April 27–29, 2006

University of Nevada, Reno
 Reno, Nevada


William A.Douglass

Razmik Panossian
[photo: Chris Kralik]



Conference Presenters and Topics (2):


William A. Douglass
“In Search of the Basque-American Diaspora”

To census is to first classify and then count. It is the essential, even quintessential, administrative tool of the modern state—informing and facilitating taxation, military conscription, social programs and planning. While various entities (NGOs, churches, voluntary associations, etc.) may effect population and membership counts, comprehensive censuses are initiated only by states—the sole entities with the self-appointed authority to conduct them. Nevertheless, they are never undertaken either lightly or too frequently, since censusing is complicated, costly and frequently controversial.

For the diaspora scholar there are several implications. Since the official censuses of constituted states seek critical (and not benign or merely interesting) information about the populace, the focus is upon the citizen qua citizen. There tends, then, to be only partial (if any) data elicited by the state as either the sending homeland of departed emigrants or the receiving host country of arrived immigrants. Regarding the latter, the obfuscation is magnified by the issue of the legal status of the “undocumented aliens,” a population for whom eluding the censustaker may be a matter of survival.

This paper will consider how Basque-Americans went from being counted as “Spanish,” “French” and other nationals by the U.S. census, to being one of the best documented ethnic groups in America, certification as a minority for affirmative action purposes and then decertification. Throughout the entire process Basque-Americans were largely a passive pawn within the activist agency of external forces.

The Basque-American experience in microcosm underscores fundamental dilemmas within Diaspora Studies, including who configures and counts our very subject matter? What are the underlying assumptions and presumptions? How comprehensive and reliable are the results? How relevant and useful are they for our purposes?

Michel S. Laguerre
“Diasporic Politics in the European Union: Paris' City Hall and the Jewish Quarter”

The social integration of European neighborhoods has taken place at the same time the countries in which they are located are being integrated into the European Union. This manifests itself in the double adaptation of these neighborhoods, at the country level in terms of the urban policies of city hall and at the level of the European Union in terms of immigration policy, since the European parliament can overrule local practices. The reengeneering of local practices is being carried out at the same time as diasporic residents of these neighborhoods are entertaining transnational relations with their homelands and other diasporic sites where their compatriots have resettled, thereby adding another layer of complexity to the globalization process. The Jewish quarter in Paris has been singled out for this study because of the light it can shed on neighborhood globalization and diasporic politics in the European Union.

The controversy over the mayor's proposal to modernize the Jewish quarter hinged on two main arguments. The proponents of the plan, the city hall officials, claimed that the Quarter should match the reality of the rest of Paris. The opponents of the plan, Jewish quarter residents and merchants, believed that it was important to reserve the villagelike life that had provided a protective niche for the maintenance of their culture. From the viewpoint of city hall, the plan called for minimal change, while local Jewish merchants saw it as a major intervention that would destroy the last bastion of Jewish life in Paris.

This paper examines how, in this case, ethnic neighborhood renovation was negotiated at the interface of the local with the global. Furthermore, it shows how the dynamic of globalization from below and globalization from above affect the decision-making process in urban planning.

Razmik Panossian

“Do Diasporas Really Matter? Civil Society Organisations, Policy Makers,
and Ethnic Community Organisations”

Diasporan organisations are increasingly seen as “non-state” actors in international relations. Whether as lobbyists, as players in and financiers of political (and even military) activism in their homelands, as economic investors, or as “special issue” voters, diasporans play a role in the political processes of both their “hostlands” and their “homelands.” But what impact does this activism really have on the policy makers?

This paper examines the specific case of “policy activism” by certain diasporan organisations in Montreal and Ottawa in the field of international human rights and democratic development promotion. It analyses two sets of issues: First, how do actual policy makers—be they civil servants or non-governmental civil society organizations—take diasporan views into account? Do they consult specific groups? Do they systematically solicit opinions? How do they decide who to listen to? In what ways do they incorporate these views into their policy briefs (if at all)? The focus is on the professional policy makers within the civil service and human rights organisations, not politicians.

The second set of issues relates to the diasporan organisations. As these organisations lobby or try to influence policy making, how do they approach the policy makers and civil society organisations? Do they feel that they have access to the drafters of policy? Diasporans often act as information “brokers” on issues relating to their homelands. But do they succeed in conveying the relevant information to the right people?

The research for this papers will be based on a series of interviews with the relevant actors, including “off the record” discussions with Canadian civil servants, NGOs working in the field of human rights and democratic development internationally, research organisations studying this topic, and diasporan activists.

William Safran
“Democracy, Pluralism, and Diaspora Identity:  An Ambiguous Relationship”

This paper examines the relationship between the political context of host countries and the persistence of diaspora identity. It explores the question whether a democratic system is more conducive to that persistence than a non-democratic one. It attempts to distinguish between centralized and etatist states committed to cultural homogenization, and polyarchic regimes committed to multiculturalism and an autonomous civil society. It is argued that the former impedes the survival of ethnic minorities as such, whereas the latter creates opportunity structures for the perpetuation of diasporic identities and institutions.

The depth and continuity of diasporic identity are strongly affected by the policies of the hostland, such as naturalization, integration, and the legitimation of immigrant particularisms. An authoritarian regime may create constraints against the articulation of diaspora identity so that it gradually dissipates; conversely, it may be so oppressive that the (actual or imagined) homeland becomes more attractive and diaspora identity is sharpened. In contrast, a democratic regime that permits the free expression of ethnic minority culture and links between the minority community and its kin in the homeland facilitates the maintenance diaspora. But democracy may also have the opposite effect. A democratic regime is a responsive one, often manifested in a welfare state that may coopt ethnic minorities and attenuate a diasporic consciousness based on perceptions of relative deprivation. If such a state promotes genuinely redistributive policies, ethnic minorities are less dependent on their own communal resources and less likely to retain diaspora identities.

An important change in context is produced by globalization. It has made national boundaries more permeable, facilitated transpolitical relations, and engendered a rethinking of the concept of citizenship, thereby obscuring the distinction between indigenous and diaspora status. Dual citizenship has been supplemented by urban, economic and other kinds of “postnational” citizenship. Since many of the points made in this paper are subject to debate, questions are raised about the way in which arguments concerning the relationship between political context and diaspora identity might be substantiated or falsified by systematic comparative analysis.

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