Studies of the transnational and cosmopolitan diasporic experience often romanticize the idea of returning to the homeland—and in the process, position this desire as being central to the diasporic individual’s identity. However, connection to an imagined homeland does not fully encompass the spectrum of hybridizations and multicultural identities that diaspora communities experience. This perspective is colonialist and patriarchal and defines diasporic people as the “other,” which in turn cannot be separated from “otherizing” based on gendered social roles, since individuals in a diaspora have different experiences depending on their gender. This paper offers a critique of previous diasporic identity studies and employs concepts from both gender studies and postcolonial theory in order to propose new frameworks for analyzing how diasporas define their cultural identities. Through a decolonialization of the terminology and a closer examination of gender dynamics, these communities can be analyzed beyond previous researchers’ patriarchal, nation-centric lens.
Deborah Oliveros is pursuing a Masters in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University. With a background in film studies, mass communications, and bilingual proficiency, Deborah has focused her research on the intersection of technology, political change, cultural identity and gender representation in media. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Volume 19, Issue 2 • Spring 2019
Diasporic communities negotiate and redefine concepts of cultural identity, ethnicity, gender, representation, multiculturalism, politics, and media in an environment that is built on intense interaction with a diversity of cultures and identities. They often find ways to connect to, but also question and redefine the principles and values of their own culture in comparison with the ones in which they are immersed.
However, it is challenging to understand the transnational and cosmopolitan lives of diasporas, both as individuals and as a collective, because traditional studies of the diasporic experience often romanticize the idea of returning to the homeland, which does not fully encompass the spectrum of multicultural identity in migrant communities. This generalization comes from the colonizers’ attempts to “otherize” the colonized through dehumanization and subjugation.
Developments in gender studies, second wave feminism, and feminist politics have significantly impacted the way scholars understand and approach diasporas. A gendered lens highlights not only how different the diasporic experience might be between men and women, but also how gender roles impact individuals’ levels of agency between cultures – this applies to non- binary individuals as well since these binary gender roles also inform the performance that is expected and accepted from them in these environments. However, in “Diasporas and Gender” (2010), Nadje Al-Ali says that “as in other fields of study, large segments of diaspora studies continue to either pay only limited attention to frequently narrow conceptualizations of gender or even display complete gender blindness”(118).Therefore, diasporas cannot be fully understood and studied without taking into account how the control—in terms of laws, rights, and political dynamics—and representation of women’s bodies and sexualities inform and impact the context in which fluid diasporic individuals build communities and cultural identities.
In order to better understand multiculturalism, transnationality, and a fluid cultural identity, it is necessary to break from the nation-centered and gendered binary perspective and assess the multiple ways in which diasporic individuals assert themselves in interconnected societies. Media spaces in which representation is available and possibilities of expression are allowed, such as film and television, not only serve as a sounding board for how society is able to re-imagine its current state, but also serves as a mirror for expressing and realizing the self and the concept of belonging across different spaces and identities.
In order to understand how these binaries and categorizations were created and what it means for media representation of diasporic communities, a few key terms should be introduced into the conversation.
Cosmopolitanism: “Comprising a combination of attitudes, practices and abilities gathered from experiences of travel or displacement, transnational contact and diasporic identification” (Vertovec 2010, 64).
Culture/Cultural Identity: “The mass of life patterns that human beings in a given society learn from their elders and pass on to the younger generation, is imprinted in the individual as a pattern of perceptions that is accepted and expected by others in a society (Singer 1971, 6-20). Cultural identity is the symbol of one’s essential experience of oneself as it incorporates the worldview, value system, attitudes, and beliefs of a group with which such elements are shared” (Adler 1997, 24-25).
Diaspora: “Ethno-national groups whose members reside out of their home country (moved from there either forcibly or voluntarily) and who retain a sense of membership in their group of origin and a collective representation and concern for the wellbeing of their homeland which plays a significant role in their lives in both a symbolic and normative sense” (Morawska 2011, 1030).
