Alonso, Andoni and Pedro J. Oiarzabal. Diasporas in the New Media Age: Identity, Politics, and Community.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Chopra, Rohit
Pub Date: 03/01/2012
Publication: Name: Communication Research Trends Publisher: Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture ISSN: 0144-4646
Issue: Date: March, 2012 Source Volume: 31 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Diasporas in the New Media Age: Identity, Politics, and Community (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Alonso, Andoni; Oiarzabal, Pedro J.
Accession Number: 285994487
Full Text: Alonso, Andoni and Pedro J. Oiarzabal. Diasporas in the New Media Age: Identity, Politics, and Community. Reno and Las Vegas: university of Nevada Press, 2010. Pp. 368. ISBN 978-0-87417-815-9 (paper) $44.95.

It is difficult to think of an academic work on cyberspace that does not acknowledge the existence of communities linked across physical spaces and geographical territories, even if it may not address this dimension of online existence in significant detail. Accordingly, scholarship on the articulation of cultural identities in new media spaces reflects the inescapable fact that such identities are forged in global and transnational spaces. Members of ethnic, regional, national, and linguistic groups express, negotiate, and perform their identities in these diasporic spaces even as they transform the sense and scope of what it means to be Korean, Igbo, or French-speaking. Given this fundamental characteristic of community life in new media spaces, it is somewhat surprising that till the publication of Diasporas in the New Media Age, no scholarly work had taken up the topic of the relationship between diasporas and new media as its central object of inquiry.

The publication of this important edited volume, bringing together contributions from scholars from across the world, represents an in-depth, comprehensive, and multifaceted examination of the complex ways in which diasporic communities interact with new media, the latter broadly defined as information and communication technologies (ICT) that enable the formation and functioning of networked groups. The scope of the book may be roughly schematized as an investigation of four related questions or imperatives: 1. What are the diverse ways in which particular diasporas, such as the Jamaican or Chinese, use and expand the meaning of new media spaces? 2. What are the ways in which new media spaces, in turn, reshape the meaning of these particular diasporas? 3. What are the theoretical implications of the use of new media spaces by diasporas for our conceptual understandings of both the notion of diaspora and the phenomenon of new media? 4. What are the dynamics of interaction between both types of networks--diasporas and new media networks--for our understanding of the role of networks generally in an age of new media?

As this sketch indicates, the book encompasses both theoretical and empirical contributions. Part I, consisting of four chapters, presents an assessment of key theoretical issues related to the use of new media by diasporas. Adela Ros (Chapter 1) looks at the possibilities of social connection and economic opportunity afforded to migrants by global network and informational technologies. If migration itself can be understood as a consequence, in part, of the vectors of technological globalization, the chapter asks how that condition is transformed by the tools of such globalization. Focusing on key diasporic practices and features such as hybrid identities and remittance flows to home countries, Jennifer M. Brinkerhoff (Chapter 2) assesses state policies towards migrant communities and briefly outlines some policy recommendations. Michael Laguerre's chapter (3) elaborates and scrutinizes the very concept of the digital diaspora. Identifying crucial questions raised by the formulation, he covers five models of digital diaspora predicated, respectively, on marginality, empowerment, displacement and gentrification, the technopolis (or hi-tech enclave), and globalization. Rounding up the section, Andoni Alonso and Inaki Arzoz's contribution centers on the activist potential of digital diasporic communities to function as an inclusive, politically engaged, digital commons, with reference to the Basque digital diaspora.

Part II of the book consists of a wide range of empirically-grounded case studies of the use of new media by specific diasporic communities. However, just as the chapters in Part I illuminate theoretical arguments about new media with reference to concrete practices of diaspora communities, the chapters in Part II also articulate theoretical insights through their empirical analysis of the cases in question. The 18 chapters in this section of the book cover communities that can be classified as belonging to one or more collective imaginaries: continental and civilizational, national, regional, generational, minority, secessionist, ethnic, and professional (for example, African, Arab, Jamaican, Cape Verdean, Galician, second-generational, people working in IT).

