Last week in Manila, Philippines, I attended an international conference on communication and diasporic communities entitled "Boundaries and Belongings: Transnationalism, Identity, and Communications." Hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Communication, the event featured research on diasporas around the world and the role of communication in their day-to-day lives. Examples ranged from differences in the use of international and domestic news sources (e.g., newspapers and television news) among local and international students, to the roles of new information and communication technologies, such as blogs and webcams, in helping individuals living abroad maintain a sense of connectedness to their home countries, families, and friends. As should be expected of an academic conference, both positive and negative arguments were raised regarding access to, use, and effects of these old and new technologies.
From a public opinion perspective, I found an example provided by Dan Miller, Professor of Material Culture at the University College London, particularly compelling. Prof. Miller described the way in which Jamaicans who move to the United Kingdom find themselves not fully accepted as "British" by mainstream U.K. society – a common experience around the world, especially among first generation immigrants. What may perhaps be surprising is that after a significant amount of time in the U.K., those who for various reasons move back to Jamaica find that the public no longer accepts them as fully Jamaican either. These former residents are in a constant state of uprootedness, belonging "neither here nor there."
I believe this situation poses potential governance reform implications, particularly because scholars and practitioners have argued that diasporas can be important allies toward demanding improved governance in their home countries. If the sense of uprootedness is found to be pervasive among these groups while living abroad, then how might we expect them to possess the political efficacy to mobilize from afar for improved governance in their home countries? The same question can be asked if upon returning home, they feel lost and excluded from mainstream society.
By taking stock of global good practice, CommGAP has found that building coalitions in support of reform, including citizens demanding improved governance, requires clear and comprehensive mapping of stakeholders -- actual and potential enemies and allies of reform. Keeping in mind what Prof. Miller said regarding the lack of rootedness among diasporas and what others have posited about the power they might wield in supporting demand for good governance back home, the following corollary questions might be considered relevant: Can communication technologies play a role in cultivating strong and meaningful connections between diasporas and their home societies, should such connections be deemed desirable? Furthermore, can these technologies be harnessed toward increasing the political efficacy of diasporas, so that they not only believe they can do something about the way things are going back home, but also that what they do will actually make a difference? Lastly, should there be a call for public education efforts so that both foreign and domestic public opinion might be sensitized to the plight of diasporas beset by the ambivalence of feeling they belong neither here nor there?
Photo credit: Flickr user whiteafrican