Hybridity/Hybridization: For the purposes of this paper, hybridization refers to the combination of related cultural elements of two or more different backgrounds “[it] characterize[s] the dual forces of globalization and localization, cohesion and dispersal, disjuncture and mixture, that capture transnational and transcultural dialectics” (Kraidy 2002, 14).
Intersectionality: An analytical frame challenging previous gender studies which tend to generalize the marginalization of minorities in regard to gender while failing to address race as a categorization of oppression within the marginalized, “to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis (Crenshaw 1989, 140).”
Multicultural/ Multiculturalism: “A person whose essential identity is inclusive of different life patterns and who has psychologically and socially come to grips with a multiplicity of realities. [They embody] a core process of self-verification that is grounded in both the universality of the human condition and the diversity of cultural forms. The multicultural person is intellectually and emotionally committed to the basic unity of all human beings while at the same time recognizing, legitimizing, accepting, and appreciating the differences that exist between people of different cultures” (Adler 1997, 24-25).
Otherize: View or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. Referring to them in these terms strips them of their identity and ‘otherizes’ them as foreigners (Oxford Dictionary, ‘otherize’).
Post-colonialism: The analysis of the effects of colonialism and imperialism in the exploitation, erasure and control of the colonized.For the purpose of this paper,post- colonialism refers to the power structure between colonizers and colonized resulting in the otherization of the latter. Often in conversation with themes of resistance, cultural identity and hybridization.
Transnationalism: Assumption that society and the nation-state tend to be coterminous, many recent approaches to globalization and transnationalism pose a research agenda that implicitly and often explicitly rests on interactions among nation-states as societies and propose that the task of a transnational studies is to examine such exchanges between national societies. (Robinson 1998, 566)
A Revision on the Colonial Terminology of Identity
Post-colonialism theory has helped scholars understand the gendered nature of power structures. In History of Sexuality: Volume 1 (1990), Michel Foucault writes, “The primary concern [of colonialism] was not repression of the sex of the classes to be exploited,but rather the body,vigor,longevity, progeniture, and descent of the classes that ‘ruled’” (123). Foucault argues that the colonizers’ desire to preserve their own life provoked four focuses of knowledge and power: 1) the feminine body; 2) children’s sexuality; 3) the regulation of births; and 4) the psychiatrization of perversions (104- 5). This gendered categorization works by valuing certain bodies over others; it consists of a series of institutional and regulatory interventions—a pattern of biopolitics. It is through this framework that diasporas, and particularly diasporic women, have to navigate their agency and cultural identities.
In “Toward a Decolonial Feminism” (2010), Maria Lugones proposes a decolonizing of gender to enact a critique of a racialized, colonial, and capitalist heterosexual gender- oppressive system. Building on Foucault’s work, Lugones exposes the hierarchical dichotomies imposed by colonization that strive to differentiate between human and non-human, and specifically between men and women, in favor of the Western cisgender heterosexual man. Introducing the term “coloniality of gender,” Lugones (2010, 743) refers to the classification of people in terms of power and gender, and the process of dehumanization and subjectification, that attempt to “otherize” the colonized. She argues that it is a global, capitalist, colonial system successful in its destruction of peoples, knowledges, and relations. This is important to understand in order to analyze how diasporas are able to navigate this power structure. Lugones states that the dialogue and negotiation in the colonial difference is critical for resisting that dehumanization and exclusion. To that effect, she proposes feminism as an instrument toward the destruction of those constrictive worlds of meaning. In this fractured space, resisting the coloniality of gender occurs through an understanding of the world that is shared and understood by others as well, providing recognition. In that sense, a decolonial feminism, she says, aides to see each other as resisters without necessarily binding themselves to the worlds of meaning in which these spaces of resistance occur.
