SITUATING NARRATIVES OF MIGRATION AND DIASPORA: AN INTRODUCTION.

Author:Kurvet-Kaosaar, Leena
Position:Narrating Migration and Diaspora
  1. Introduction

    Inspired by the current situation in the world, the special issue "Narrating Migration and Diaspora" focuses on questions of belonging and non-belonging in the conditions of both forced and voluntary mobility in the context of the second half of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Taking place at a historical moment in the world when the Global Compact of Migration sparked heated debates and was received in highly contested and diverging manner by different countries of the world, the conference made visible the adherence of key principles and underlying paradigms of migration and diaspora studies to the guiding principles of the

    Compact. (1) The current article provides an outline of some central perspectives and current directions of the development of research on migration and mobility, also touching upon the ways in which theoretical argumentation in the field resonates with political initiatives of the highest international level. In turn, the urgency of ethical imperatives of the theoretical conceptualizations and world-scale political initiatives is convincingly illustrated in the articles by Stroihska and Cecchetto, and Saresma, highlighting the complex realities of lived experience of migrants. As one focus of the special issue concerns outmigration from the Baltic countries in the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, an overview of the causes and characteristic features of different migration waves is included in the introduction to provide historical background to questions and issues discussed in the articles from specific angles. These include migration trajectories, mobile self-emplacements and processes of remembering (Garda-Rozenberga, Kurvet-Kaosaar), and adaptation difficulties and problems caused by cultural differences (Ojamaa, Lams, and Dimins).

  2. Some implications of mobility

    The contemporary world is increasingly defined by mobility. From large-scale processes of both forced and voluntary migration and pursuing continuously mobile life styles to the quality of movement that is increasingly common to cultural and social practices and memorial processes, mobility has to an important extent redefined and keeps redefining and reshaping dominating modes of affiliation in the contemporary world. Not only does mobility characterize the life style of an increasing number of people in the contemporary world but it frequently also emerges as a desirable mode of contemporary life and an important requirement of professional engagements, including academic work. Rather than solid identification with spatially and linguistically embedded ethnic or national entities, more fluid and volatile transnational affiliation trajectories and identification frameworks that remodel premises of identity for example, by "blurr[ing] and even dissolving] of territorial and spatial coordinates" (Huyssein 1994:7) and "unhinging citizenship from nationality, or language from territory (Karpinski 2013:43) are becoming more common.

    As Marie-Aude Baronian, Stephan Besser and Yolande Jansen (2007:9) remind us, "the experiences of migration and dwelling-in-displacement [that] impinge upon the lives of an ever-increasing number of people worldwide, [may proceed] with business class comfort or, more often, unrelenting violence". It is important to point out that the nature of migration experience cannot be exclusively deducted from its voluntary or non-voluntary nature and that, furthermore, definitive distinctions between forced and voluntary forms of mobility are not possible

    (Marschall 2018:1-2, Van Hear 2010:36). It is, nevertheless, essential to retain an awareness of the flexible and fluid identification frameworks often hailed as emblematic of the contemporary world at large as a privilege that is premised upon citizenship rights, access to economic and educational frameworks, and affinities in socio-cultural contexts. These rights and affinities cannot be extended to the current migration crises involving millions of people of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds forced to leave their homelands. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the current estimated number of forcibly displaced people in the world is 68.5 million, including nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18 (UNHCR 2018). The contemporary world is facing an unprecedented displacement crisis. During the second decade of the 2000s, millions of immigrants from Middle Eastern and African countries have made their way to the European Union either escaping violent military conflicts in their countries or seeking better economic prospects. This is the most numerous migration flow since World War II; societal problems connected with the current migration crisis and the stories of the individual refugees have been widely reflected in the media, documentaries as well as fiction. International response to the extensive increase of mobility and migration in the world, including current political debates concerning the UN Global Compact for Migration that seeks to "cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner" (Compact 2018) is directly related to the way we perceive the world in terms of identity and globalization. The idea of the Compact and the planned scope of its implementation testifies to the viability of the idea of global citizenship, as membership of the wider community of all humanity, according to the definition provided by Nigel Dower and John Williams (2002:1) involving "significant identity, loyalty or commitment beyond the nation state" (See also Cohen 2010:73). Yet an inquiry concerning today's answers to the question that was formulated by Arif Dirlik in his Global Modernity (2006) more than a decade ago, merits a critical reconsideration also with regard to questions of mobility, migration and diasporas: "Is the world unifying", Dirlik asked, "creating a common organizational structure and a new culture to bolster it, or is it fragmenting into units of various kinds and sizes that are at odds with one another and themselves fractured in many ways internally" (Dirlik 2006:1). A need for 'new imagined communities', including those formed through various artistic practices is articulated by many scholars working on questions on mobility, migration and diasporas; at the same time, it is considered equally important to attend to "the continuing importance of borders: the points of articulation ... where differences meet, hybridize, or refuse to engage" (Craps et al. 184-185).

