Annotations: Clifford, James. 1994. Diasporas

Clifford, James. 1994. Diasporas. Cultural Anthropology, 9(3):302-338

Clifford suggests to be wary of using ideal types that describe “diaspora,” as “societies may wax and wane in diasporism, depending on changing possibilities – obstacles, openings, antagonisms, and connections – in their host countries and transnationally” (306). Diaspora involves dwelling, maintaining communities, (having) collective homes away from home” (308). Diaspora communities are “not here” to stay, meaning that they “mediate, in a lived tension, the experiences of separation and entanglement, of living here and remembering/desiring another place” (311). The term diaspora is a signifier, “not simply of transnationality and movement, but of political struggles to define the local, as distinctive community, in historical contexts of displacement” (308). Diaspora is the product of “violent processes of displacement,” and diaspora cultures are “produced by regimes of political domination and economic inequality.” Despite this, Clifford believes that people in the diaspora retain their abilities to sustain their political communities and cultures of resistance. He calls the “decentered, partially overlapping networks of communication, travel, trade, and kinship connect the several communities of a transnational ‘people’,” “the lateral axes of diaspora” (321-2). He then suggests a different approach of looking at the diaspora, which includes the study of the diaspora’s borders or the diaspora’s claims to its own identity, thus revealing its “entangled tension” (307) with 1) the norms of the state, and 2) the indigenous peoples. The diaspora’s experience of the co-presence of “here” and “there” is non-linear, such that the present is “constantly shadowed by a past that is also a desired, but obstructed, future” (318). He gives as an example the case of the black slaves in the US, who could not expect a free future in the age of oppression. Paying attention to gender, Clifford writes that diasporic experiences are “always gendered,” citing as an example how the experiences of men are always highlighted. He asks whether diaspora experiences “reinforce or loosen gender subordination,” and if the practices (maintaining connections, kinship, traditions) maintain or resist patriarchal structures.

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