Lugones argues that, in spite of its efforts, colonization did not encounter a submissive and malleable group of people ready to be shaped. Instead, coloniality—attempting to reduce the colonized to being less than human—has always been in tension with complex cultural, political, economic, and religious individuals whose practices were not replaced but instead put in dialogue with the colonizers’ practices. This implies that the process of colonization was not always passive for the colonized, and that these communities are always re-imagining, re-defining and re-negotiating meanings within this clashing space of resistance.
Many authors have debated the concept of hybridity to the point that it has become a catch-all word. However, if applied to the dynamics previously expressed by Lugones, hybridization specifically “characterize[s] the dual forces of globalization and localization, cohesion and dispersal, disjuncture and mixture, that capture transnational and transcultural dialectics” (Kraidy 2002, 14). In this way, hybridization surfaces as a type of resistance to the colonial project of binary subjugation.
Understanding the dichotomy between the powerful and those without power is critical in order to analyze how diasporic women are often represented in film and television and how that representation impacts the process of redefining their cultural identity.Through self-representation in film and television, diasporas are able to reimagine themselves and thereby challenge this constrictive colonial perspective.
“Where Are You From?” Beyond a Nation-Centric Approach to Diasporas
Building on the idea of colonization as a binary-enforcing and otherizing mechanism that encompasses culture and ethnicity, in the essay “Nation, Ethnicity and Community” (2010), Gerd Baumann agrees with Lugones, but further delves into the idea of a nation-centered lens for the colonized, often referred to as “the people without history,” as one of the main issues around how these concepts are socially constructed:
Europe around 1500 […] invented the hyphen that transformed the state into a so-called nation-state, thus translating an efficient form of multi-ethnic organization into a purportedly cultural identity, and hence starting up entirely new, and often self-destructive, mechanisms of civic and cultural inclusion and exclusion. (45)
This nation-centered outlook is present in diaspora studies that tend to generalize a binary between country of origin and country of residence as the main filter through which diasporas create new cultural meanings in these environments. Some authors talk about “an allegiance to and romanticizing of the ancestral homeland”, or the “meanings of return” as in “living in exile, constantly thinking of the homeland” (Brinkerhoff 2009, 55) or, as Morawska challenges, the perspective that “their relations with the host country are inherently distant—they are in it but not of it; and that diasporism and (im)migrant transnationalism constitute two distinct phenomena” (2011, 1031).
Morawska describes the work from previous scholars such as William Safran (2004), Gabriel Sheffer (2003), Rogers Brubaker (2005), and Stephane Dufoix (2008) who offered various concepts of the term. Morawska combines some of these aspects to present a unified concept of diaspora and later, challenge it:
Ethno-national groups whose members reside out of their home country (moved from there either forcibly or voluntarily) and who retain a sense of membership in their group of origin and a collective representation and concern for the wellbeing of their homeland which plays a significant role in their lives in both a symbolic and normative sense. (2011, 3)
The etymology of the term dates back more than 2,500 years and originates in Greek speiro (to sow) and dia (over). Georgiou’s article, “Transnational Crossroads for Media and Diaspora: Three Challenges for Research,” describe the work of Marienstras (1988), Safran (1991) and Cohen (1997) as having reconceptualized “diaspora in addressing the diverse experience of populations who have moved and settled across the globe throughout human history” (Georgiou 2007, 13). Research like this, Georgiou finds, suggests epistemological and conceptual approaches that challenge the traditional generalizing angle of past studies.
