The fierce disagreement that broke out in the late 1990s between the US Patent and Trademark Office and India over the patenting of the name “basmati” allows us a small window into the complexities of diaspora and transnationalism. RiceTec, a firm headquartered in Alvin, TX, that markets products such as Jasmati, Kasmati, and Texmati to over 20,000 supermarkets and other outlets in North America, sought a patent for a cross-breed of American long-grain rice. The patent would also have granted RiceTec the power to control basmati rice production in North America and the right to collect fees from farmers who sought to plant it. This was offensive to India, who argued that the name “basmati,” which means “fragrant one” and is grown predominantly in the Punjab region of the country, must only be applied to rice from India. They suggested that basmati rice ought to have the same status as cognac or champagne, which are protected trademark names of certain alcoholic beverages deriving from the relevant regions of France. The Indians' scientific and commercial reasons were also supported by powerful cultural and nationalistic appeals. In response, the All India Rice Exporters Association stated in their deposition to the US Patent and Trademark Office: “You cannot build a monument anywhere and call it the Taj Mahal. There is only one Taj Mahal and that is in India” (Krieger
2005: 2–3). As Ken MacDonald shows in his discussion of the transnational circulation of cheese (chapter 17
), the link between cultural aura and commercial merchandizing for certain agricultural products establishes a series of social and economic relationships across the entire spectrum of both production and consumption. It is the localization of such names that guarantees their cultural aura, and thus their niche status amongst the many other products that compete for consumer attention. In other words, there is a cultural economy to such agricultural products that relies entirely on the idea of cultural authenticity, which is folded into the product being consumed as a mark of cosmopolitan consumption.
The Taj Mahal is a labor of love and not simply a finished product of work. This example contrasts two forms of making, “work” and “labor” (Arendt 1998). For Indians, the label “basmati” represents not simply a finished market product, but a labor involving the daily life-producing activities that go into the making of home and locality. It is precisely through a labor of love, and not simply a labeling of a thing, that home and a longing for the past is created. The fact that there are also thousands of Indian grocery stores catering to the nostalgic needs of the large Indian communities across North America and elsewhere did not necessarily feature in the debate between the US Patent and Trademark Office and the All India Rice Exporters Association. Yet the cultural economy of basmati invoked in the debate may be taken as extending well beyond the immediate confines of the patent disagreement itself. Such shops have become a veritable switchboard of nostalgic exchanges between diasporic communities and the homelands from which they hail. Whether among the Indian, Ghanaian, or Trinidadian community, a visit to the local ethnic supermarket is not solely for the purchase of goods and products from the homeland. Rather, it is also significantly about the exchange of news from home, gossip about the local community, lamentations about the recalcitrance of children, and the general renewal of the sense of participating in another culture that is richer and more complex than the one that they happen to be sojourners in (Hage 1997; Mankekar 2002). It is part of the complex affective economy of diaspora, which also incorporates monuments, heirlooms, and many material objects in both the public and private spheres. At the same time, the basmati story also tells us something about the intersecting scapes (the links between culture and economy), scales (the multiple levels of farmers, shops, and people that the patent decision would have impacted, in India and North America), and scopes (the spatio-temporal vectors that define nation and its variant social imaginaries).
Transnationalism and diaspora are two key concepts by which to organize our understanding of nation, identity, and globalization in today's world. They are also terms that are often used interchangeably. These two concepts tend to overlap with globalization theories in describing the conditions that give rise to new forms of migration, mobility, and mediatization. This volume shows that while there is no simple resolution to these intersections, there is a need to understand how these concepts and categories articulate with and against each other. Taken together, the concepts of diaspora and transnationalism promise a broad understanding of all the forms and implications that derive from the vast movements of populations, ideas, technologies, images, and financial networks that have come to shape the world we live in today. If the keywords that have organized the fields of diaspora and transnational studies thus far have involved historically charged terms (i.e., nation, nationalism, ethnicity, culture, politics, economics, society, space, place, homeland, home, narrative, representation, alienation, nostalgia, and all their cognates), it is because the conditions they pertain to are so variegated that their understanding requires a multifocal, and indeed interdisciplinary, approach. The chapters in this volume address these entanglements from a variety of perspectives and will cover a wide range of topics and methodological approaches.
Though subject to varied emphases and disciplinary investments, the contemporary concept of diaspora involves an understanding of the shifting relations between homelands and host nations from the perspective both of those who have moved, whether voluntarily or not, and of the recipient societies in which they find themselves. While diasporas emerge out of dispersals, not all dispersals lead to diasporas. For example the violent dispersals that took place in Libya and the Ivory Coast in 2011 as a consequence of the political turmoil in those two countries may not necessarily lead to the formation of diasporas, whereas the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, which led to massive dispersals of Pashtuns and other Afghani tribes into Pakistan and surrounding areas, did coalesce into a diaspora. Indeed, the central feature of the Afghani dispersal came to intensify an ethno-political and religious ideology to be articulated in the institutional form of the Taliban, incubated and hatched in the diaspora in the late 1990s, which in its turn came to cultivate a strong affiliation with the transnational network represented by Al-Qaeda. This would satisfy criteria for what Gabriel Sheffer describes in Diaspora Politics as an ethno-political diaspora (Sheffer 2003).
