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The Discovery of the Diaspora

Rahel Kunz
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-5687.2011.00152_4.x 103-107 First published online: 1 March 2012

In recent years diasporas have become portrayed as newly emerging actors in the international arena. This “‘discovery’ of expatriate populations” (Larner 2007:334) involved a growing number of state, nonstate, and international institutions reaching out to diasporas, increased expatriate organizing, and a certain institutionalization of diaspora activities. Diasporas are portrayed as development actors, transnational investors, trade and tourism promoters, political activists, peace brokers, and conflict instigators. Yet, none of these activities of expatriate populations are particularly new. Why is it then that diasporas have been “discovered” and promoted as actors in international affairs only recently?

Much existing literature conceptualizes the recent involvement of diasporas in terms of individual states' decisions to reach out to their diasporas as an instrument of foreign policy (Shain and Barth 2003; Brinkerhoff 2008; Gamlen 2008). Thereby, the state is often posited as the starting point and diasporas are conceptualized as a given entity or an individual actor that interacts with the state, equally seen as an entity. Yet, diasporas are composed of heterogeneous groups of people who do not a priori share common values and interests. Moreover, we are not talking about a process of simply mobilizing groups of people who have already organized according to their countries of origin, although this does not mean that such organizing does not exist. Hence, this contribution proposes to de-center the analysis and move away from the state as a starting point to shift the focus toward the construction of diasporas as actors and as a “governmental category” (Larner 2007). Referring to expatriate citizens in terms of “the diaspora” represents an act of constituting the subject of the diaspora.

Situating this “discovery” in the context of broader transformations in global governing in recent decades, I argue that the creation of the diaspora as an actor in international …

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