Even though the analysis of the term is still historically based and maintains the link to the homeland, the diversification of spaces and media have an impact in how we analyze and study these communities. As Cohen puts it:
Transnational bonds no longer have to be cemented by migration or by exclusive territorial claims. In the age of cyberspace,a diaspora can, to some degree, be held together or re-created through the mind, through cultural artefacts and through a shared imagination. (1997, 26)
Cohen’s shared imagination relates to Femke Stock’s work on memory.In the essay,“Home and Memory,” Stock states that the focus on memories as the heart of a collectively shared past neglects that memories of home are not necessarily accurate reproductions or settled experiences, but they are flexible reconstructions overshadowed by the current environment of the person and their own recollection and notion of home —referring to both the homeland and the home as physical spaces and symbols of belonging at the same time. “The act of remembering is always contextual, a continuous process of recalling, interpreting and reconstructing the past in terms of the present and in the light of an anticipated future” (Stock, 2010, 24). Film and television are part of this process of remembering. How a community is depicted can reinforce or challenge historical ideologies.
Bailey et al. agree with Lugones in analyzing the phenomenon of diaspora through a postcolonial angle. Specifically, the authors take a closer look and describe the works of Bhabha (1996), Brah (1996), Gilroy (1991; 1993), Hall (1990), Spivak (1987), among others and find that there have been previous attempts to look deeper into the cultural diasporic experience beyond the particular groups directly engaged with it. Bailey et al. suggest that these studies showcase the fact that, in the postcolonial world, hybridity is inescapable and characterizes all cultures, even the ones that are not diasporic.
John Hutnyk, in his essay “Hybridity” (2010), examines how different authors have debated the concept and the advantages and disadvantages of using it to study and understand diasporas. Hutnyk argues that “hybridity appears as a convenient category at ‘the edge’ or contact point of diaspora, describing cultural mixture where the diasporized meets the host in the scene of migration” (2010, 59). He quotes Nikos Papastergiadis who sees hybridity as the “twin processes of globalization and migration” (Papastergiadis 2000, 3). These authors present hybridity not necessarily as a mix of two worlds but as a third space in which modern societies find themselves interacting, stating that hybridity is not solely belonging to the diasporic but to other groups who encounter this communicational exchange that impacts them as well.
Furthermore, film and television offer opportunities for diasporic women to redefine their cultural identity without completely binding themselves to the meanings of both the homeland and the current home. For example, diasporic women can be represented in these spaces beyond “this or that” (i.e., Cuban or American) and instead represented as “and/ and” (i.e., Cuban and American and queer).
To further develop the idea of hybridity, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of transnational culture flows. Peggy Levitt, in her essay “Transnationalism” (2010), states that although transnationalism regularly focuses on the interconnectivity between people and the significance of nation-state boundaries, this conceptualization implies that the interest and benefits of study are placed in the nation-centered dynamic: “By transnational, we propose a gaze that begins with a world without borders, empirically examines the boundaries that emerge, and explores their relationship to unbounded arenas and processes. The analysis does not assume a fixed spatial unit of analysis” (40). Transnationalism is not a new concept, neither is it solely inherent to the diasporic experience. However, when these characteristics are highlighted and freed of national and physical borders it broadens the spaces and the impact of transnationalism for both the diasporas and the societies they encounter.
Georgiou delves further into the transnational concept describing past studies from scholars such as Boyarin (1994), Durham Peters (1999), and Hall (1990, 1992) as also emphasizing the idea that the formation of diasporas showcases “the mobility of ideas, artefacts and people in time and space” (Georgiou 2007, 14). Furthermore, these interactions are not firmly set entities defined by blood relations, they are decentralized cultural formations that sustain real and imagined connections spread across populations and/or a country of origin (14). This mobilization of ideas and people in time in space is fluid. Stock describes the work of Al-Ali and Koser (2002) as well as Salih (2003) in order to emphasize the argument that “rather than referring to one single home, in diasporic settings feelings of belonging can be directed towards both multiple physical places and remembered, imagined and/or symbolic spaces” (Stock 2010, 27).
