ASA Conference 2004, Durham
 - Locating the field

ASA Home
ASA 04
Back to full panel list
Home > Conferences > ASA 2004 > Panel detail

Questioning diasporas

Post-diasporic Indian communities: a new generation

Anjoom Mukadam, University of Reading & Sharmina Mawani, SOAS, University of London

This paper will examine the way in which academics and policy makers continue to use terminology that acts against the interests of minority ethnic communities in the West. On the one hand there is talk of pluralism, integration, acceptance and tolerance; on the other hand there are antiquated labels imposed on individuals from these communities – terms such as ‘immigrant’ and ‘diaspora’ continue to be used when making reference to individuals who have been born and brought up in the West and for whom no journey was made from their supposed ‘homeland’. In order to fully accept and respect these individuals into the multi-ethnic societies in which they live, there is an urgent need for this terminology to be dropped and for its significance to be understood. As Lord Parekh rightly points out ‘Words are never mere words. They embody concepts, are charged with historical memories and association, and shape our understanding of, and approach to the world’.

This research has explored the shaping of a distinct identity amongst second-generation Gujaratis in London and Toronto. The formation of identity amongst individuals from minority ethnic communities is a complex phenomenon which comprises the amalgamation of components which are of the individual’s own selection and others over which they have no choice, but around which they must construct meaning. Ethnic identifiers are ‘tattooed’ on the individual from birth and coming to terms with them can be a long and harrowing task leading to identity crisis at its extreme. Ethnic identity is essential to the psychological functioning of the individual and an individual’s self-identity as well as their ethnic identity are highly influential on the individual’s behaviour and personality. It is clear in today’s multi-ethnic societies that ethnic identity may not be straightforward and that there exist multiple identities, hyphenated identities and may be even new identities that are evolving with globalisation. This paper will look closely at ethnic self-identification (label chosen by an individual to express their individual ethnic identity) and cultural adaptation strategies (lifestyle choices made by an individual who is living in the West, but who belongs to a minority ethnic community) employed by second-generation Gujaratis in order to make sense of their bilingual and bicultural lives.

Belonging Anglo-Indian style

Robyn Andrews, Massey University, New Zealand

In August 2003 I attended events held as Calcutta's celebration of Anglo-Indian Day. In addition I attended and was a contributor to part of the events constituting the 6th World Anglo-Indian Reunion in Melbourne in January 2004. This makes me a participant-observer at this event in a very literal sense. Both of these experiences have added to my growing body of materials on the ‘devices’ used by Anglo-Indians, who are at once local and diasporic, to maintain and enhance their own sense of themselves as distinctive and as a "community".

In this paper I describe both occasions and, drawing on the work of Brubaker and Cooper (2000), and others, analyse the complex mechanics of these devices. These events are designed, in particular, to create a ‘feeling of belonging together, what Weber called Zusammengehrigkeitsgefhl’ which, together with ‘commonality’ and ‘connectedness’, engender ‘groupness’ (Brubaker and Cooper 2000:20).

[Reference: Brubaker, Rogers and Frederick Cooper. 2000. "Beyond "identity"". Theory and Society 29:1-47]

Localising Diaspora: the Ahmadi Muslims and the problem of multi-sited ethnography

Dr. M. Balzani, University of Surrey Roehampton

Founded by a charismatic leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, in late-19th century India, the Ahmadis are a small but economically and educationally significant diasporic Muslim minority, established today in numerous cities in the West, Asia and Africa. In many Islamic countries the Ahmadis have been defined as heretics and non-Muslim and subjected to persecution. The Ahmadis have developed a reputation as political ‘quietists’ who are linguistically, and within limits, culturally assimilationist. They provide a unique and, in the present global climate, an invaluable perspective on the relationship of Islam and the West. Marginalised by the majority Muslim community, the Ahmadis are active translators of the Koran and proselytizers for the faith. Converts to Islam in many parts of the world first discover Islam through the Ahmadis.

