EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Interrogating diaspora

Location Dept. Arch Anth LT1
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Martin Sökefeld (Munich University) email
Erik Olsson (Stockholm University) email
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Short Abstract

Departing from recent critique of Diaspora as a concept that is too vague on the one hand and too essentialising on the other, the workshop intends to interrogate the theoretical and empirical usefulness of the Diaspora concept.

Long Abstract

The concept of Diaspora has become very popular within the social and cultural sciences in recent times. The proliferation of the concept has been marked by its separation from paradigmatic cases of old Diasporas. The new focus is on the questioning of essentialised boundaries of communities, cultures and nations. Diaspora has been acclaimed as a concept that facilitates the accommodation of hybridity, movement, permeability of borders and fluidity of identification. The initial euphoria of Diaspora has given way to reservations, however. It has been argued that, contrary to intentions, the concept has served to essentialise communities by attaching them to particular places of origin, and that the meaning of Diaspora has been stretched to an extent that it has lost its analytical power by largely equating Diaspora with migrant communities. The workshop intends to interrogate the empirical and theoretical usefulness of the Diaspora concept and the specific empirical questions it raises. Three main issues will be focused on. The first is the general conceptual question of how to conceptualise Diaspora in a way that shuns essentialism and avoids equating it solely with migrant communities, but at the same time secures its analytical and comparative value. The second issue concerns questions that arise once we abstain from essentialising Diaspora. We need to ask why and how Diaspora communities are formed and how people are mobilised for Diaspora. Why are people attracted to ideas of Diaspora? How are different Diasporas maintained and intergenerationally reproduced? How are Diasporas transformed in the process of reproduction? A third issue of interest is the transnationality that is claimed to be a central feature in diasporic contexts. What does such transnationality signify, and how does it manifest itself in diasporic practices? We invite theoretically focused and empirically well-grounded papers that address these particular questions.


Chinese religions and history in the conceptualization of diaspora

Author: Terry Woo (N/A)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper proposes to look broadly at two related diasporas (people and religion over the long history of China) because this can offer a long historical and non-Western perspective in which to conceptualize diaspora. Even as Europeans are dispersed over the globe, one seldom reads about the diaspora of the English, the French and/or the Germans. One does read about the Acadian Expulsion, the Italians and Greeks in New York City or Toronto, or the Hispanics in California. The determining factor as to who is most often described as being in diaspora appears to be the proximity to power, expressed through culture, of western Europeans. In interrogating diaspora, we might remember that the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon west is relatively young; the history of China might thus offer an alternative in the conceptualization of diaspora.

Two elements will be highlighted. First, diaspora may not be permanent; second, religion (cultural values) influences notions of identity, settlement and plurality in diaspora. The history of China shows that displaced groups become "undisplaced" as they root themselves in their new homes.1 For example, northern Chinese from the fall of the various dynasties displaced by non-Chinese nomadic groups, settled in southern China with scanty records of return; these mixed ethnicities form a part of the contemporary Chinese population.2 This migration now continues outside of China, echoing early Chinese history, offering an understanding of diaspora that is different from the West Asian-Afro-European ones.

This simultaneous separation and integration in people (Han-Chinese, Hui-Chinese, Shanghai-Chinese, Sichuan-Chinese, and so on) is reflected in the diasporic formation of the religions. Shamanistic practices, familial rituals, teachings of the Ru (Confucians), Daoist beliefs, and leaving home to join the Buddhists are all variously separated, assimilated and acculturated in different combinations. These religions, once displaced and still separate but now syncretized and coexisting, would have been carried by the various refugee or missionary groups like the Central Asians, Mongolians, Manchurians, and what we now generally refer to as Han and Tang ren or people; all of them now form a part of what we know as Chinese. The religions like the people have become Chinese, a category which had not existed.