In Peoples, Nations, and Communication (1966), Deutsch, referring to the concept of “peoples,” says “the community which permits a common history to be experienced as common, is a community of complementary habits and facilities of communication”(96).What other challenges might exist in the intersectional relations of new generations product of diasporas that may have a different experience of their culture—or hybridization/multicultural— than the one passed on through generations using these “facilities of communication” such as language, symbols and customs? How do culture and common history as “shared experiences” evolve through time, especially in terms of forming an individual identity and sense of belonging in a cosmopolitan, and highly mediated, world? How does that affect an individual’s agency to negotiate and redefine the categories in which they have to exist in a society?
Georgiou (2007) expressed that, within the field of cosmopolitanism, scholars continuously debate the intent of using a nation-centric lens as the angle for research on diasporas. The cosmopolitan global city cannot be understood by this limited viewpoint:
cosmopolitanism is partly shaped in these urban settings, as their migrant and diasporic dwellers establish a dynamic cultural and financial presence. Such creative practices (e.g. music, [film and television]) sometimes allow urban dwellers to develop a common cosmopolitan language of communication in the city and in transnational spaces. (Georgiou 2007, 20)
There needs to be greater recognition that the processes and connections within these societies go beyond and outside of the linear order of nations and/or nationalities. In agreement with what Lugones previously expressed, Georgiou reflects on the influence of this approach in diasporas studies so far. This duality of territorial origin and destination prioritizes, on one side, the concept of nation as the main category and, on the opposite side, the Western capitalist model as the destination that all “others” should strive for.
This does not mean that we should completely abandon the concept of nation. After all, we live in a world with borders and with laws and policies that are directly linked to nationality. However, national politics cannot avoid the dynamics and the interaction with an international context. In order to break from the binary angle of previous studies of diaspora, it is necessary to take the nation concept not as the center but as one of the themes, filters, and/or categories through which these communities can be analyzed.
Representation of these communities in film and television play a critical role in either reinforcing this nation-centric perspective or successfully offering scenarios in which it can be challenged. With the aid of technological advancement in production and distribution, diasporic communities are creating their own original film and television content in which they are able to re-imagine their cultural identities while breaking away from a nation-centric and Westernized perspective. However, this is not a phenomenon attributed uniquely to the technological progress in the field. Instead, these have only enhanced a cultural process that was already in place.
In “El Hilo Latino: Representation, Identity and National Culture” (1993) Chon A. Noriega delves into the history of Latino identity and film in the United States and its connection to the civil rights movement. Noriega proposes that the reason behind the surge of alternative Latinx film festivals in the early 1970s from Chicano, Puerto Rican and Cuban American communities was a direct response to the activism of the time and a form of resistance to the invisibility in the mainstream film market. Most of the creators behind the productions were activists and the projects presented at these forums had an impact in introducing new perspectives to the conversation around issues of:
Latino representation and self- representation within historical, cultural, racial and political contexts […] The initial demands for access to the mass media sought a ‘tool’ for communication that crossed the boundaries between political action, intercultural dialogue, cultural heritage, and artistic expression. (45-50)
Re-defining Gender Roles in Diasporas
The impact and contribution of the women’s movement and second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s in every field is sometimes overwhelming to grasp, but specifically the challenge to systematic exclusion of women, and the normalization of gender ideologies, presented the opportunity for a much broader analysis in diasporas studies about one or two decades afterwards.
Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949), was one of the first to articulate and describe the oppression that women face as they are categorized as the “other.” She explored, among other aspects, the importance of the concept of slave labor and how it related to women’s position in society to understand the oppression and subjugation of women. However, when applying this lens to the experience of diasporic women, a follow up idea arises: going back to the argument of “otherization” in colonialism presenting the Western cisgender heterosexual man against the “other”, it is also valid to propose that the categorization of Western cisgender heterosexual can be applied to women as well. In that sense, non-white, non-heterosexual women suffer differently because gender is just one of the many categories in which they are being oppressed.
In “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” Crenshaw proposed the term intersectionality to address the issues around a gender-centric analysis that disregards the other axis through which women are marginalized, principally race in addition to others. This “erases Black women in the conceptualization, identification and remediation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privileged members of the group” (Crenshaw 1989, 140).
