- Smaro KamboureliSmaro KamboureliUniversity of Toronto Department of English
Diaspora as a concept and a particular phenomenon of migration has a double origin: etymologically, it comes from the Greek verb diaspeirein, meaning to scatter; historically, it refers to the dispersal of the Jews from their ancestral land after the destruction of the Second Temple in 586 bce. The term has been applied to the involuntary displacement of other peoples—for example, the African, Armenian, and Irish diasporas—but the Jewish diaspora has served as the principal paradigm of diasporic experience. Based on the Jewish “prototypical” case, the concept has been commonly defined as encompassing a collective identity shaped by the trauma that accompanies a group’s forced departure from its ancestral land and its emotional and material attachment to the origins that is sustained by the desire to return home or by symbolic manifestations of nostalgia. Although scholars have identified different kinds of diasporas—labor, trading, imperial diasporas—the term has maintained its emphasis on dislocation and loss, evoking at once the experience and politics of dispossession and ethnic identification. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, this understanding of diaspora has expanded to embrace a range of displaced communities—immigrants, migrants, exiles, refugees—and has thus come to be identified with global mobilities as an aftereffect of modernity. The malleability of the concept has given rise to many debates about its meaning, application, and methodology, especially since the late 1980s when diaspora began to attract systematic critical attention. The study of diaspora is generally characterized by both a centripetal and a centrifugal approach: the former, holding up the home nation as the ultimate reference point and thus viewing diasporas as distinct and cohesive entities, is concerned with demarcating the boundaries of the term by establishing categorical definitions and typologies; the latter, viewing diaspora as inhabiting an interstitial space in relation to the receiving nation and thus as a hybrid formation and social condition, is interested in diasporic subjectivity as a question of becoming. This opening up of the concept of diaspora, along with the increased global flow of people and parallel developments in other fields, has meant that, since the latter part of the 20th century, diaspora is examined in the adjacent contexts of globalization, postcolonialism, multiculturalism, transnationalism, and hybridity.