Date: Sat, 2 Mar 1996 18:17:55 -0600

[Peter Jeffrey Herz <pjherz@MIDWEST.NET> writes, concluding with

a quotation from John Radzilowski:]

Response to H-ethnic re review: Radzilowski on Chaliand and Rageau, _The Penguin Atlas of Diasporas_

**John Radzilowski's review of the Penguin Atlas of Diasporas raises some good questions about what constitutes a diaspora and what constitutes a good old-fashioned economic migration.

**Granted, the Chinese have a diaspora, defined in terms of willingness to transmit their heritage and living as a distinct ethnic community among people of a different heritage. But the Chinese diaspora is not really all that unmeltable. In Thailand, for instance, the "Sino-Thai" include persons who live an almost entirely Chinese lifestyle to those who are aware that their grandfathers were Chinese, but who for all intents and purposes follow the folkways and traditions of the Theravada Buddhist Thai majority. The

water is further muddied by the fact that Chinese tastes and fashions have influenced middle class Thai of all backgrounds, and that Thai citizenship/political identification does not necessarily demonstrate full

assimilation into the majority culture (I know a man in Bangkok of third-generation Thai-Chinese descent who has Thai citizenship, is active in politics, and once worked for a Prime Minister who nonetheless speaks fluent Teochiu, Cantonese, and Mandarin, reads Chinese books and periodicals,

attends a Christian church founded by Chinese immigrants, and identifies himself by a Chinese name when dealing with Chinese-speakers of all nationalities).

**Similarly, General Ne Win of Burma was of Hakka descent, but did not identify with his Chinese heritage, even though Burma has an identifiable ethnic Chinese community. I read somewhere that he supported a pro-Japanese nationalist group in his youth.

**I have also met American Lees and Moys who looked and lived like white people, yet who held that their surnames came from male Chinese ancestors.

**There are plenty of Christians of Jewish descent in the United States, including myself.

**What are we to make of Armenians who attend Protestant churches, and have married persons of non-Armenian background? Or descendants of Roman Catholic Irish immigrants whose families became Protestant somewhere along the line (Ronald Reagan comes to mind)?

**Perhaps diasporae occur only when migrants of a certain group enter a new sufficiently to form distinct ethnic and geographic communities. Yet diasporae are also prone to assimilation into the host culture, unless they receive constant reinforcement, either through continuing in-migration or by exclusionary segregation.

>>The growing realization among historians of the complexity of human migration during all time periods, but particularly in the last 500 years, cries out for a collection of maps and charts to help scholars and students make sense of this important topic. Of course, to map human migrations-both voluntary and involuntary- over even the past 300 years would require the help of specialists of nearly all geographic areas. Despite the complexity, however, the subject naturally lends itself toward the atlas format. Thus, the _Penguin Atlas of Diasporas_ >has great potential as reference guide, a potential it fails to realize.




Peter Jeffrey Herz

Date: Fri, 29 Mar 1996 06:37:09 -0600

[Ben Rempel <brempel@CC.UMANITOBA.C> writes, commenting on John Radlzilowski's H-Ethnic review of Chalind and Rageau's _Penguin Atlas of Diasporas _ ,available on the H-Ethnic Web page at the following URL:


Regarding the recent discussion of diasporas in reference to the review of the _Penguin Atlas of Diasporas _(Chaliand and Rageau):

Peter Herz raises some problems with the concept of diaspora as an analytical category which amplify some of John Radzilowski's criticisms of the Atlas. Both writers point to a need for such an Atlas and both raise objections to Chaliand and Rageau's criteria for defining a diaspora.

If a diaspora however, is less a sub-category of migrant community, and more a subjective understanding of the experience of migration than any criteria for the objective mapping of diasporas is bound to be problematic.

That is if the subjective understanding, and cultural transmission of that understanding across generations, of a narrative history of group dispersal (as opposed to a narrative of individual fortune-seeking) does not persist, the term 'diaspora' as an analytical category may no longer make sense.

Compare the situation to that of ethnic identity where it is still possible, for analytic purposes at least, to map the movements or settlement of ethnic groups even though many of their hypothetical members may have assimiliated. Many of the latter may acknowledge an ethnic affiliation on a linguistic or kin-group basis if nothing else. A sense of belonging to a diaspora on the other hand, is bound to be partial in any migrant group - just as the degree of involuntariness and homeland-orientation is bound to vary with the background and experiences of the migrant.