Chinese history therefore suggests that not all diasporas are intended to be nor understood as eternal. There are different kinds of diasporas and that over a long time diasporas can become faint memories of a pluralistic society. People and ideas can remain separate from home and host communities alike, like the medieval Jews in China, who were eventually assimilated; or those that are acculturated and influence indigenous communities and form new ones like Buddhism; and those that work invisibly, like Daoism. In short, the case of China shows that even what appears to be the most settled communities likely have in their history dispersal.


1) Wang Gungwu talks about luo di sheng gen (growing roots when falling to earth) in Ronald Skeldon (ed.), Reluctant Exiles? Migration from Hong Kong and the New Overseas Chinese. (1994) I apply this idea to the historical settlement of what we now call China.

2) This is difficult to get at from historical records but distinctive physical characteristics amidst the population will speak to the mixing of northerners and southerners. Some refer to being from somewhere else with no intention of return. For example, a family may have memories of fleeing from the north but are firmly settled in the south.

Interrogating Gypsy diaspora

Author: Paola Toninato (Warwick University)  email
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Long Abstract

In recent years, prominent Gypsy intellectuals and political activists have advocated the notion of a Gypsy diaspora in an effort to foster a common Gypsy identity that is able to transcend national, ethnic and cultural boundaries. The paper investigates the extent to which the Gypsy diaspora discourse has been influenced by dominant concepts of diaspora. By comparing a variety of self-representations and accounts of the Gypsies' origins, the paper aims to deconstruct essentialist notions of diaspora. It pays particular attention to ways in which Gypsies construct and re-invent the discourse about their origins in different socio-cultural contexts. It also compares views of non-academic and intellectual Gypsies and their understanding of diaspora.

Inside out: 'the English' in north-west Wales

Author: Angela Drakakis-Smith (Bangor University)  email
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Long Abstract

Over time and with changing circumstances, the term diaspora - from the Greek meaning simply dispersal - has accumulated meanings to the point where currently definitions do not necessarily describe as emphasise the notions of 'we/other', 'them/us'. Such differences and diversities have often (and ultimately) become hierarchicised, with 'the other', and 'them' often 'racialised', inferiorised and victimised. Tatla's definition embraces the idea of 'victim groups which have suffered in the process of settlement' (Tatla 1994:4). More recently, Bielenberg (2000:2) has pointed to a definition of the term which views diasporaic groups not as groups 'in a state of transition but as states of being in themselves' who, because they are viewed in the light of 'other' and 'minority' may never be allowed/able to cross the divide that separates 'them' and 'us'.

Population dispersals appear to have become grouped into two strands - dispersals occasioned by crises and which entail force/violence/war/famine/the break up of empire etc - eg the dispersal of Jews, Africans, Roma, those from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa (van Hear 1998) the Sikhs (Tatla 1999) the Irish (Bielenberg 2000) and the dispersals which occur as a result of individual circumstance/choice such as the pursuit of 'a better life', trade/work and/or 'colonial ambition' (Cohen 1997).

This paper is based on an empirical study undertaken in 2005 which examined the experience of 'the English' who have moved and settled into north west Wales. The movement of the British/white groups have been less of a subject of examination and yet the diaspora of 'the English'/British as colonisers is no less a diaspora and one which has repercussions for those colonised. Whilst colonisers are more often than not seen as the dominators and those colonised as the 'victims', this is often reversed when the 'power' of the colonisers has been removed or is neutralised.

Dr Angela Drakakis-Smith

(De)creolizing diaspora? The Creole struggle for (em)placement in multicultural Mauritius

Author: Candice Lowe (Vassar College)  email
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Long Abstract

Among the implicit premises of diaspora studies is first, the idea that diaspora populations subsist as ethno-racial minorities in their receiver nations and that political, symbolic and economic marginalization provide crucial supports for their reproduction. A second presumption is that the presence of diaspora challenges notions of purity associated with the nation and with universalism. However, the case of the Indian Ocean society of Mauritius challenges these apriorisms. In this island democracy, the Indian diaspora not only came to form a majority in society at large and in public institutions at the dawn of political independence in 1968, but Indo-Mauritians have since used their influence to act as arbiters of (all) diasporic heritage(s) by effecting a national paradigm of an ancestral-origins based multi-culturalism. That is, contrary to the expectation that gaining access to the means of national reproduction might lead to a decline in diasporic identification—at least for the politically dominant group, official claims to diasporic purity have intensified in the post-colonial era.

