In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diasporas and Politics

  • Introduction
  • Diaspora Definitions
  • General Works
  • Political Transnationalism
  • Diasporas, Foreign Policy, and International Relations
  • Country of Origin’s Diaspora Engagement
  • Diasporas and Conflict
  • Dual Citizenship
  • Diaspora Voting from Abroad
  • Authoritarianism and Extraterritorial Repression
  • Diasporas and Forced Migration (Refugees)
  • Diaspora: Publication Outlets and Research Centers

Political Science Diasporas and Politics
Nikola Mirilovic, Nadejda Marinova
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0342


In 2020, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 281 million individuals, or 3.5 percent of the world’s population, live outside their country of origin. Some of them, in addition to native-born individuals who identify with their ancestors’ country of origin, are among the members of what is commonly conceptualized as diasporas, dispersed people outside a homeland. Scholars define diasporas in multiple ways, emphasizing more dynamic conceptions or fixed belonging (Diaspora Definitions). Diasporas have gained increased importance, both in academia and among policymakers. Relevant institutional and policy changes related to diaspora politics include the fact that dual citizenship toleration has grown cross-nationally as has the number of countries that allow overseas voting. What happens after individuals choose to or are forced to exit their homeland, following Albert Hirschman’s famous conceptualization? To what extent do political and other ties matter across national boundaries (Political Transnationalism) and, in turn, how do states manage their relations with members of the national community abroad (Country of Origin’s Diaspora Engagement)? In what ways are state–diaspora relations different for authoritarian states than for liberal democracies, and are diasporas democratizers (General Works; Authoritarianism and Extraterritorial Repression)? Why do some states tolerate dual citizenship while others do not (Dual Citizenship)? Turning to other facets of relations between countries and their diasporas—in matters of homeland conflicts, do actions of diasporas increase or decrease the likelihood of conflict, and what is their role in post-conflict resolution and development (Diasporas and Conflict)? How have debates evolved since scholars across a range of disciplines established the foundations of transnationalism in the early 1990s (Political Transnationalism)? Ethnic interest groups have influenced foreign policy (Diasporas, Foreign Policy and International Relations) in both host and home states, and diasporas’ growing role in diplomacy has been reflected in the emerging subfield of diaspora diplomacy. In an effort to answer the questions posed by this diaspora activity, scholars have made a plethora of contributions in the last three decades. This article gives an up-to-date overview of the academic literature addressing the role of diasporas in political science, beginning with General Works that present an overview of the state of the field, and proceeding to address these categories of knowledge creation.

Diaspora Definitions

The definition of diaspora is contested. The term generally refers to individuals who reside in one country but maintain an identification with their or their ancestors’ country of origin. The identities in question are often thought of as national (e.g., the Armenian diaspora). However, the term can also be applied to broader categories, on a continental scale (e.g., Cohen 2008 on the African diaspora) or in terms of religious identities (e.g., Mandaville 2003 on the Muslim diaspora). These identities can be interconnected (e.g., religion and ethnicity). We should not assume that all migrants or migrant-origin individuals are a part of a diaspora. One set of relevant research questions is why some migrants but not others maintain an identification with their country or origin, and why such identities persist across generations in some cases but not others. Some earlier definitions (e.g., in Cohen 2008 and Safran 1991), envisioned an ideal diaspora type, with multiple characteristics including alienation from the host society and a desire for homeland return. The main distinction between the definitions is whether membership in the diaspora is fixed, bound, and quantifiable or whether it is a dynamic process of belonging and practice, of reconstructing identity, consciousness, and discourses (see Adamson and Demetriou 2007, Brubaker 2005, Payaslian 2010 and Tsagarousianou 2004). Surveying two hundred academic articles (1976–2017), Grossman 2019 (p. 1426) finds that the six most-referenced diaspora features are “dispersal or immigration, location outside a homeland, community, orientation to a homeland, transnationalism, and group identity.” Brubaker 2005 (p. 13) argues for diaspora constituting not membership in a defined group, but for “treating it as a category of practice, project, claim and stance.” Adamson and Demetriou 2007 defines diaspora as a collectivity across borders that has sustained over time a collective identity and homeland ties and also displays an ability to address members’ interests through an organizational framework and transnational links. Vertovec 2009, (p. 4) argues that ethnic diasporas play an important role in understanding transnationalism. Tsagarousianou 2004 views being a diaspora member in terms of “self-mobilization around their awareness of themselves as a diaspora, [including] their ability to imagine and construct” transnational linkages and discourses (p. 63). Payaslian 2010 traces the evolution of visions of the homeland from the first generation, who see the homeland as a site of return, to those of the third and fourth generations, for whom the homeland becomes an imagined one. Rubin and Rubin 2014 argues that former Israelis are more likely to express a connection to Israel than longer-term diaspora Jews.

