The concept of diaspora



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Members of diasporic societies may emphasise with others sharing their ethnic origin, living in other countries, -“… very strong association of notions of diaspora with displacement and dislocation means the experience of location can easily dissolve out of focus” (Cartographies of Diaspora p180) -and those of differing ethnic origin who share the status of being an ethnic minority in their host society. Differences have developed between members of diasporic societies and both people in their ‘base’ society (e. g.

Chinese living in China, and Chinese living in the U. K. ) and members living in other countries (E. g. Chinese living in the U. K. and Chinese living in Canada. ) Thus highlighting the importantance of place and space to identity. Cartographies of Diaspora (p242) states “… diaspora space… foregrounds what I have called ‘entanglement of genealogies of dispersal’… the concept of diaspora space decentres the subject position of ‘native’, ‘migrant’, ‘immigrant’, in such a way… the native becomes a diasporean through this entanglement…

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” ‘Ethnicity’s often settle in cities, places known to be Examples of this are the many ‘china towns’ established in British urban areas, traditionally thought to be more accepting of difference. Such places are termed ‘contact zones’, and are spaces where members of the diasporic communities can congregate to meet like people, trade, shop, worship and socialise, as A Place in the World (p192) describes it “While subjugated peoples cannot readily control what emanates from the dominant culture, they do determine…

what they absorb into their own and what they use it for… a phenomenon of the contact zone”. Contact zones are therefore considered a form of social buffer and spatial containment, e. g. difference will be tolerated provided it stays within this zone. Difference can then be commodified, and the area utilised as an attraction. An example of this is Spitalfields, London. “Spitalfields … is approximately 80% Bengali… ‘Banglatown’ is a local name used to describe the area, with its… restaurants, music and sari shops.

This name creates a space for a Bengali diaspora… ” (Introducing Human Geographies p294). Paul Gilroy believes contact zones may lead to the development of a hybrid identity, which he refers to as “Double consciousness”. Gilroy believes members of diasporic communities often possess transcultural sense of identity, which is mixed, syncretic and negotiated between the clashing ethnic groups. This is especially prevalent in second and third generation residents, e. g. those whose parents/grandparents emigrated, so they were born in the host community.

There may be pressure from the other members of the ethnic group to consider themselves a part of that group (e. g. Indian), but having grown up in a (e. g. British) host society, and having been subjected to the education system of the host society, they may experience strong conflicts in opinion. Such hybrid self images are often contested by the wider diasporic community, who may consider it a dilution of their culture, so reject it as a threat to solidarity- and seek to keep their group consciousness ‘pure’. “…ethnic groups, including new immigrants, are… encouraged to retain, and even to recreate, their separate ethnic identities. ” (Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora, p172).

This may even lead to diasporic groups becoming more traditional and essentialist than their ‘base’ societies, which may develop and change in the absence of the diasporees- perhaps this the situation which gave rise to Islamic fundamentalism?

Essentialism may be an attempt to overcome stereotyped colonial images held by migrant societies, e. g.”‘black’ is a political and culturally constructed category”(Hall 1992:194) which is multiple and heterogeneous. To say a person is ‘black’ may be (wrongly) a master label, but tells us little about the person, e. g. their ancestral country, religion, or culture. Such master labels are palimpsest identities, thus an empty description based on a outdated colonial notion. It can then be said that diasporic identities are deterratorialised and the product of co-presence with host and contrasting ethnic cultures, featuring differences in accordance to the space and place they occupy.

In reference to Hall’s 1995 quote it can be said that diaspora can be seen to challenge the image and consciousness of the host society, by diversifying and expanding the stereotyped and accepted notions of what the national traits are. In the case of post colonial Britain the influx of ethnicity’s can be seen to challenge ‘Englishness’ in the eyes of many, despite the fact it may emphasise what is really at the core of the English nationality- as a colonial empire. Certainly for the dispersed populations’ conceptions of culture, place and identity are disrupted and contested.

Members of such ethnic groups are metaphorically divided between their roots and routes in a manner which may leave some (especially those born in the host society) feeling alienated from both their ethnic origins and the ethnically different host society. “diaspora cultures are not about a return to … a point of origin or to fixed ‘roots’. Instead diaspora cultures are characterised by ‘routes’ which make connections which cut across existing geographical and cultural boundaries”. (Gilroy 1994, in Introducing Human Geographies p293).

The displacement of colonial citizens at the end of the Second World War has prompted the development of hybrid cultures and multiple senses of place, within Britain and in the wider world. While the continuation of the characteristics, norms and values of the base society is championed by many members of diasporic groups, differences develop between the members of ethnic groups still residing in the ‘original’ homeland, those who live in a host society, and again between the diasporic groups established in differing ‘host’ societies, (due to asymmetrical relations) thus these groups can be characterised by both continuity and rupture.

Attempts by a diasporic group to preserve a ‘pure’ culture can be considered a rebellion to racism and social alienation, and the establishment of contact zones can be seen as an attempt to create a ‘safe’ zone in a society that fails to adequately accept them. Members of host societies not adequately informed and even encouraged to hold negative (racist) social discourses by certain political groups, whereas a double hermeneutic approach should be encouraged.

Post-colonial flows of ethnicity must lead to the re-definition of meaning and identity by all involved, but this should be seen as an intrinsic part of being British rather than a threat to it.

REFERENCES: Ashcroft, B, Griffiths, G ; Tiffin, H. (1998) Post-Colonial Studies, Routledge, London. Brah, A. (1996) Cartographies of Diaspora, Routledge, London. Cloke, P, Crang, P. ; Goodwin, M. (1999), Introducing Human Geographies, Arnold, London.

Johnston, R. J, Gregory, D, Pratt, G. ; Watts, M. (2001) The Dictionary of Human Geography, Blackwell, Oxford. Massey, D. ; Jess, P. (1995) A Place in the World, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Parekh, B, Singh, G ; Vertovec, S. (2003) Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora, Routledge, London. Valentine, G. (2001) Social Geographies, Prentice Hall, Essex. Alexis Taylor, Human Geography BSc.

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