Nadje Al-Ali highlights the importance of a gendered perspective in order to demand a more accurate depiction of diasporas: “1) including the experiences of women, and 2) exploring the multifarious ways women might experience and contribute to diaspora formations differently from men” (118). To complement this idea, issues such as race and class also make the experience of these women different not only from men but among themselves as well.
The underlying issue that many scholars from interdisciplinary backgrounds, and particularly feminists, often question is if the diasporic experience enables an environment or contextual background that provides opportunities to challenge, reproduce or even reinforce previous patriarchal colonizing gender norms. As it appears, that is the case, then how do film and television representation of women in these communities play a role in that process of redefinition and resistance?
The commercialization of the female body as a dichotomy has been analyzed before by feminist scholars. In “The Uses of Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (1978), Audre Lorde conceptualizes the erotic as a “resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling” (53). This concept, Lorde says, has been corrupted, distorted and used as a source of female oppression, often removed from all areas of women’s lives, except for sex.
This happens simultaneously and in collaboration with the post-colonial binary determinism that represents diasporic women in media as a commodity: “The economy…requires that women lend themselves to alienation and consumption, and to exchanges in which they do not participate” (172), shares Luce Irigaray in This Sex Which is Not One (1985). Women as commodities are “divided into two irreconcilable ‘bodies’: [the] ‘natural’ body and [the] socially valued, exchangeable body” (180). In this sense, diasporic women’s bodies retain value in the pleasure—visual, physical, metaphoric—they provide to heterosexual men.
It is crucial to take into account how the control—in terms of laws, rights, and political dynamics—and representation of women’s bodies and sexualities informs the context in which fluid diasporic individuals build ethnic and cultural identities. Nadje Al-Ali, in “Diasporas and Gender” (2010), states that we must understand the various levels in which women contribute and participate in this process:
1) as biological reproducers of members of ethnic collectivities; 2) as reproducers of the boundaries of ethnic and national groups; 3) as actors in the ideological reproduction of the collectivity and as transmitters of its culture; 4) as signifiers of ethnic and national groups; and 5) as participants in national, economic, political and military struggles (Yuval-Davis 1989, as cited in Al-Ali 2010, 120).
Based on this, and drawing from patriarchal and colonial ideas brought up by Lugones (2010) and Bailey (2007), we can add “the body” to the list of spaces in which diasporic mediation and negotiation happen through representation and categorization: “Women brought up in patriarchal societies have their bodies defined and represented by a masculine orientation in social symbolism. The ‘Latina’ body has a double signifier; it is free but also signifies a reproductive body working for the patria, the fatherland. Conversely, while subordinated to British values, the Latina’s body becomes an exotic, racialized body or an impoverished, health- risk body” (Bailey 2007, 217). These women often have to negotiate their identity based on patriarchal stereotypes, reproduced by film and television.
In spite of successful stories of women broadening their participation in society through effective engagement with diasporic context, Bailey says the reality of the issue goes deeper than that. Drawing from the colonial terminology of “otherization,” the racialized body of the Latina woman, the body of “women of color”, masks the reality of their multicultural configuration:
The label lies on a binary opposition between white and non-white, in which it is assumed that unless a woman is white, she is a woman of color. The maintenance of this binary reproduces the superiority of ‘whiteness’ and brown, yellow, red, black, and mixed race become marks of difference. This way of thinking […] limits the Latina’s voice to demand for inclusion in an order of representation marking her as “other.” (Schutte 2000, 71)
In Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality (1984), Gayle Rubin says, “We never encounter the body unmediated by the meanings that cultures give to it ” (149). Rubin documents and analyzes the many ways in which political institutions have served as a weapon to oppress socially-constructed “punishable” sexuality. Building on Foucault’s work, in addition to other scholars’ thoughts on radical theory of sex, Rubin wonders how we should talk about sexuality if the only terms we have are products of a homophobic, misogynistic, and racist perspective. For the purpose of this analysis, that question can be extended to how can we talk about diasporic women’s experience and agency if the only terms and meanings we have are products of a post-colonial, binary, misogynistic, and racist perspective?