Members of society, namely Creoles, who self-identify not with a pure diasporic heritage, but with a "mixed" or ancestrally Mauritian one, are politically and economically confined to the margins, construed as incorrigibly "cultureless," and deemed a threat to the integrity of an otherwise healthy multi-cultural body. Thus even though Creoles comprise almost thirty per cent of the population, and are the only group to identify Mauritius as their primary ancestral homeland, Creoles' claim to national enfranchisement is still a matter of contestation. Some Creoles have responded to this predicament by engaging in the paradoxical attempt to decreolize on the local level by means of hyper-creolization on a global scale.

In this paper, I illustrate how "purities" are comprised of strategic mixing and suggest that state multiculturalism, as in the case of nationalisms commonly defined, can also function as a mechanism of homogenization towards particular ancestral roots. Additionally, my research reveals not only that the practice of diaspora can be central to the functioning of the "host" (rather than solely the "home") nation-state, but may also be a necessary aspect of belonging to it.

Italian worldwide emigration and the diaspora paradigm: a critical reassessment

Author: Stefano Luconi (University of Florence)  email
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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.

The making of 'diasporas' in post-socialist Russia

Author: Hyun-Gwi Park (Chung-Ang University)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper intends to contextualise the concept of 'diaspora' as a political term, particularly focusing on the ethnographic case of the Korean diasporas in contemporary Russia. This shall be done by juxtaposing the concepts of diaspora in the public and academic discussions in the West and Russia. Understanding 'diaspora' as a political claim or disclaimer rather than a theoretical concept, I am going to speculate on the political and cultural terrain of diaspora discourse in contemporary Russia. This will lead to an analysis of specific perceptions of central concepts such as 'homeland', 'displacement' and 'alienation' in diasporan discourse amongst the Koreans in the Russian Far East.

In diaspora studies in the West, the relationship between 'homeland' and the 'uprooted' people has been the main focus in the construction of ethnic identity and the sense of belonging. Thus, the term 'diaspora' usually presupposes an attachment with 'homeland'. This entails confusion in its usage, as 'diaspora' is often replaceable with 'minority', 'ethnic groups', 'immigrant communities'. As Clifford(1997) rightly pointed out, the more critical aspect of diasporas' historical experience which differentiates them from 'immigrants' or 'minority communities' is not an attachment with homeland per se but their 'sense of identity as centrally defined by collective histories of displacement' from homeland and this 'violent loss which cannot be "cured" by merging into a new national community'. Thus, the self-designation of 'diaspora' or the usage of that term as an analytical tool already presupposes a political claim for past 'loss' and present 'alienation' via the symbolic rhetoric of 'homeland' by both diasporas and diaspora studies scholars alike.

However, in contemporary Russia, diaspora discourse seemed to differ from that in the West in the sense it was invoked in order to divert the diasporan claim which is its equivalent in the West. Since the collapse of the USSR, 'the repressed peoples' forcibly deported during the Stalin purge have begun to demand their rights and compensation for past loss and suffering by the introduction of legislation in the early 1990s. This resulted in demands for restitution of 'territorial autonomy' or 'repatriation to homeland' by 'deported peoples' and strong antagonism to this claim by the settlers in the place vacated by the deported peoples, at least in the case of Koreans in the Russian Far East. The emergence and cultivation of 'diaspora' discourse in Russia since the mid-1990s coincides with the resolution of this 'chaotic' state of ethnic politics and mainly intends to reformulate the status of ethnic minorities, aiming to disaggregate 'territory' and 'people'. This can be seen as a departure from earlier Soviet policy, based as it was on the principle of allotment of territory to minor nationalities. This reformulation is enhanced by the encouragement of the trans-national re-connection of diaspora peoples with 'historical homeland'. For Koreans, not only was their historical homeland divided into South and North Korea, but also they were repressed and alienated because of having a 'homeland' outside the USSR. Hence an analysis of Korean diasporas' practice will require a critique of the main concepts in current diaspora discourse.

