In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diaspora

  • Introduction
  • Surveys of Diaspora Criticism: Anthologies and Readers and Special Journal Issues

Literary and Critical Theory Diaspora
Françoise Král
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0092


The term “diaspora” was a neologism coined by the translators of the Hebraic Bible into Greek in the 3rd century BC, and derived from the Greek diaspeirein (“dia” meaning “through, across” and “speirein” “to scatter”). Originally associated with the Jewish diaspora, the term was later used to refer to other diasporas, and in particular the Armenian diaspora. In the second half of the 20th century, the term “diaspora” took on a broader meaning, often being used synonymously with migration as in the cases of the migrations from eastern European nations to western Europe or the United States between the two world wars; the Empire Windrush generation of West Indians who relocated to the United Kingdom; the Asian and South Asian diasporas in America, the United Kingdom, and Canada; and sometimes the “double diasporas” (people from former colonial nations sent to other colonized countries under colonial rule, such as the Indians sent to Kenya by the British and who helped build the railway lines). These more recent diasporas are no longer religious diasporas; they have their origins in economic, political, and more recently climate-related issues and are triggered by reasons ranging from improving the quality of their lives to war and being in fear for their lives. While immigration is defined as an individual venture, the collective dimension is central to the diasporic experience as diasporas are not only made up of individuals but also of groups of people who leave their home countries. Despite their relocation to a new land, diasporas maintain a strong bond with their homelands; diasporas are therefore often associated with nostalgia, a mood largely reflected in their cultural productions, particularly in film and literature. The polarity home country/host country was later called into question, in particular in the wake of the deconstructionist critique of essentialist concepts, such as home, identity, or belonging, leading to a redefinition of “home” as “homemaking.” The central issue of identity also ceased to be defined in an essentialist perspective as the negotiation of dual identities, double belonging, bilingualism, double loyalties and transnationalism came into focus. In the 21st century, in the context of global economic migrations, terror migration, and environmental migrations, the emphasis is gradually shifting from issues of identity and belonging to the pragmatics of survival and relocation; and the field increasingly intersects not only with contiguous disciplines in the humanities but with contiguous areas of scholarship (gender studies, queer studies, vulnerability studies, disability studies, ecocriticism, the digital humanities, to name only a few).

Theorizing Diaspora

Diaspora studies is a field of scholarship that has developed at the crossroads of cultural and literary studies, the social sciences, history, and political science since the late 1970s, at a time when Western nations started to take stock of the magnitude of contemporary migrations, both present and still to come. Sometimes considered as an offshoot of postcolonial studies, the field of diaspora studies shares a similar interest in questions of political and epistemic domination, subalternity, race, gender, language, and identity. In the 1990s, the emphasis was largely on issues of identity and belonging; since then, the field of diaspora studies has developed considerably in terms of both literary output and scholarship, taking on board key issues in the societies involved. While intersections and cross-fertilizations often occur between cultural analysts and theorists of diaspora and the social sciences, these two clusters of disciplines retain different agendas, foci and their approaches and methodologies are contrasting.

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