Spaces of Dispersal

Essay Excerpt

Two entanglements, to use James Clifford's term, complicate any discussion of diaspora. First, there is the entanglement of the historical formation of concepts with the experiences they describe. This is a subject that Clifford addresses at length, and as he so cogently demonstrates, this entanglement plays out differently in Jewish and African diasporas. Second, there is the problem of "practicing a form of discourse that [we] intend rather to analyze" (Handler 1988:18). Handler destabilizes the authority of nationalism by examining the interpenetration of nationalist ideology and social scientific theory. It is in the interest of his dismantling of nationalism to clearly avoid practicing the discourse he intends to analyze.

The opposite approach informs Clifford's exposition of diaspora as an historical and theoretical formation. Here the critique is mounted affirmatively by transvaluing diaspora, which for most of its history has been taken as a mark of failure. The terms of that failure are linked to the normative ideal of national sovereignty in one form or another. The inclination with respect to diaspora transvalued is to practice the form of discourse that is the object of analysism (339).

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. "Spaces of Dispersal." Cultural Anthropology 9.3(1994): 339–344.

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