This paper is based on fieldwork in one Ahmadi community in South West London and is primarily located in two mosques. The first mosque was built in the early 1920s in a residential street in Wandsworth and the second, in Merton, opened in 2003 and lays claim to being the largest mosque in the West capable of accommodating 10,000 worshippers. These sites are part of a fast-expanding network of mosque-building in the West and Africa which parallels and exceeds the active closure and destruction of Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan. An understanding of the local ethnographic context of the mosques in South West London requires the historical basis for Ahmadi migrations and global diasporic movements to be traced just as much as an understanding of the mundane planning regulations of local Councils. To understand the local tensions generated by the increase in worshippers at the mosque in Wandsworth one needs to track anti-Ahmadi legislation in Pakistan through to the 1980s. The building of the Merton mosque itself can then be considered a reaction both to the success of the local Ahmadis and also the organised discontent of local non-Muslim Wandsworth residents as well as an act of peaceful defiance against those who would condone the persecution of Ahmadis.

These mosques are also part of a virtual system of mosques linked through Ahmadi websites and MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya) a 24 hour satellite channel broadcasting religious programmes. The ethnography is, then, an attempt to undertake a localised study of the two mosques while integrating that study within historical, international and virtual perspectives as an approach to understanding a unique form of Muslim transnationalism.

Being transnational: varying global engagements among British Pakistanis

Katharine Charsley, University of Edinburgh

Studies of South Asian populations in Britain have frequently been predicated on two spatial models: they have been envisioned as primarily an enclave encapsulated within the majority population, with a resulting focus on ethnic boundary maintenance; or, increasingly commonly, they are viewed as enmeshed in transnational linkages between their country of residence, the ‘sending’ country, and often additional sites across the globe. For British Pakistanis, marriage forms a central linkage between places, providing the primary route for migration from Pakistan to Britain, and sustaining bonds between relatives through kin marriage. The majority of British Pakistanis now marry Pakistani nationals, with ten thousand husbands and wives from Pakistan granted spousal entry visas for the UK in the year 2000. This paper draws on ‘multi-sited’ ethnographic research on such marriages, to engage with theories of transnationalism from what has been called a ‘bottom up’ perspective. Attempts have been made to conceptualise differing transnationalisms, but there are limits to the extent that the complexity and diversity of transnational engagements can be captured by the broad theoretical brushstrokes of much writing in this field. This study of the kinship connections that form the experiential basis of global and local relationships draws attention to the role of life-course and life events in creating variation in individuals’ engagement with the transnational. In particular, for British Pakistanis, marriage is a crucial influence on their orientation towards and involvement with Pakistan, Britain, and other diasporic locations. Their own or others’ weddings are also frequently occasions when young British Pakistanis travel to Pakistan. Many discussions of second or third ‘generation’ South Asians in Britain and America focus on their negotiation of the contrast between the behaviours expected of them at home, and in the worlds of education and work. The addition of this third space for the articulation of identity – Pakistan – as an arena which for many is the setting of important life events, augments understanding of some trends in self-presentation among young Pakistanis in Britain, and further demonstrates the benefits of a model which locates this population within both the local and the global.

Back To Desi: Bhangra and the re-shaping of Cultural Identity

Charanpal Bal, National University of Singapore

While diasporas and migrations represent a disjuncture in identity production in that they disembody peoples from places, the maintenance of these identities are further problematized by the rationalities of the new host states, global flows of cultural commodities and generational progressions. Diasporic identifications across generations are, thus, not stable and unproblematic, but rather, contingent on material historical conditions and the availability of resources for transformation and expression.

This study sets its focus on third generation Punjabis in Singapore. It examines how existing diasporic identifications break down and how new identifications come to be shaped in the consumption of Bhangra music. Situated within both their parents’ culture and state ideology, and being pressed to live out the cultural entailments of modern capitalism, third generations Punjabis in Singapore come to feel a contradiction between the meanings and values produced in these spheres of life as well as their own experiences of urbanity. Their consumption of Bhangra is, thus, one site where these youths re-configure their “Punjabi-ness” as distinct from parental identifications and state prescriptions.

The analysis in this study is based on Phil Cohen’s (1972) approach to the study of subcultures. Firstly, the historical problematic of the Punjabi diasporic community is presented – the cultural transformations and the concealment of contradictions of first and second generation diasporic identity formation. Next, the transformation of diasporic “Punjabi-ness” and its expressions in the third generation will be more closely studied. This transformation, embedded in the consumption of Bhangra, involves the re-signification of a “Punjabi culture” once rooted in the Punjab, new patterns of relationships with the Punjab (or the ‘homeland’) itself, displaced resistance against the logic of capital and perceived discrimination, an attempt to reclaim a sense of community based on certain values, and the re-construction of significant Others against dominant state discourse.