John Radzilowski criticizes Chaliand and Rageau's criteria as follows:

"They establish four criteria for defining a diaspora: forced dispersion, retention of a collective historical and cultural memory of the dispersion, the will to transmit a heritage, and the ability of the group to survive over time (xiv-xvii). With the possible exception of the Jews and Armenians, each of these criteria excludes one or more of the groups presented in the book."

Chaliand and Rageau's criteria imply a reference to aspects of a group narrative - memory, retention, transmission - but, in trying to reach a quantification based on these criteria, run into problems. Both the Atlas's authors and John Radzilowski on the other hand, seem to imply a numerical criterion for the designation of 'diaspora' - i.e. that a majority of a particular group must be in dispersal. For example the latter states:

"They further confuse the issue by deciding that some of the "diasporas" they intend to map are actually "semi-diasporas," which occur when the majority or large portion of a particular group stays in the homeland (xiii), a phenomenon that sounds a lot like good old-fashioned migration."

The issue here seems to revolve less on numbers though, then on the extent to which the group as a whole, as opposed to politically or economically prominent individuals alone, is targetted by the state or other dominant groups, prompting large-scale forced-migration. What may be even more crucial however, are the organized efforts of migrant communities to sustain and transmit a narrative of exile with sufficient appeal and durability that even individuals who migrate for economic or personal reasons are drawn into a 'culture of the diaspora'. Other important factors would include the ongoing relationship with the homeland and members of a social network left behind - the possibility, and extent of, communication and return visits.

Therefore, while I would agree with Peter Herz that sufficient numbers, concentrated settlement, and reinforcement through in-migration, may be necessary criteria, they are not by themselves sufficient. The inherent difficulty of mapping the social forces involved, however, implies that any effort to create an atlas of diasporae may be problematic at best.

Would anyone care to contribute any further comments or references on the subject of 'diaspora' whether as an analytical category or a subjective narrative of group dispersal?


Ben Rempel

University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, Manitoba,


Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1996 06:40:47 -0600

[Rachel Buff <RBuff@WORC.MASS.EDU> writes:]

I would like to comment further on this crucial question. My research is about comparative diasporas, particularly focusing on Caribbean and Native American transmigrants in the U.S., 1945 to the present. I tend to fall very much on the subjective side of this for a couple of different reasons. For one thing, both of these groups of people tend to have a variable relationship with the sending communities---Native Americans can be called transmigrants if you think of reservations as sovereign lands. But even for people who think of themselves as dually citizens, let's say of the Red Lake Ojibwa reservation as well as of the U.S., federal policy is going to treat them differently. So do they have a diaspora? Particularly when the whole place---the whole nation---was the place they are being dispersed from. SO the first question for me is, what is the relationship between the category of diaspora and the category of nation? Do you need one to have another? How are we to quantify these things?

Secondly, I do tend to think that the idea of diaspora intentionally problematizes more static definitions of identity. Race and ethnicity arise as fixed categories along with the nation state; these hierarchies also give meaning to the concept of citizenship. So, to me, particularly in our time when capital is increasingly more mobile, the notion of diaspora suggests a more mobile notion of both rights and identity.

Sorry this is long and rambling. I would like very much to read

people's responses to these things....You know how it is, you

think about this stuff at your computer, so it seems clear enough

until you try to explain it...\

Rachel Buff

Worcester State College

Department of History and Political Science

Date: Sun, 31 Mar 1996 06:04:28 -0600

[John Radzilowski <JRadzilow@AOL.COM> writes:]

Ben Rempel raises a number of worthy issues. I would, however, like to clarify one matter. I did not seek to provide or impose my own "correct" definition of what is or is not a diaspora. I merely critized the editors of the Penguin atlas for their definition. (I abhore the "if-I-had-written-this-book-it-would-be-so-much-better" review.) I do feel the editors compounded their problems with a seeming lack of sensitivity to the question of ethnicity in this country (and perhaps elsewhere).

