Italian worldwide emigration and the diaspora paradigm: a critical reassessment
Stefano Luconi (University of Florence)
Paper short abstract:
After reviewing the theoretical debate on the notion of diaspora in migration studies, the paper argues that this concept can hardly be applied to the Italian case since emigration from Italy has had characteristics of its own that are at odds even with the most comprehensive definition of diaspora.
Paper long abstract:
The outflow of more than twenty-nine million people between 1861, when the Italian peninsula was politically unified, and 1985 has been perhaps the most significant social phenomenon in Italy's post-unification history. Italians scattered from adjoining France and Switzerland to the Americas and antipodean Australia. The loss in population was so haemorrhagic that New York and Buenos Aires soon became home to more people of Italian birth and parentage than any city in Italy. In the last few years, an ever-growing number of scholars have used the term diaspora to define Italian emigration. This paper reviews the theoretical debate on the notion of diaspora in the field of migration studies and examines whether such a category can aptly describe people's exodus from the Italian peninsula. It concludes that the concept of diaspora can hardly be applied to the Italian case because emigration from Italy has had characteristics of its own that are at odds even with the most comprehensive redefinition of diaspora in current literature. Rather than a worldwide diasporic scattering of people, Italian migration has been a continuous inflow and outflow of individuals - often the same individuals - across the country's borders. Confining the concept of diaspora to the Jewish and Armenian experiences of forced exile alone seems a rather narrow application of this notion. But defining diaspora as a mere dispersion of an originally homogeneous group regardless of the timing, dynamics, and causes related to emigration sounds too broad an use because it fails to highlight differences in emigration mechanics and characteristics among single nationalities. Primarily a pursuit of economic opportunities abroad by people who felt rejected by their own native country and long retained sub-national identities before assimilation within their host societies, Italian global emigration has had specific features of its own that are both at odds with the classic definition of diaspora and unable to stand out in scholarship within the framework of the unbound reformulations of such a category.