African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration


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Introduction

But did it stop being a diaspora once the Caribbean territory became the homeland? If diaspora can be regarded as a state of mind that imply not so much the idealization of the return but a commitment to the homeland along with a form of solidarity and a shared culture French Caribbeans relocated in Europe and elsewhere certainly qualify as part of the Caribbean diaspora.

But between these two perspectives there is room for a more complex scheme: a diaspora that changed over time -occupying the Caribbean territory as its own, adopting a French political membership, generating a new diaspora- and yet remained partly the initial diaspora demonstrating that instead of stopping to be one type of diaspora to become another it can transform itself.

It is an important theoretical contention that certainly deserves scrutiny. In her view:. Where postmodernism has flourished —in the Anglophone sphere— the Black world of the Americas has found itself veritably consecrated as diasporic and endowed with new qualities. In the Francophone sphere, which is still open to a more conventional sociology, the use of the term functions minimally or not at all for the same Black American world, since that world is presumed to follow the contours of a classical diaspora, especially in the development of a powerful community consciousness.

Such a reading presents a number of difficulties that are not absent in other contexts but might appear important in this case. To that respect this case certainly adds to the variety usually acknowledged to diasporas and might as well be regarded as an unexpected or an unconceivable form of modern diasporas. Is the French overseas department the exception in the Caribbean that confirms the rule? Or is it an example that invites to reconsider and rethink permanently the concept itself?

What types of border crossing effectively qualify as diaspora if the diasporic experience is to be different from transnationalism? Is assimilation necessarily incompatible with diasporic citizenship? What makes an individual a member of a diaspora?


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Characterizing is always an arduous task since one of the correlates of defining is excluding. Characterizing requires determining or explaining the conditions under which a word or an expression has internal and external significance. The question of what a word means and when it is meaningful to use it is important, not only to an understanding of language but also to an understanding of human experiences.

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Frege argues that the meaning of a name has two components, he distinguishes between the sense of an expression and its reference , between the thought it expresses and the object it represents. How does a diaspora come to exist? Considering such a question brings to light a number of distinctions. First, becoming part of a diaspora can result from a voluntary process of migration or from a forced project of relocation. Second, a diapora can result from the removal of massive numbers of a given society and their transfer to a single other location or dispersal to several others or from the accumulation of individual relocations from an initial society to another.

Voluntary migration is not a clear cut since migration is often, if not always, determined by some external cause rather than decided free of any external determination. Furthermore the circumstances in which one has to leave or decides to leave affect both the way in which one would rely to the homeland and the way she sees himself in relation to the homeland and to the community she will thereafter enter.

It seems fair to consider that the French Caribbean qualified at a point of history as part of the African diaspora according to the classic definition. Slaves were indisputably brought to the islands forcibly and constrained to settle far from their homeland. In other words, rather than being viewed as an ethnicity, diaspora may be alternatively considered as a framework for the study of a specific process of community formations.

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If the word diaspora can be used indistinctly to denote the people and the place where they live, does the fact that one is born in the Diaspora makes one necessarily diasporan? Or can one stop to be diasporan? Is it enough to leave the diaspora the place to stop being a diasporan? At what point does being in the diaspora make one of it? But such difficulties can be beneficial to the larger debate in the sense that, taken seriously, they can enlighten the way we think about diasporas and expose the complexities of such human experience.

African Diaspora Identities

Should one then conclude that since the politics of return are not fundamental this community cannot be looked upon as a diaspora? Thus, the negritude movement can be analyzed as claiming the necessity of a linkage with the homeland without making the return a requirement. This approach is fully compatible with the view that these societies and territories are members of the African diaspora. They, thereby, bring to light an unsuspected, because it is so too obvious, dimension of human behavior: tranversality.

This later perspective presents its own difficulties and I shall return to the particulars of them along with their implications on the idea of African Diaspora and moreover on considering the French Caribbean as part of the African Diaspora. We shall return to that question in the last section of this essay; though it is certainly not innocuous to speak of overseas French while discussing African diaspora in the Caribbean.

Therefore the claim can be made that it is not justified to speak of a diaspora in that case and that the term community is more adequate. However, the situation is more complex than it might seem. Firstly one might want to take into consideration not only migrations from the islands to the mainland but also from any given overseas department to any other overseas department which would make the destinations plural.

