Digital Diaspora

A digital diaspora (also known as an ‘e-diaspora’ or ‘virtual diaspora’) is an electronic migrant community whose interactions are made possible through ‘new’ technologies of communication (Axel, 2004; Brinkerhoff, 2009; Everett, 2009). Historically, the emergence of digital diasporas occurred in tandem with the development of and increased access to online public content and mobile phones (Blommaert and Rampton, 2011). However, the widespread growth of social-networking platforms over the last ten years has resulted in a different kind of diasporic connectivity, one that is facilitated first and foremost via the Internet (Diminescu, 2008; Brinkerhoff, 2009). In fact, a growing body of scholarship that explores the relationship between technology, migration, and diaspora, suggests that the Internet has become the primary means of developing and maintaining the diasporic public sphere (See references and suggested reading).

The ‘virtual world’ is ideally suited for connecting diasporas at the local and global level. It provides a forum to exchange ideas, debate, and mobilize opinion (Rheingold, 1993), as well as support, friendship and acceptance between strangers (Wellman, 1999), all of which aids in the cultivation of digital diasporas. Research suggests that diasporas often use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to build online communities that support integration in host countries (Diminescu, Jacomy, and Renault, 2010), thus helping to fill the social void in participants’ ‘offline’ life (Riddings and Geffen, 2006). Organization- and association-specific Web sites and blogs can serve as tools for community building and communication, disseminating information relative to the given diaspora, both in the ‘host country’ and land of ‘origin’ (Alonso and Oiarzabal, 2010). There are grassroots organizations that exist only in ‘cyber-space’, whose sole purpose is to network with diasporas scattered around the world. Known as cyber grassroots organizations (CGOs), these organizations often solicit funds to advance socioeconomic development in their homelands (Brainard and Brinkerhoff 2004). Furthermore, CGOs that oppose the homeland government might disseminate propaganda to international media networks, with political agendas that promote conflict or secessionist movements (Tekwani, 2003).

Clearly, the Internet fosters solidarity, uniting people who are geographically scattered and dispersed from their homelands into an online or virtual community. However, there is also evidence that Internet practices have leveraged diasporic subjectivity in meaningful ways. For example, social-networking sites offer a ‘safe space’ for participants’ to negotiate their sense of self and express their hybrid identities or to demarcate what it means to be a member of said diaspora (Brinkerhoff, 2009). Some scholars speak of the Internet as the primary producer of diasporic subjects because it is often the only way to maintain a particular identity when living in a host country (Franklin, 2001; Parham, 2004; Bernal, 2007; Liu, 2012). Others have shown that as a result of the various ways diasporas have used the Internet, our very understanding of what it means to be diasporic is shaped by the digital age (Parham, 2004; Everett, 2009; Alonso and Oiarzabal, 2010; Brinkerhoff, 2009).

All in all, the virtual world will play an increasingly significant role in our representation of diasporic life. The trick for us as scholars and theorists is to recognize that this continuously developing ethnographic terrain requires that we reinvent our disciplinary procedures, and indeed our modes of knowledge production (Axel, 2004).

References and suggested reading:

Alonso, A., Oiarzabal, P.J., 2010. The immigrant worlds’ digital harbors: An introduction. In: Alonso, A. & Oiarzabal, P.J., eds. 2010 Diasporas in the new media age. Identity, Politics and Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, pp. 1-15.

Axel, B. K., 2004. The context of diaspora. Cultural Anthropology : Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Bailey, O. G., Georgiou, M., & Harindranath, R., 2007. Transnational lives and the media re-imagining diaspora. Basingstoke [England], Palgrave Macmillan.

Bernal, V. 2007. Diaspora, cyberspace and political imagination: The Eritrean diaspora online. SAGE Public Administration Abstracts. 34.

Blommaert, J.,  Rampton, B. Language and Superdiversity. Diversities. 2011, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. , UNESCO

Brainard, L. A.., Brinkerhoff, J. M., 2004. Lost in Cyberspace: Shedding Light on the Dark Matter of Grassroots Organizations’. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 33, 32-53.

Brinkerhoff, J. M., 2009. Digital diasporas: identity and transnational engagement. Cambridge [etc.], Cambridge University Press.

Diminescu, D., 2008. The Connected Migrant: an Epistemological Manifesto. Social Sciences Information, vol 47,  no 4.

Diminescu, D., Jacomy, M., Renault, M., 2010. Study on social computing and immigrants and ethnic minorities: Usage trends and implications. Joint  Research Center Technical Note, JRC55033.

Everett, A. 2009. Digital diaspora: a race for cyberspace. Albany, SUNY Press.

Franklin, M. I., 2001. Inside Out: Postcolonial Subjectivities and Everyday Life Online. International Feminist Journal of Politics. 3, 387-422.

Ignacio, E.N., 2006.  E-Spacing boundaries: Bridging cyberspace and diaspora studies through ethnography.  In D Silver, A. Massanari, and S. Jones (eds), Critical Internet Culture Studies, New York, New York University Press, pp.181-193.

Liu, F., 2012. Politically indifferent' nationalists? Chinese youth negotiating political identity in the internet age.  European Journal of Cultural Studies. 15, 53-69.

Ma Mung E , 2002. The designation of diasporas on the internet. Hommes et Migrations , No. 1240, pp.19-27.

Parham, A. A., 2004. Diaspora, Community and Communication: Internet Use in Transnational Haiti. Global Networks. 4, 199-217.

Ridings, C. M., Geffen, D., 2006. Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10.


Tekwani, S., 2003. ‘The Tamil Diaspora, Tamil Militancy, and the Internet.’ In: K.C. Ho., R. Kluver, K. C.C. Yang (eds). Asia Encounters the Internet. London: Routledge, pp. 175–192.