Tuesday, June 1, 2010

William Safran on Diasporas

William Safran, "Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return" (Diaspora Spring 1991, 83-99)

First, the basic definition:

I suggest that Connor's definition be extended and that the concept of diaspora be applied to expatriate minority communities whose members share several of the following characteristics: 1) they, or their ancestors, have been dispersed fro ma specific original 'center' to two or more 'peripheral," or foreign, regions; 2) they retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland--its physical location, history, and achievements; 3) they believe that they are not--and perhaps cannot be -- fully accepted by their host society and therefore feel partly alienated and insulated from it; 4) they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendents would (or should) eventually return --when conditions are appropriate; 5) they believe that they should, collectively be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity; and 6) they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship (83-84)

The points that are contestable with the Indian diaspora are 3, 4, and 5.

Here is what he says about the Indian diaspora in particular in this essay:

The Indian diaspora is a genuine one in several respects: its spread across three continents, its long history, its auxiliary (or middleman) role within host societies, and the varying attitudes of its members--ranging from integrationist to particularist. But the Indian diaspora differs in some important ways from that of the Jews and Armenians: an Indian homeland has existed continuously, that homeland has not been noted for encouraging an 'ingathering' (see Helweg), and Indian diaspora status has not always been associated with political disability or minority status. The homeland myth is not particularly operative where the Indian diaspora is in the majority (as in Fiji) or where it constitutes a large, well-established, and sometimes dominant minority (as in Trinidad and Tobago, Nepal, Guyana, and Sri Lanka). (88-89)

Why the concern with "genuine" diasporas? And why do the Jewish and Armenian examples have "benchmark" status, while the Palestinian, Chinese, Gypsy, and Indian examples are looked at as variants off of an originary model? (One obvious answer to this is the fact that the word had a longstanding history of association with the Jewish diaspora. But since we've expanded the definition, why presume there has to be a dominant model?


  1. Hello! I am a phd-candidate from Austria and struggling to get hold of the article you are discussing here. Do you, by any chance, have a digital copy? If yes, would you be so kind as to send it to me?
    I'd appreciate your help a lot.
    Thank you in advance,

  2. Wow! Really good information!
    I am a student preparing a thesis about diaspora, and I also struggled to get this article. Could I ask you to copy this article for me? Thank you so much. :)