How do we break from this mold and find the correct terms to have this conversation? Rubin says that as long as race and gender are thought of as biological instead of socially-constructed, it won’t be possible to analyze the politics of them (149). Until we deconstruct these stereotypes, we’ll just continue to read between the lines, and these communities will continue to exist in the space between.
Studying the Representation of the Diasporic Experience
Audience and media consumption studies’ use of ethnographies to determine habits opened the door for many scholars to, through this interdisciplinary approach, analyze diasporic and migrant uses of media and communication technologies in relation to identity formation; as noted by the description and analysis performed by Georgiou on the work of scholars in the field such as Aksoy and Robins (2000), El- Nawawi and Iskandar (2002), her previous work on 2002 and 2006, Gillespie (1995), Kolar-Panov (1996), Morley (1999), Naficy (1993), and Ogan (2001). In the last two decades, there has also been great interest in researching new media technologies and their impact on the formation and maintenance of communities and network for diasporas. In a highly mediated and globalized context, diasporic individuals constantly navigate both physical and online spaces which have specific codes of conduct that allow them (or restrict them) from exerting their agency. These characteristics are also present in the contemporary production of film and television representing these communities.
With the integration of new technologies of communication and a wider distribution of these texts, new transnational and borderless spaces have appeared. In this context, the production of meanings through media has changed from being controlled by media corporations to being an ongoing negotiation with the consumers who, in the case of diasporas, now have new ways of participating in their own representation. Georgiou establishes four characteristics that describe this new environment:
- Media production is more diverse and includes corporate, public, community, niche media
- Media corporations are less able to predict audiences’ interests as they are geographically and culturally dispersed
- Content is produced locally and globally, in different languages and by people who might be professional or amateurs
- A growing number of audience members are more media literate than ever. Their consumption includes different media (local, national, transnational; corporate, public, alternative; large and small). Thus, the way they relate with production and text of each medium is far from linear and predictable. (Georgiou 2007, 23)
In “Diasporic Mediated Spaces,” Sonja de Leeuw and Ingegerd Rydin (2007) take on a case study performing an analysis on data collected between 2001-2005 of the European CHICAM (Children in Communication about Migration) project through which they interviewed more than sixty children ages 10-14 and their families in six European countries about media practices, in addition to a similar set of data on media use among migrant adolescents in the Netherlands (de Leeuw, 2006).
Among the results, they found that television served as a platform for negotiating the “identity of being different,” as children watched productions about the home country while also watching local productions to understand and adapt to the host culture more efficiently. Through sharing the viewing experience with their parents, “[homeland] media consumption […] reflects both a discourse of nostalgia focusing on the there and then, and a discourse of desire, focusing on the there and now” (Dayan 1999 and Christopoulou and de Leeuw 2004, as cited by de Leeuw 2006, 191). Within this discourse, the children perceive the function of media as providing them with feelings of belonging. But the opposite could also be the case, as when the culture of the home country was perceived as foreign and remote to the children who have been in the new country for almost their entire lives (de Leeuw and Rydin 2007, 191).
In this case, after analyzing various forms of media use, the authors found that all media is used in the process of construction and reconstruction of identity, just in different ways. In some cases, the same media was used to both keep up with the past and to connect to a new future, participating actively in both spaces:
media use reflects a continuous dialogical negotiation of identities within and outside the family; within the family context, in the micro public sphere of the living room between parents and children, and in relation to the macro public sphere of the new country. The media may thus construct dialogical spaces, mediated spaces. (de Leeuw 2006, 192)
Even though the study effectively addresses that these results are not bound to a nationality-centric approach, one aspect that the study fails to acknowledge is how gender roles and their representation in both the homeland and the new home inform the cultural identities of the children and their perceived and actual agency in challenging them, especially considering how different those might be between the culture of their origin and the western European countries that are their new home. How might a more thorough analysis of gender roles broaden the findings of this study (and similar ones)?