Secondly if those individuals were already diasporan —members of the African diaspora when living in the Caribbean— how their relocation would make them stop being diasporan? I would argue that the concept of diasporic identity corresponds better, to the extent that it allows a plurality —not limited to two— of components. The citizens of Martinique and Guadeloupe can certainly define themselves as Caribbean and French with no contradiction.

But beyond this apparent dualism it is not unreasonable to envision various ways to express both French-ness and Caribbean-ness and various ways to weight the part of French-ness and of Caribbean-ness and moreover an infinity of ways to express Caribbean-ness that is itself plural. Many of these islanders who live on the mainland regard the islands as their homeland although it might become less true of those born on the mainland. It is fairly possible that the second generation and a fortiori third generation, regard the islands as the place their parents came from rather than their homeland.

However, they might, at the same time, remain attached to a culture —or part of a culture— that identifies and singularizes them. Here again every attempt to define —and therefore to exclude— remains difficult and seems hardly compatible with the idea of an identity that is open, mixed, changing, and non-exclusive.

Are both cultural and structural assimilation required to move out of the condition of diasporan or does that create another form of diasporic experience -one that does not imply the possibility of return but supposes loyalties to both territories and political entities when cultural assimilation does not mean acculturation? If that is the case, then once again the French Caribbean in particular and the Caribbean in general can serve as examples of what diasporas can be, both as processes and conditions.

But do they stop being part of the initial diaspora to become a cultural diaspora when they migrate to France or any other country? It is worth noticing that this would concern also other groups such as people of Indian 21 or Chinese descent from these territories. Indeed these societies, each of them with its particularities, present mixed ethnic features but define themselves from their common culture in which language is a determining factor. Before examining how much of this diasporic identity Antilleans are able to express in the Hexagon or wherever they relocate, one must interrogate the diasporic identity developed by French Caribbeans within the geographical boundaries of the Caribbean.

Over time, changes had been occurring and Creole entered a limited sphere of the mainstream spectrum with, for instance, the creation of elective Creole language classes in schools and of a national test for Creole language teachers. It is therefore important to acknowledge the constant and necessarily unachieved struggles that regulate the construction of this diasporic identity.

I would argue that the political and cultural dimensions are entangled. Moreover, it is my contention that it is dangerous to focus exclusively on the cultural to the detriment of the other aspects of the dynamics of this human experience.

Diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. Both notions describe the openness of Caribbean identity.

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They agree on a frontier between what is authentically Creole and what is not and a fortiori between what is legitimate and what is not. These positions express the complexity of writing and examining construction of identity in general and diaspora in particular.


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  • But the position required here is one of uncertainty, imbalance, possibility and movement and it is a difficult standpoint. As Glissant puts it:. The question that arises is the following: this chaos that fissures the being and divides the world is it the chaos that precedes apocalypses, ends of world, as a certain literature defines it? My poetic is that nothing is nicer that the chaos- and that there is nothing nicer than the world-chaos.

    I would certainly subscribe to the idea of a cultural diasporic identity but I want to suggest that this cultural diaspora needs also to be regarded as partly political to the extent that the cultural is nourished of political and social struggles.


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    • At a deeper level, French Antilleans have always shared a Faustian pact with the French state. Should they choose to abandon their Africanness and embrace Mother France, they would become French people, citizens, members of a world culture and civilization. Two possible consequences arise from this pact. The more positive is that the French live up to the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. It seems to me that if this identity is to be considered as open we should accept that all individuals might not define themselves the same way.

      In the context of other diasporas, it is important to acknowledge that some members might choose not to return when returning is a viable option. Similarly I suggest that if we are to think in non-authoritarian terms about the French Caribbean we should also be prepared to consider those who might choose to completely assimilate.

      African Diaspora Identities Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration

      However, since this assimilation would not be enforced upon them it would remain possible for those who want to maintain a distinctive cultural identity to do so either against the dominant culture or along with it. According to Laguerre,. The concept of diasporic citizenship adds the transnational aspect to the classic definition of citizenship. We conceive of diasporic citizenship as the situation of the individual who lives outside the boundaries of the nation-state to which he or she had formally held primary allegiance and who experiences through transnational migration or the redesign of the homeland boundaries the subjective reality of belonging to two or more nation-states.

      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration
      African Diaspora Identities: Negotiating Culture in Transnational Migration

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