Research

The Oxford Diasporas Programme was a five-year research programme involving various centres at the University of Oxford and led by the International Migration Institute.

The research consisted of 11 projects focusing on the impact of diasporas.

The programme was funded by the Leverhulme Trust from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2015.

Background

Diasporas are one of the most prominent and controversial manifestations of increased globalization. The connection between migrants and people who have stayed at home has profound effects on societies in the country of origin and the country of destination, as well as on the diasporas themselves.

Diaspora members may spread progressive attitudes, or they may become enclaves of intolerance. Diasporas are feared and loved, appearing both as traitors and champions. We identified three fundamental dynamics relating to the formation, maintenance, and impacts of diasporas:

  • Connecting: the way that diasporas create networks encompassing those back home, others in diaspora and, more widely, their imagined communities based on co-ethnicity or other identities.
  • Contesting: the contradictory processes of inclusion of diasporas within and exclusion from territorially-bound communities, and the emergence of potentially conflicting identities.
  • Converging: the way in which diasporic communities de-emphasize their origins and blend with indigenous or other migrant communities to create new social formations, cultures and practices.

Objectives

We aimed to integrate humanities and social science perspectives in order to investigate the social, economic, political and cultural impacts of these three dynamics of diaspora. We examined why, how, where and when particular impacts arise from particular trajectories, and who initiates and experiences these impacts.

Methodology

We used a mixed methods approach. We established benchmark research designs that integrate the synchronic and the diachronic, the quantitative and the qualitative, the comparative and the historical, the case study and the grand generalization.

Projects


African diasporas within Africa

Oliver Bakewell

There is a growing body of research on African diasporas but much less about diasporas within the continent. This project asked whether, as policies and attitudes of exclusion become embedded in African states and societies, we are seeing the emergence of new diasporas. It looked at the impacts of forcible expulsions and voluntary migration on African communities.
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Converging cultures: the Hadrami diaspora in the Indian Ocean

Iain Walker

This project analysed the strategies employed by the Hadrami diaspora in the pursuit of economic, religious, political or social ends. Driven both by economic constraints and by political unrest, the people of Hadramawt (southern Yemen) have historically emigrated to various parts of the Indian Ocean, taking a range of influences with them and returning with others. This project investigated how the diaspora and the homeland sustain one another through enduring links.
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Diaspora and creolization: diverging, converging

Robin Cohen

In this project we engaged with the concepts of diaspora and creolization through a comparative study of four different settings. Diasporic and creolized identities tend to be conceptualized as ‘opposites’, the first placing emphasis on the past, the second on the present and future. This study explored the subtle ways in which the two interact with each other, often in a mutually exclusive pattern, but sometimes in a mutually reinforcing way. The key task was to elaborate and rework the contingent, historically specific, and situational settings in which diaspora or creolization emerge, diverge, or converge; the ‘delicate dance’ between them.
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Diaspora engagement in war-torn societies

Nicholas Van Hear

Mass refugee movements induced by conflict have contributed to the transformation of global society, particularly since the end of the Cold War. Substantial new diasporas have consolidated from these movements: the new social formations appear to be enduring and have undertaken a variety of forms of transnational activity, shaping both the societies in which diaspora find themselves and their home communities and societies. There has been a general shift in perception from ascribing diasporas a negative influence in fomenting and supporting conflict (as ‘war mongers’ or ‘peace-wreckers’) to the more positive view that they can assist with relief, peace-building, recovery and post-conflict reconstruction (as ‘peace-makers’ or ‘peace-builders’). As is often the case, the reality is between the two, and the balance of forms of engagement shifts over time and according to circumstances. This project explored the kind of community and society that may emerge from diaspora formation and engagement in conflict and post-conflict settings.
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Diaspora, trade and trust: Eastleigh, Nairobi's Little Mogadishu

Neil Carrier and David Anderson

In the last two decades, a diaspora-fuelled economic boom has transformed Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate into a major East African commercial zone associated primarily with its large Somali population. This study approached Eastleigh not just as an enclave of the Somali diaspora, but as a confluence of three separate diasporas: there is also a thriving Oromo community from Ethiopia, and what could be termed a sub-national diasporic community of Meru from Kenya. The project examined the interactions between the diaspora communities, the national and transnational networks they maintain, and the relationship between Eastleigh and wider Kenyan society. The project will develop major themes in the field of economic anthropology, especially concerning the role of trust within diaspora trade networks and between them and their host society.
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Diaspora geographies and generations: spaces of civil engagement

Linda McDowell

The aim of this project was to explore the connections between the changing nature of in-migration to the UK, the growth of youth unemployment, the social construction of masculinity and the rise of right-wing racist politics on the formation of diasporic identities and the social relations between different diasporic groups in two English cities.
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Diaspora engagement policies

Alan Gamlen

This project sought to understand how and why states engage their diasporas. In doing so it aimed to significantly advance comparative and theoretical knowledge on diaspora engagement policies around the world, and to mainstream this topic in the study of politics and international relations in general, and political geography in particular. It collected and analysed comprehensive data on diaspora engagement policies across the globe in the period since the second world war, using mixed research methods. In addition to working with new quantitative longitudinal data on a broad spectrum of diaspora engagement policies across the entire international system, the project compiled dozens of interviews with senior politicians and policy makers leading diaspora engagement initiatives in a wide range of migrant source countries.
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Multinational families, creolized practices and new identities: Euro-Senegalese cases

Hélène Neveu-Kringelbach

One of the effects of the global intensification of mobility is the formation of multicultural and transnational families involving spouses with different citizenships, as well as linguistic, religious and cultural backgrounds. In many parts of coastal West Africa, there is a long history of marriage with Europeans, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. With a focus on bi-national families involving a Senegalese and a European partner as a case study, this project explored processes of family making in a diasporic context, from a gendered and cross-generational perspective. This project contributed to our understanding of the relationship between the resilience of diasporas over time and their integration into ‘host societies’.
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The nation outside the state: transnational exile in the African state system

Alexander Betts

The purpose of this project was to explore the role of exile within African politics. Taking a political science approach, it examined how exiled identity groups – based around particular ethnic or national communities – have been central to shaping the politics and international relations of four African states throughout the colonial, Cold War, and post-Cold War periods – Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Liberia, and Eritrea.
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Religious faith, space and diasporic communities in East London: 1880-present

Jane Garnett, Ben Gidley, Alana Harris and Michael Keith

By analysing the contested histories of faith-based civil-society institutions in the East End of London from the late nineteenth century to the present, this project enhanced understanding of the impact of faith-based community organizations on diaspora inclusion and exclusion in a world city.
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Stateless diasporas and migration and citizenship regimes in the EU

Nando Sigona and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

This project explored the extent to which members of three ‘stateless diasporas’ (Kurds, Palestinians and Roma) negotiate, mobilize and/or resist, and ultimately problematize, notions of shared belonging in the EU. Against the background of fluid, and at times conflicting, EU and EU member states' migration and citizenship regimes, we examined ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ discourses in relation to the categorization of groups as ‘stateless diasporas’. Through a historical and ethnographic analysis, the project investigated the processes through which both statelessness and diasporic identity and identification are constructed, adopted and/or rejected by individuals and states.
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