Bolivian urban folkmusic and diasporic communities

Author: Sari Pekkola (Department of Behavioural Sciences)  email
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Long Abstract

Many Bolivian urban folk musicians live permanently in Europe or in United States and maintain different kinds of contacts with Bolivia. International tours are an important part of the group's activities and new social networks are built up through these tours. Many musicians present a repertoire which give the European audience the 'authentically exotic' and 'indigenous' music of the Andean region. For a number of musicians living in Bolivia an organised tour to the northern part of the world, to the USA or Europe, is of great social, cultural and economical importance.

This paper aims to present some theoretical thoughts and empirical findings from a study about the meaning of Bolivian urban folk music culture in diaspora. The relationships between urban folk music and social and cultural organizations in the diaspora are focused. Questions how and why elements of musical traditions are reproduced in new contexts will be taken up. Transcultural relationships between musicians and a changing music culture will be discussed.

What transculturality may signify, and how does it manifest itself in diasporic practices are illustrated through empirical findings from case studies about musicians and a cultural events where Bolivian urban folkmusic is performed.

Diaspora nationalism as a gendered discourse: the Circassian diaspora in Turkey

Author: Setenay Nil Dogan (Sabanci University)  email
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Long Abstract

Since 1990s diaspora, a relatively old term has gained widespread circulation. It has become a tool for social science to investigate the hybrid, transnational and global sites of identities and politics which challenge the national order of things. The concept of diaspora rather than referring to particular experiences of some particular communities has now become crucial for social science to rethink the concepts of 'ethnicity' and 'nationalism' in the context of the processes of globalization.

However, there is a tendency in the theoretical accounts of diaspora to to talk of travel, inbetweenness and displacement in unmarked ways, and studies that explore the domains of diasporic complexity such as gender and class are lacking. However diasporic experiences, formations, histories and narratives are not independent of gender but grounded on gendered meanings, practices, hierarchies, discourses and experiences. This study argues that diaspora and diaspora nationalism embraced by some diasporic groups is a gendered discourse.

Within this study, Circassian diaspora in Turkey, an understudied diaspora will be explored to understand the gendered dimensions of diasporic identity and diaspora nationalism. From such a perspective, this study argues that the constructions of masculinity and femininity that are embraced by Circassian nationalists in Turkey have been central for defining, differentiating and locating the diasporic identity and experience. These constructions have been a significant part of the fragile stance that Circassian diaspora in Turkey has pursued vis-à-vis and through Turkish nationalism. Furthermore these constructions which are subject to change and reconstruction have worked to cope with the international developments regarding the post-Soviet conjuncture which has implied new understandings of the notions of homeland, identity and diasporic experience for the Circassian community in Turkey. Therefore particular constructions of masculinity and femininity have worked as formations of diaspora nationalism which locates itself not only vis-à-vis / through Turkish nationalism but also within the politics of the so-called homeland. Within diaspora nationalism, the discourse on the 'inbetweenness' of diasporas, connections with the homeland and host community, and diasporic condition are formed, recreated and reinvented through gender constructions. Exploring such gendered dimensions of diaspora nationalism allows us to rethink not only about diasporas but also about nationalism, ethnicity and globalization within which diasporas are embedded.

