* Conceptual overlap and confusion: transnational, international,
supranational and multinational relations; diaspora, globalisation and
* Agency and institutions: what is the relation between
transnational activities of migrants, government policies and
 political, social and economic opportunity structures?
* Communities and practices: should we distinguish between diasporic
communities characterized by a strong sense of shared identity and
transnational practices that migrants may engage in at some points and
to varying extent? Or do we need to deconstruct the notion of diasporic
community as well?

Thu 10 April afternoon and Fri 11 April morning

Sessions 2 and 3: Explaining transnationalism and diasporas:
 Theoretical frames and disciplinary approaches

The second and third sessions will focus on transnationalism and
diaspora as both explanandum and explanans in various academic
disciplines. How to explain the formation of diasporas and of transnational
communities, practices and institutions? What is the assumed impact of
these phenomena on broader processes of social change? And what is
their role in the critique of mainstream theories or the evolution of
established paradigms?

Papers in this session should be written from the perspective of
specific social science disciplines or subfields. The two main applicants
will contribute papers on sociological theories (Thomas Faist) and political
theories (Rainer Bauböck). We expect a larger number of papers for
this part of the conference. We propose therefore a flexible programme
structure: If 3 papers of more are accepted from the call, we will
split them into two sessions. Otherwise, the conference will end half a
day earlier. We specifically call for papers on:

* The role of transnationalism in social movement theories
* Transnationalism and integration/assimilation theories in migration 
* Transnationalism as an explanatory element in migration flows
* Economic impact of migrant transnationalism: remittances and
* Transnationalism and diaspora in political theory: territorial and
non-territorial forms of political community, political membership,
obligations and rights across borders
* The role of diasporas in theories of nationalism and
* Legal and political transnationalism in international public law
and international relations theory
* The politics of transnationalism and diaspora: migrant agency and
institutional opportunity structures; homeland politics and the right
to return

Fri 11 April afternoon

session 4: How to study transnational phenomena. Methodological
 challenges and innovations

Empirical analyses of transnational and diasporic phenomena have been
used as a vehicle to challenge 'methodological nationalism' (Nina Glick
Schiller and Andreas Wimmer) in the social sciences, that is, the
 tendency to treat the 'container' of the nation-state as a quasi-natural
social and political configuration. This may be easier in some disciplines
(for example in social and cultural anthropology) than in others (for
example in comparative political science where sovereign states are
defined as the basic units of analysis). How can methodologies that are
sensitive to border-transgressing phenomena be introduced in social
sciences that work with quantitative methods and national statistical data?
Within transnational studies, an alternative methodological trap of
essentializing 'groupism' (Rogers Brubaker) may arise. This charge
refers to studies that treat diasporic and transnational communities as
units that are stable over time, and of overriding importance for the
individual identities and social practices of their members. How do we
take into account the fluidity and malleability of transnational structures,
relations and identities in empirical research and in the theories that
guide such research? Can we study transnational phenomena while
avoiding both traps? Finally, this session, too, will compare and
contrast methodological questions that arise from different disciplinary

One overview paper will be commissioned. In addition, 3 contributions
can be accepted from the call for papers. Here is a list of indicative
questions to be covered:
* Can transnational perspectives overcome methodological nationalism
in the social sciences?
* Quantitative and qualitative indicators for migrant transnationalism and
diasporic community. How to take into account multiple and shifting
* Implications of multi-sited fieldwork for anthropological and
sociological theory
* Disciplinary approaches: multi-site ethnography, social geography,
transnational social network analysis, studying transnationalism in
comparative political sciences, etc.

3. Submission of paper proposals:

Paper proposals should contain a preliminary title, an abstract of 100
to 200 words and a more extensive outline of about 1000 words. The
outline should contain a clearly stated research question, indications of
methodology and approach, references to the literature and a tentative
structure of the sections of the paper. Applications should also
indicate in which of the conference sections the paper could be placed.

Paper proposals should be sent in electronic version simultaneously to:

rainer.baubock at eui.eu
thomas.faist at uni-bielefeld.de
wiebke.sievers at oeaw.ac.at

The deadline for the submitting paper proposals is 10 January 2007.

The authors of accepted proposals will be asked to submit full draft
versions of their papers until 20 March. 

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