In “Transnational Identities and the Media,” Olga Guedes Bailey addresses issues of ethnic identity and diaspora in the specific case of Latin American women in Liverpool, England, and the role of diasporic media in shaping a transnational identity (Bailey 2007). The author states that diasporic media is a key part of the experience of hybridity as it presents “a third cultural space where diasporas are creating sites for representation and where different forms of resistance and syncretism are valued” (212). The study consisted of interviews of thirty-five individuals and visits to six families over six months. The participants included recently arrived immigrants, older immigrants (now British citizens) and British-born of immigrant parents. Despite bonding via a local Latin American association, the group continues to argue constantly due to “internal tensions regarding their own perception of themselves as ‘diasporic’ [and] their own social, economic, and gender positions” (214). This is not surprising given all the nuances and variations within the Latin American ethnic category. In that regard, Bailey writes, “The signifier ‘Latin American’ encompasses a large and diverse geographical region, with different histories, languages, cultures, and political systems. Latin American identity is typified by cultural diversity which makes problematic to attempt to fit a particular group in a homogeneous category such as ‘Latin American’ that hides the complexity of its people” (Bailey 2007, 214).
For women in this community, navigating the diasporic context consists of “picking and choosing” (216). They maintain patriarchal traditions and roles brought from the homeland until they are no longer useful for adaptation to the host culture. Additionally, in this new environment, these women are constantly required to re-define themselves as independent and ‘bread-winners,’ which broadens their level of participation in the public sphere to an extent that was not possible in the homeland. As Baily notes, this is the idea of “shopping around” for cultural cues without losing “Latinidade” (215). Bailey describes the work of Bhabha (1994), Badrioti (1994), and Clifford (1994) in order to contextualize how this post-modern approach to the identity of nomads and hybrids suggests that the bonds of ethnic ties and the fixity of boundaries have been replaced by shifting and fluid identities (Bailey 2007, 216). However, this negotiation is not without tension or cultural appropriation from political, economic, social and religious forces. Particularly, the commercialization of ‘Latin’ identity by multinational companies and media, i.e., “a stereotype of ‘Latin women’…as [being] ‘exotic’ and ‘sensual’ […] in adverts, film, television, and music” (216-7).
In order to move beyond this binary scholarly approach, it is important to recognize Latin American identities— in the specific case of these women in Liverpool— and diasporic identities in general as not exclusively relating to “ethnicity” or “homeland” or “either/or” but instead as being “and/and.” In other words, diaspora studies must embrace this new “and/and” space in which multiple identifications co-exist (Bailey 2007, 219).
It is challenging to understand the transnational and cosmopolitan lives of diasporas, in part due to the colonialist classification of people as being either normative or “other.” Another challenge comes from previous researchers’ failure to address not only how different the diasporic experience might be between men and women, but also how gender roles impact individuals’ levels of agency between cultures. In order to better understand hybridization, multiculturalism, transnationality, and a fluid cultural identity, it is necessary for diaspora research to break from its traditionally patriarchal, nation- centered perspective and begin to assess the multiple ways in which diasporic individuals are “and/and” (219).
To that end, further studies will need to approach diasporas by taking the following recommendations into account:
- Consider how the control—in terms of laws, rights, and political dynamics— and representation of women’s bodies inform and impact the context in which fluid diasporic individuals build community and personal identity.
- Consider the many ways in which diasporic individuals inhabit a highly digitalized world that allows for virtual, non-border spaces. For example, studies would benefit from further analysis of how diasporas engage with representation in digital media (including film and television) in order to redefine and reimagine their cultural identity.
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