All in all, this study aims to show the social actions and meanings involved in the re-shaping of diasporic identities which are not only grounded in the historically specific locality of host states, but also involve the meaningful appropriation of symbols across space and time.

* Desi comes from the word Des (or Desh) which means country, or more specifically, the Punjab. Desi is the adjectival form. Desi, for my respondents, refer to certain mundane cultural forms of parental “Punjabi-ness”, which they appropriate for the constitution of their own cultural identity. These forms include, dhol beats, traditional styled vocals, tumbi licks, certain lyrical themes and particular onomatopoeia.

Making diaspora count: the experiences of Black Africans in Ukraine

Julia Holdsworth, University of Hull and Emmanuel Yusuf Justus

Recent changes in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union have resulted in an explosion of literature on the area. Drawing on understandings gained during long-term fieldwork in Donetsk, a large industrial city in Eastern Ukraine, this paper explores an issue that has been largely invisible to date, the experiences of black Africans, and Nigerians in particular, during the breakdown of the USSR and the subsequent period of post-soviet change.

We investigate how, in a context of extreme racism and social exclusion from the wider Ukrainian community, Nigerians create and maintain strong positive identities through community organisations which are predicated on close reference to wider Nigerian diasporas. Migration from Africa to the USSR largely occurred as a result of sponsored education programmes at university level, complemented in recent years by migrants intending to stay in Ukraine only until they gain entry to other European countries. As a consequence, the majority have been young, male and single, resulting in few family structures within which individuals can create and maintain strong positive associations.

This paper, then, explores the ways in which identification with a Nigerian ‘community’ is created and enacted through local, national and international organisations established by Nigerians in Ukraine. These organisations act to protect the interests of Nigerians, and other foreigners, especially as the speed of the disintegration of the USSR meant that for many years there was no Nigerian Embassy in Ukraine. They also serve to communicate and reinforce ideas pertaining to how Nigerians should act, and what it means to be Nigerian. In this way the community organisations promote aspects of shared identity and police behaviour in order to encourage conformity and protect those that are included from the aggressive behaviours of others in the wider Ukrainian context.

Placing space and the production of locality: a Mathrakian tale

Nikoleta Katsakiori, The University of Manchester

This paper is based on fieldwork with Mathrakians, people who move between Mathraki, a small island off the north-western part of Greece, and New York City. In examining the impact of migration on the lives of Mathrakians I spent ten months in NYC and three months in Mathraki. In this paper I will discuss the ways in which Mathrakians construct, reproduce and maintain, albeit through tensions and ambiguities, notions of locality. The trope of spiti (house)/kinship was/is fundamental, amongst other things, to a territoriality of place which is both metaphorical and conceptual as well as physical and historical. For Mathrakians there is nothing arbitrary about the place called Mathraki. They constantly evoke a ‘drifting away’ metaphor, a nautical term which loosely means being blown off course, getting lost, as a reminder of their transnational conditions of life based upon their conceptualisation of locality, the island of Mathraki, and their specific experiences and practices with which they associate. Instead of talking being ‘uprooted’ Mathrakians refer to the idea of ‘drifting away’. As such, movement for Mathrakians does not imply being ‘uprooted’ or ‘dis-located’. In this context movement, although conveying a notion of a transient place, is nevertheless a location(s). I will show how for Mathrakians movement is a continual process of locating themselves. Territoriality, as a social space where people’s interactions occur, and territory, as a physical space and location, have played a crucial role in rupturing, constructing, maintaining and reproducing what Mathrakians call Mathraki in both conceptual and practical terms. For Mathrakians, locality(ies) (Mathraki/ NYC) and identity(ies) are continuous processes in the making, as their metaphor (‘drifting away’) repeatedly implied. Thus in this case we can simultaneously speak of deterritorialised identities mostly in the past, which are still now located and moving betwixt and between different places but they are nevertheless reterritorialised. Mathrakian relations and practices are translocal but they are embedded with and mediated through various institutional modes which maybe the household, the work place or the state, which are themselves situated in specific localities. I argue that it is at this junction where nuanced and detailed ethnographic work, which attends to complex political economic entanglements, cultural politics, and contemporary structures of feeling, is needed in order to situate, explore and evaluate symbolic imaginings, cultural practices and social relations that are continually reproduced by and through transnational processes that link distant and different places.

Top of page
 ©2003 - web design by