Interrogating childhood and diaspora

Author: Maren Bak (Göteborg University)  email
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Long Abstract

In recent research in social and cultural studies the concept of Diaspora has opened new ways of understanding migrants and the societies in which they live. However the Swedish theoretical development of the concept as well as the empirical research has overwhelmingly focused on the institutional level of society and on the adult migrant and how adults form or sustain diasporic communities and identities. We wish to unite the cultural diaspora research with the modern childhood research and interrogate children's participation in diasporic activities and networks, children's perception of self and possible diasporic identity, their contribution to diasporic and transnational cultural production based on a theoretical understanding of the competent child, who plays an active role in constructing her/his childhood.

The paper is based on a pilot study among 10-12 years old children in a Swedish school where students exclusively have their origin in ethnic groups other than Swedish. There is a wide variety in ethnic background, languages and religion among the children. We conduct group interviews dealing with topics such as the children's concepts of places of home and belonging, their perceptions of self, their activities in creating and sustaining social networks both in physical contact and in cyberspace, their use of language and the significance of different languages in different situations and relations, their thoughts and practices regarding religion and their dreams of future.

The aim of the study is to explore, scrutinize and analyze concepts like transnationalism, diaspora and diasporic consciousness in relation to childhood and thereby hopefully give more depth to the interrogation of diaspora as well as contribute to a reformulation of the dominant discourse on the incompetent migrant child towards a discourse on competence.

Maren Bak, Department of Social Work, Goteborg University

Kerstin von Brömssen, Department of Religious Studies, Goteborg University

Re-imagining the 'imagined community': the case study of the post-1991 Serbian

Author: Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic (European University Institute, Florence)  email
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Long Abstract

The fall of Yugoslavia in 1991 and ensuing ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia &

Herzegovina had as a consequence massive migration movements both within the

region of former Yugoslavia and outbound towards Western Europe, North America

and Australia. During the 1990s displaced people from former Yugoslavia

represented the largest cohort of asylum seekers in the UK. Numbers of refugees

and internally displaced people have risen even higher after the NATO

bombardments of Serbia & Montenegro in 1999. In addition to involuntary

migrants, another half a million of young people emigrated from Serbia since

1991 fleeing political regime of Slobodan Milosevic and raging nationalism,

army conscription and poverty.

I'm currently doing fieldwork in London about post-1991 immigrants from Serbia

and their families in 'homeland'. What makes this research different from other

studies about transnational migrant families is a phenomenon of rejection as a

reaction to creation of (new) Serbian identity in the 1990s marked by the

politics of expansive nationalism (the idea of uniting all Serbs in one state),

self-victimisation ('the world is against the Serbs'), re-discovering of roots

and tradition suppressed during fifty years of Tito's Yugoslavian ideology of

'brotherhood & unity' that went hand in hand with the 1990s revival of Serbian

Orthodox Church, 'ruralisation' of city landscapes in Serbia caused by massive

economic decline and hyperinflation. All this had direct impact on positioning

of new immigrants from Serbia in London vis-à-vis Serbia and on their conscious

efforts for either connecting or disconnecting both from those whom they left in

Serbia and from other Serbs in London. For Serbs from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo

who came to the UK as refugees, becoming a member of 'Serbian community' in

London was a means of survival; for Serbs from Serbia who were coming to London

as economic/political immigrants, rejecting 'homeland' was a means of creating a

new identity, one that was no longer Yugoslav, but not yet 'Serbian' in a sense

this identity was created in and by 'homeland Serbia' in the 1990s.

Drawing on empirical data from ethnographic fieldwork with Serbian immigrants in

London, I will argue in this paper about new kind(s) of diasporic communities,

those which actually do not want to be seen as 'community', because to admit

membership in 'Serbian community' from 1990s onwards, often was associated with

negative image and stigma. Thus for many of my informants rejecting 'Serbian

community' and embracing liminal identity of not being Yugoslavs any more but

not yet Serbs, became the only feasible option for finding continuity after

disruption(s) caused by fall of Yugoslavia, subsequent wars and social

transformations in Serbia. But how did this affect their kin ties with

families, mostly parents who remained in Serbia? Do they by rejecting their

Serbian identity reject their kin ties as well? Does blood become thinner than

water then? I will answer these questions from the perspective of material

culture studies which gives a different angle on issues of migration, diaspora

and homeland by looking at how people construct their diasporic identities

through objects, domestic interiors and consumption.