Writers and editors must often make difficult choices about what to include in a given work. The choice these editors made seemed faulty in light of their stated objectives. I would have been much more comfortable if they had simply begun by stating that those groups were a sample of world diasporas; or that those were the groups they had data on; or even that those were the groups in which they were most interested.

I do agree that we cannot base a definition of what is a diaspora simply on the basis of numbers. Neither should we ignore the numbers.

If I suspend my disbelief for a moment and imagine what an atlas on this subject should look like, my first choice would be to by-pass the whole question of "diaspora or not diaspora" by simply calling it the Atlas of World Migration. Migration is a far more neutral and inclusive term. It by-passes the penchant of twentieth-century people to increasingly politicize suffering. (We certainly do not need more group-vs.-group contests over whose diaspora was more of a diaspora.) Furthermore, this would allow one to show the complex interaction between voluntary, semi- voluntary, and forced movement without getting hung up on whether this characteristic or that fits the bill.

Perhaps this is avoids the question of what is a diaspora. Perhaps this good. Hard and fast definitions caused problems for Chaliand and Rageau.

My pipe-dream Atlas of World Migrations would just have to answer the following "simple" questions:

Who migrated?

When did they migrate?

In what numbers and what stages?

Where did they come from?

Where did they go to?

This alone would occupy a team of scholars for a good long time. Even such simple questions raise a host of problems. Human migration is nothing if not mind-boggling in its variety and nuance. Yet to have all this information in one place would be most helpful.

Barraclough's Times Atlas of World History is perhaps one model. In the United States there is We the People: An Atlas of America's Ethnic Diversity, which is based on the 1980 census and is really quite a fine work. I only wish Chaliand and Rageau had used it. Of course, this pipe-dream needs a wealthy benefactor and an understanding publisher.


John Radzilowski

Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 12:41:06 -0600

[Peter Jeffrey Herz <pjherz@MIDWEST.NET> writes, first quoting

Rachel Buff:]

>[Rachel Buff wrote:

I do tend to think that the idea of diaspora

>intentionally problematizes more static definitions of identity. >Race and ethnicity arise as fixed categories along with the >nation state; these hierarchies also give meaning to the concept >of citizenship. So, to me, particularly in our time when capital >is increasingly more mobile, the notion of diaspora suggests a >more mobile notion of both rights and identity.


**One of the problems of many countries' citizenship laws is a tension between notions of heritage, settled community, and continuity on the one hand and the understanding that people move around on the other.

**Another point about diasporae is that much discussion of the Overseas Chinese contribution to Asia's economic growth neglects the diaspora experience to pursue an illusory "Confucian Ethic". The fact is that diaspora peoples (and colonized ones, such as the Hong Kong Chinese under the UK and the Taiwanese under Japan) find their elites cut off from political routes of advancement, and are thus forced to cultivate commerce and the professions (or, in pre-modern times, craftsmanship). Even in pre-Communist Mainland China, certain internally dispersed groups such as Wannan (Southern Anhui) people, Shanxi bankers, and the various outlanders drawn to Shanghai and the Treaty Ports (TV Soong descended from Hainanese Hakkas) played a disproportionate role in the country's economic life.

Peter Jeffrey Herz

Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 09:29:54 -0600

[John Radzilowski <JRadzilow@AOL.COM> writes:]

Just to augment Mr. Herz's point about how certain groups are forced into or take on certain role: some groups go into diaspora or better, migrate, just to take on roles that may be advantageous. The migration of Germans, Walloons, and Flemings into east-central Europe in the Middle Ages, or the later movement of Germans and some Czechs into Russia in the 18th century comes to mind. From about the 1100s onward, local rulers in Poland and perhaps Hungary began inviting Jews to come and settle. (This movement was increased in the 14th century as Jews were expelled from places in western Europe in the wake of the Black Death.) In each case, these peoples were invited in because they had certain skills the locals did not have. The immigrants were usually granted relatively broad rights. (Religious freedom, special courts, and royal protection for the Jews in Poland, exemption from military service for the Germans in Russia, etc.) In each case, it is important to note that there was an implicit expectation that the newcomers would not be politically active and would not seek roles in politics. This may have been what made groups like the Jews "safe"-that they would concentrate on economics and not upset contemporary political arrangements.

John Radzilowski