  3. Memory on the move

    Current discourses of globalization centrally concern and are shaped by questions of memory. In turn, due to the increasing focus on different aspects of globalization and mobility in memory studies, the nature and modes to operation of memory have undergone a major conceptual shift to the extent that "it has become impossible to understand the trajectories of memory outside a global frame of reference" (Assmann and Conrad 2010:2). As several memory scholars have pointed out, memory is no longer viewed as being attached to specific places, elaborated via specific sites or viewed as belonging to specific (national) communities but rather "travel along and across the migratory paths of world citizens" (Bond et al 2016:1). In turn, this has brought along a shift in the perception of memory that is no longer viewed "as a stable space of identity but as a process of displacement itself," as something "that is always in flux and notoriously unreliable" (Baronian et al. 2007:12). "Should we not, given our mobility, begin to ask different questions of memory, ones that do not attend only to the content of memory, but to the travels that have invoked it?" asks Julia Creet (2011:6) in the foreword to the volume Memory and Migration and continues: "What if, instead, we studied the quality of movement that shapes memory, [showing] that the manner in which memory travels is a quality of memory itself, not a flaw, [---] not a shift in category, but constitutional, of memory, a constant constantly on the move, archiving itself rhizomatically".

    The current focus of the mobility of memory underlines the outdatedness of earlier models of the study of cultural memory, shaped by Pierre Nora's concept of lieux de memoire (the sites of memory) (1989) as well as Maurice Halbwachs' theory of collective memory (1992) and Jan Assmann's paradigm of cultural memory (see, e.g. Assmann 2008:109-88) that is viewed as limiting the study of cultural memory to what can be referred to as national remembrance within the boundaries of the nation state. Binding memory, ethnicity, territory, and the nation-state together, Nora's framework of lieu de memoire has been instrumental in making the notion of cultural memory synonymous with national remembrance or, at best, with a perception of cultures "constructed upon the assumption of an isomorphy between territory, social formation, mentalities" (Erll 2011b:7).

    Transculturality, the new leading paradigm of memory studies, is concerned with cultural phenomena that reach across as well as beyond cultures, focusing on questions of mobility and migration, mediation of memory in contemporary social media as well as the travel of theories of memory (see, e.g. Assman and Conrad 2010, Bond et al 2016, Erll 2011b, Radstone 2011, Rothberg 2009, Tornquist-Plewa and Andersen 2017). Such focus, however, does not mean that national dimensions of memory processes have shifted entirely out of focus; rather, they are now analyzed within a different frame of reference that places emphasis on "the ways in which diverse media and forms of memory may circulate between and beyond the borders of the nation state" (Bond et al 2016:5, see also Bond and Rapson 2014, De Cesari and Rigney 2014, Levy and Sznaider 2005, Muller 2010:25-37, Rothberg 2009). Research on memory on a global or other kind of supranational (e.g. European) level has highlighted...

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