Digital Diasporas

by tatianabenjamin

Tatiana Benjamin

Space, Place, & Identity in the Digital Age

Book Review

Brinkerhoff, Jennifer. Digital Diasporas: Identity and Transnational Engagement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Digital Diasporas explores the role of Internet technology (IT) in developing and maintaining Diaspora communities. Brinkerhoff offers a detailed and well-structured text on the relationship between technology, identity, and transnationalism. She focuses on five Diasporas in the United States in order to provide the multiple ways Diaspora communities engage with technology. These five communities include, Afghan-Americans, Egyptian Copt- Americans, Tibetan-Americans, Somali-Americans, and Nepali-Americans. In her exploration of these communities, Brinkerhoff explores the digital Diaspora organizations used by each group.  The main questions explored within the text are, “How do communities of migrants become diaspora communities, that is, with identities that sustain at least psychological links to the homeland? How do these identities reflect the diaspora experience?; How does information technology contribute to identity outcomes and their potential manifestations in the real world?” (3).

It is also important to note that Brinkerhoff’s perspective or approach stems from her background in international affairs. Her engagement with international affairs and policy is seen through her seven recommendations for maintaining and engaging with digital Diasporas.  The two recommendations that I found to be most useful were, the selectivity in receiving funding and recommending that “host” government and international actors should create partnerships with Diaspora organizations. These policy recommendations allow for the sustaining and maintain of the organizations while allowing them to keep a level of autonomy.

This is a well-written text with rich information but there were two chapters that stood out the most. Chapters two and three of Digital Diasporas’ were the most interesting and helpful in understanding her arguments. In chapter two, Digital “Diasporas, Identity, and Information Technology,” Brinkerhoff explores how mobilization occurs within digital Diasporas.  One of the key points to arise in this chapter understands that transnational engagement is a selective process. This speaks to transmigrants as agents who are actively participating in boundary crossing.  In chapter three, “Keeping the Dream Alive,” she explores how Diasporas impact identity. This chapter stands out because she deals with what comes out digital Diasporas. Migrants are forming communities and educating other within and outside of their Diaspora community. These two chapters speak to her conceptualization of the Internet as a site of practice for migrants. I gave pinpointed these two chapters but the entire text is a must read.

Overall, this text was an easy and straightforward read with a strong policy lean. I believe her approach in policy is what allowed for this to be readable.  The only issues I had surrounded her lack of engagement with previous understandings of transnationalism. In other words, how were migrants participating in transnational activity prior to the prevalence of Digital Diasporas? Another dimension to this question understands the differences between the actual and the virtual. Yes the Internet does allow for the creations of digital Diasporas, but how are these Diasporas impacted by the physical? Although I have raised these questions I do believe that scholars and policy analysts should read this text. It lays the foundation for a string analysis on what the digital can do for transnational activity.

I apologize for the late post. I thought I posted this already.