  • Adamson, Fiona B., and Madeleine Demetriou. “Remapping the Boundaries of ‘State’ and ‘National Identity’: Incorporating Diasporas into IR Theorizing.” European Journal of International Relations 13.4 (2007): 489–526.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066107083145

    The article focuses on the analytical distinctions between nation states and diasporas. It offers insights on how international relations theory can incorporate diasporic practices and focuses on the cases of the Greek-Cypriot diaspora in the UK, and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. A frequently cited definition of diaspora is on p. 496.

  • Brubaker, Rogers. “The ‘Diaspora’ Diaspora.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 28.1 (2005): 1–19.

    DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2012.729674

    An influential article across several disciplines, which argues for treating diaspora as a claim and practice, not as a bounded group. Argues that diasporas are constituted by the following core elements: dispersion in space; orientation to a ‘homeland’; and boundary-maintenance vis-à-vis the host society (maintenance of a distinctive identity in relation to the host society, through deliberate efforts at self-segregation or as a consequence of social exclusion).

  • Cohen, Robin. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2008.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203928943

    A major work in the field, originally published in 1997. Contains a definition of diaspora, and a typology of diasporas, grounded in history. Examples include the classical (Jewish) diaspora, a labor diaspora, a cultural diaspora (the Caribbean), a victim diaspora, a business diaspora, an imperial (British) diaspora, and a deterritorialized diaspora. Cohen also includes a discussion of diasporas oriented toward secessionism.

  • Grossman, Jonathan. “Toward a Definition of Diaspora.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 42.8 (2019): 1263–1282.

    DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2018.1550261

    Grossman examines the two hundred most-cited academic articles over three decades, from Armstrong’s famous 1976 work to 2017. He codes the most prevalent attributes found in the diaspora definitions. Written with an eye to identifying an integrated definition of diaspora, he finds six main features that appear in over half of the definitions.

  • Mandaville, Peter G. Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203453155

    Mandaville develops a discourse on translocal politics, in the context of the experience of the Muslim world with globalization. He argues that the statist focus in international relations would benefit from an engagement with anthropology, cultural studies and post-colonial studies. Chapter 4 specifically addresses the Muslim diaspora. Other themes include a non-essentialist definition of Islam (Chapter 2) and the use of new media technologies by Muslims (Chapter 5).

  • Payaslian, Simon. “Imagining Armenia.” In The Call of the Homeland. Edited by Allon Gal, 105–138. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004182103.i-402.37

    Payaslian focuses on changing diasporic visions of the homeland as a result of the impact of political realities in host and home states. He writes about how Armenian-American ideas of the homeland evolved from the early generations, who saw the homeland as a site of return, to the third and fourth generations, who embraced assimilation as a way of life, and an idea of the homeland as an imagined one.

  • Rubin, Aviad, and Ofir D. Rubin. “Is There a Distinct Israeli Diaspora? Impact of Temporal Sociopolitical Circumstances on the Formation of Diaspora Groups.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40.5 (2014): 737–758.

    DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2013.831545

    Rubin and Rubin claim (p. 753) that “the changing temporal sociopolitical circumstances in the homeland (or the initial place of origin), between the creation of the diaspora group and the present, constitute an important determinant of the boundaries between diaspora groups […]” They posit that former Israelis express a connection to Israel at higher rates than longer-term diaspora Jews.

  • Safran, William. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1.1 (1991): 83–99.

    DOI: 10.1353/dsp.1991.0004

    An influential early article, which identified diasporas as communities of expatriates which possess six characteristics that define diasporic membership (pp. 83–84): dispersal from a center, a vision of the homeland, a lack of complete acceptance in the host society, viewing return as an eventual option, commitment to the restoration of the homeland, and the possession of an ethnonational consciousness connected to the homeland.

  • Tsagarousianou, Roza. “Rethinking the Concept of Diaspora: Mobility, Connectivity and Communication in a Globalised World.” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 1.1 (2004): 52–66.

    DOI: 10.16997/wpcc.203

    Tsagarousianou argues that diasporas are not merely an extension of an ethnic or national group and that a group of dispersed people is not a diaspora. The article emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and self-imagination as a diaspora, and argues that diasporic institutions play a key role in sustaining diasporas.

  • Vertovec, Steven. Transnationalism. London: Routledge, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203927083

    Vertovec’s book focuses on transnationalism and covers an array of related themes. Among the topics covered are the relationship between transnationalism and integration, between religion and transnationalism, between economic practices and transnationalism, and also includes a discussion focused on homeland politics.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.