Conference Presenters and Topics (3):
Gabriel (Gabi) Sheffer
Both trans-state and transnational diasporas (which I will characterize), whose numbers and size are increasing, and who on the whole are not facing tremendous pressures from hostlands’ governments and societies to assimilate or fully integrate, face major ideational, organizational and behavioral challenges. In my presentation I will deal only with the most critical challenges facing these two types of diasporas. These are: first, the need of their core and peripheral members to clarify their individual and collective identity and identification. The greater difficulty in this respect is facing existing transnational and incipient transstate diasporas. However, in view of various current systemic temptations (which I will specify), also members of historic and modern transstate diasporas must work hard at maintaining the non-essentialist primordial elements of their identity. The second major challenge is that connected to the need to define the actual and virtual boundaries of these entities, which now are very blurred and porous. The third significant issue facing these entities concerns the need to define and recognize the actual or virtual location of a diaspora’s center, and closely interconnected is the need to clarify the relations between the diasporas’ actual or perceived centers on the one hand, and the diasporas’ dispersed members and organizations, on the other hand. The fourth basic dilemma is that of loyalty to either their imagined center or actual homeland, on the one hand, or to their host countries, on the other hand. The fifth challenge that I will discuss is that of the strategic and tactical policies and activities (including violence and terrorism) that are intended to accomplish the interests of the various types of diasporas. I will mention examples of various diasporas facing each of these challenges.
The perseverance of non-state actors in foreign policy is not a new phenomenon; however, their pursuits are now greatly facilitated by transformations in the power of the state, telecommunications, the global economy, and the emergence of global culture. In contemporary world affairs, diplomacy is unambiguously multi-layered, and paradiplomacy—as a postmodern deconstruction of state diplomacy— has increased influence in international relations. Though the relations of regional governments and diaspora communities remain clearly inferior in the statecraft of ‘high’ and ‘low’ politics, I indicate that culture and identity politics are no longer singularly dominated by state-centric networks and are moving into the realm of interest and ethnic alliances such as homeland-diaspora transnational relations.
Although the primary unit of analysis in foreign affairs has been the state, for centuries non-central government actors have simultaneously engaged in transborder activities. Using quantitative and qualitative examples from the case of the government of the Basque Autonomous Community and the nearly two hundred Basque diaspora organizations in twenty-two different countries, this article aims to discuss the localization of international relations and the significance of non-central governments in homeland-diaspora relations. I will analyze global activities of non-central governments that promote a separatist or independentist message onto programs and projects with entities in other countries. Are Basque homeland institutions utilizing their trade/cultural missions abroad as protoembassies or protoconsulates of a potentially sovereign state? What is the opportunity structure presently in place for diasporas to act in foreign policy, and, do diasporas have the capacity for independent political action? Though I would not argue that state-centric arenas of the international system no longer prevail, I do argue that the roles of non-central governments are increasing in influence and that diasporas are emerging as viable constituencies for their homeland leaders.
The initiation and continuance of the academic research journal Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies has greatly influenced the fields of diaspora, identity, and transnational research. As Editor, I will discuss who was involved in its inception and how we presumed there would actually be an academic market for it; the beginning disciplines we targeted; our objectives and goals during the first years and now.
The presentation will
include an analysis of the range of articles that we receive, which also
gives an indication about how the field has stretched and developed, and
the myriad of manners in which “diaspora” is being used today in various
areas of study. I will discuss the impact that Diaspora has had
in the social sciences, in research, and for professionals networking
across fields, and will attempt to project into the future of diaspora