For a diaspora to emerge out of the dispersal of a given population a number of conditions have to be met. Among other things these often include the time-depth of dispersal and settlement in other locations; the development of a myth of the homeland; the attendant diversification of responses to homeland and host nation; the evolution of class segmentation and conflict within a given diaspora alongside the concomitant evolution of an elite group of cultural and political brokers; and the ways in which contradictions among the various class segments end up reinforcing different forms of material and emotional investment in an imaginary ideal of the homeland. Sometimes a utopian impulse serves to place the quest for the homeland in the vicinity of an active nationalism, as in the classic case of Jews at the turn of the nineteenth century and Palestinians in our contemporary period, and of the Irish diaspora nationalism following from the dispersals that took place from the middle of the nineteenth century. And yet the stake in a spatial homeland is neither always stable nor indeed consonant with the interests of a given diaspora, as Hakem al-Rustom shows for the Armenians of France (chapter 28
). It is the utopian idealization and the work of political and cultural brokers that gives the homeland ultimate salience within diasporic consciousness, whether this ensues in a return-to-homeland movement or not (Armstrong
2008; Dufoix 2009; Sheffer
A diaspora, of whatever character, must not be perceived as a discrete entity but rather as being formed out of a series of contradictory convergences of peoples, ideas, and even cultural orientations. As Takeyuki Tsuda points out (chapter 10
), the circulations of diasporas between places of sojourn and their homelands may also come to generate different attachments to the idea of nation, either by deflating romantic notions of the national homeland and/or intensifying modes of identification with the erstwhile places of sojourn, or by conflating homeland and host nation into a new configuration of unanticipated doubled nostalgias. Following Hilary Parsons Dick on the contrapuntal lives of Mexican non-migrants (chapter 24
), diaspora is best understood, as Brah
(1996) has noted, as the product of diaspora space
involving a range of social and moral relationships that continually structure and restructure it. For diaspora space is inhabited not only by those who have migrated and their descendants but, equally, by those who are constructed and represented as indigenous. In other words, the concept of diaspora space (as opposed to that of diaspora) includes the entanglement of genealogies of dispersion with those of “staying put” (Brah
As a paired term to diaspora, transnationalism on the other hand focuses on various flows and counterflows and the multi-striated connections they give rise to. Transnationalism encompasses not only the movement of people, but also of notions of citizenship, technology, forms of multinational governance, and the mechanisms of global markets. While diasporas are often understood to be a subset of transnational communities, the latter are taken to be an expansion of the overall conceptual scale of the former. As an analytical category transnational communities are understood to transcend diasporas because such communities may not be derived primarily or indeed exclusively from the forms of co-ethnic and cultural identification that are constitutive of diasporas, but rather from elective modes of identification involving class, sexuality, and even professional interest. Thus transnational communities may include the gay communities worldwide that wage daily battles across different frontiers for recognition of their rights to marriage; Buddhist communities outside of the religion's traditional homelands of India, China, and Japan that find common ground through involvement in certain rituals, practices, and non-violent ideologies across borders; or environmentalists who routinely traverse the circuits of international forums to assert common cause for a better-managed world. All such groups come to share strongly held objectives and communal values that are nonetheless quite different from the co-ethnic identifications that are taken to define diasporas.
While several displaced persons may be included within the umbrella of diaspora (such as exiles, refugees, guest-workers, asylum-seekers, etc.) it is the term migrant community
that is most often used interchangeably with diaspora
in scholarly accounts. “Migrant” is also the most prominent in everyday non-scholarly and bureaucratic usages. Even though we will also be using the two terms interchangeably, it is important to note some subtle shifts in the uses of the term between migration studies and diaspora studies over the past decade or so. These shifts become pertinent to the way that the links between diaspora and transnationalism may be conceived at the present time. As Pnina Werbner notes (chapter 6
), at the most formulaic level the difference between the two terms may be seen in the degree to which, within migration studies, particularly in the American scholarly literature, nation and society were taken to be coterminous, in the sense that migrants were assumed to ultimately integrate or assimilate into the country of settlement, with the nation then assumed to be the main horizon for understanding migrant relations across national borders. The social typologies of settlement and sojourn in the host nation and the problematics of citizenship were for example among the favored topics of migration studies. In an attempt to move away from what some have termed methodological nationalism (i.e., scholarly research which takes the nation-state as a “natural” container for understanding “the social and political form of the modern world” – e.g., Wimmer and Glick Schiller
2002: 302), recent studies in transnationalism have taken the nation-state as merely one agent in a more complex variety of global actors. As nation and society became progressively severed as concepts, the latter, now extended across different national boundaries, began to provide a dif...