In a fascinating comparative analysis, Tolu Odomosu and Ron Eglash (Chapter 5), explore the construction of African identity at work in two controversies involving Oprah Winfrey. The first concerned the tracing of her ancestry via DNA testing and the second concerned an Oprah Winfrey show on Nigerian scams, which evoked a significant response from Nigerians on various websites. The authors show how in both cases, the disparate technologies provoked similar introspection and reactions about identity. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 examine the complex dynamics at work in expressions of Cape Verdean, Eritrean, and Jamaican identity online. The conversations reveal the range of understandings of identity at work among members of the groups, the challenge of attempting to forge inclusive identities and yet defining what is unique about each community, and the negotiation between models of cultural identity and models of citizenship.

The next three chapters address diasporic uses of new media through somewhat narrower optics. Dwaine Plaza in Chapter 9 looks at how second-generation Caribbeans' deeply felt experiences of marginalization and mourning at cultural loss are reflected on web pages created by them. Javier Bustamante (Chapter 10) proposes that the history of Brazil can be understood as a history of diaspora. He locates Brazilian social networks and digital diasporas--such as the Brazilian presence on Orkut--against earlier diasporic formations, specifically, the "forced" (p. 172) diaspora of slavery; a diaspora consisting of an influx of immigrants into the country in the late 19th and 20th century; and a third, 20th-century, diaspora of Brazilian immigration overseas. Jose Luis Bemtez's assessment of the use of new media communication technologues by the Salvadoran diaspora in Chapter 11 focuses on the digital divide and outlines some steps for addressing and overcoming it.

Chapters that follow deal with Indian, Chinese, and Arab new media communities. Radhika Gajjala in Chapter 12 presents her experience of a critical ethnographic intervention in Indian spaces on Second Life, in particular, Bollywood and dance clubs. Gajjala points to provocative questions about authenticity of identity raised by such 3D communicative environments. Brenda Chan's study of Internet use by "new" Chinese migrants (Chapter 13) or "PRC citizens who migrated after 1979" (p. 226) contextualizes these communities in relation to the long history and extensive reach of the global Chinese diaspora. Analyzing online Chinese communities of recent migrants in Singapore, she considers whether such a transnational public sphere meets the conditions for rational Habermasian discourse. Yu Zhou's chapter (13) investigates how the complex dynamics of migration and reverse migration by Chinese professionals between developed Western nations and China have shaped the development of the Chinese ICT industry. Khalil Rinnawi's chapter (15) looks at the role of satellite television in fostering a global imagined Arab community. Analyzing the use of television by Arab refugees in Berlin, Rinnawi shows how rituals of television consumption promote an affective sense of Arab identification through a variety of strategies.

The last three chapters of the book concern communities that are engaged in initiatives of political and cultural self-determination and self-differentiation. Yitzhak Schichor's chapter (16) on the uyghur digital diaspora is a sobering assessment of the possibilities and limits of new media in sustaining a viable project of achieving national sovereignty and political independence. Analyzing offline and online uyghur nationalism, Schichor describes how the uyghur digital diaspora has garnered visibility for the cause but--given the scattered and marginal nature of the diasporic community--has not been able to achieve any real political gains from the Chinese state. Chapter 17 questions whether Galicians online can be even considered a community in any meaningful sense, plotting the minimal Galician presence in cyberspace against a longer history of emigration. Finally, concluding Part II and the book, Pedro J. Oiarzabal's chapter studies the "Basque diaspora Webscape" (p. 338), examining the relationship between Basque representation online and the political goals of the Basque diaspora.

Given the range and variety of diasporic new media communities covered, the scope of the edited volume stands out as one of its strengths. To this must be added, as another key strength, the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary character of the book. Cumulatively, the book represents contributions and interventions by scholars in communication and media, anthropology, public policy and administration, sociology, science and technology studies, ethnic studies, geography, and international relations, giving it nuance and richness. Many individual studies, further, also represent fine examples of interdisciplinary scholarship. While the absence of a section on methodology is by no means a serious shortcoming, a section or even a chapter or two categorically addressing questions of method would have been a valuable addition. Diasporas in the New Media Age opens out several avenues for further study, even as it significantly enriches the areas of new media studies, network studies, and diaspora studies.

The book has an index and each chapter has its own reference list.

--Rohit Chopra

Santa Clara University
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