Interrogating diaspora and the case of a 'new emerging' Jewish diaspora

Author: Daniel Lis (University of Bern)  email
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Long Abstract

As Jewish organisations speak of an annual loss of 50'000 people to the Jewish community of somewhat 13 million through low birth numbers, intermarriage and assimilation this turns out to be just one side of the coin. Throughout the world a growing number of individuals and groups start practicing Judaism and make claims of a Jewish ancestry.

It is by the discussion on the boundaries of a group that communities constitute themselves and where their essentialilism can be put under critical light. This discussion is echoed by the question of "Who is a Jew?"

The case of Ethiopian Jewry has for instance received wide media coverage and is in significant ways changing conceptions of what it means to be Jewish and about Judaism. Many judaising groups around the globe refer to the case of Ethiopian Jewry to make their claims of inclusion stronger. The proliferation of judaising individuals and groups has been explained by an ongoing communications revolution; easier access to world travel; advancements in genetic, ethnographic and anthropological scholarship; the gravitational pull of the State of Israel; and the proliferation of outreach-minded groups committed to seeking out "forgotten" Jews.

It has been argued that most converts to Judaism draw their attachment to Judaism by linking themselves to an imagined Jewish ancestry. Many new communities and individuals therefore speak of a "return" to the ancestral faith. Rumours and transgenerational narratives of a Jewish ancestry maintain a latent possibility to construct Jewish identities.

As the Jewish condition outside Israel can be understood as diasporic, "new" Jewish individuals find themselves into a diasporic condition without them or their families having moved recently. With their now diasporic existence and in contacts to Jewish communities and organisations transnational practices start to emerge. Thereby they produce themselves on a Jewish map or scape.

Beyond exile: agency and public in the Swedish-Chilean diasporisation

Author: Erik Olsson (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, the intention is to highlight some of the dimensions included in the conceptualising of diasporic phenomena. The case discussed in the paper is the Chilean migrant community in Sweden and the transformation of this community towards a transnational diaspora. The point of departure is that a community like the Chileans in Sweden, originally a refugee-group, will, at the end of their exile and/or a generation-shift, find itself at a crossroads where either the reproduction of the community or its disappearance is at stake. The paper argues for a process-oriented perspective that emphasises the need for groups and other community-like gatherings to reproduce in order to survive. The interest is dedicated to how migrants and successor generations of (real or imagined) migrants "become" diasporics through a diasporisation-process, rather than being "ethnics" by birth. Diasporisation involves some kind of mobilisation of people into a context where identification refers to the ethnic or national community as well as the ancestral homeland. What is of interest here is that diasporisation of Chileans in Sweden takes its point of departure in terms of the mobilisation of an already "dispersed" exile-community consisting of people that, in many cases, have little in common other than some distant affiliation to networks of migrants and, in the formal sense of the word, live in the same country. In order to perform as a social group and a community, its potential members have to be "diasporised". It is demonstrated that qualitative differences existed between ethnic mobilisation during exile and diasporisation in post-exile. Belonging to a diaspora like that of post-exile Chileans in Sweden, however, is a matter of practice and to some extent also free-choice. In other words, the visibility of the diaspora is not exclusively something reserved for ethnic Chileans, but relies on the visibility of the diaspora and the participation in diasporic practices open to a wider crowd of people. In comparison to community practices within ethnic or migrant groups in general, diasporic practices are probably more directed towards the public sphere and adapted so as to retain the public's attention.