Research towards Local-Transnational Encounters and Connections (LOTEC)

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Research towards Local-Transnational Encounters and Connections (LOTEC)

  • September 17, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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In his book “The new transnational activism”[i] Sidney Tarrow calls for the extension of existing transnational research orientations. Such research, he argues, analyzes formal organizational patterns from within the state and macro- society perspectives[ii]. Tarrow, therefore, advocates for the inclusion of transnational processes sustained by ordinary migrants and refugees. For the illustration of his point, Tarrow shares the story of his father that from 1920s, then a young man, boarded a steamer from Hamburg to New York. The young man fled from recurring “poverty” and “disorders” that often particularly targeted transnational Jewish communities in Europe. In the US, Tarrow’s father obtained American citizenship, remitted monetary sources and social capital in supporting his remaining relatives back in Europe.  After some years he temporarily returned to his ancestral land for marriage during which he, together with other transnational community members in New York, stablished schools and health clinics. From his base at the US, he co-created vibrant transnational community associations rescuing Jewish victims from Nazi persecution in Europe. Later, Tarrow’s father contributed to the establishment of the state of Israel in facilitating among other aspects the resettlement of transnational community members to the new state.  

Tarrow, apart from sharing his father’s “transformation from a remittance provider to a committed diaspora nationalist” also details two more stories from other globally re-known trans-nationalists. These include idealists who- in their life time and beyond, generated significant global transnational encounters and connections. The first is Marx during his “exile in Paris” and his subsequent studies on labour exploitation in the UK. In exploring these countries, the communist ideologue developed transnational socialist ideas for transnational social mobilization. The second is the humanist Norwegian diplomat- which Tarrow refers to as the “Nordic cosmopolitan” Fridjof Nansen, who in 1920s headed the International Red Cross, negotiated multiple transnational prison releases as well as the empowerment of the displaced suffering people to- among others- accessing better human rights conditions. The Norwegian diplomat thereby helped creating the so-called “Nansen Passport” for the displaced. Such transnational humanitarian innovation and efforts secured him for the Nobel prize for peace.

For about 100 years later in September 2020, activists from a Somali-Aarhus community association distribute digital leaflets across diverse social media outlets in Denmark and beyond. The community invites the public from Aarhus and beyond to a political event organized at Aarhus public library. Organizers particularly address the call to community members in Aarhus and others interested in participating a local-transnational gathering in discussion with a transnational politician and long-term community activist who recently returned from a working trip to the original homeland. Diverse transnational media platforms were also invited. Together with supporting allies and funding groups, the Aarhus community activist successfully established a new political party called “The Labour Party”. Following a formal registration of the party in spring 2020 in the homeland, he enthusiastically toured different parts of the Horn of African country where he shared his vision for “the development of the country and for specifically protecting hard-working families”.

The establishment of a political party in the original homeland combined with the commencement of active political campaign in the adopted homeland proves the transnational socio-political dynamics in which transnational communities pursue and enthusiastically relish. This is not just a simple practical attempt to challenge the nation-state centric local, national and transnational conceptions. But this is also a process in which communities routinely and consistently consolidate an alternative reality that trans-nationalizes socio-political concerns, encounters and connections. The mechanisms that the politically engaged Aarhus community activist and his wider community pursue consist of transnational community platforms that deliberately synthesizes, hybridizes, and if necessary circumvent, strict national consciousness and platforms. This requires abilities and capabilities to mobilize resources transnationally through, multiple belongings, complex cultural identities and languages- including the deployment of national resources for the pursue of transnational goals. The community members have also much at stake in investing a person like the Aarhus political activist -for variety of reasons. Each context provides its own resources- the original homeland sustains the political, social and traditional platforms while the adopted homeland ensures platforms for resource generation, opportunities for democratic expression, communication and campaign in multiple spaces. Such critical resources lend credit, status and even charisma for ambitious diaspora transnationals and their communities.  

Conceptualizing and theorizing transnational socio-political processes                

In complementing Tarrow’s transnational social movement analysis, Allen Tourane agrees that recent transnational movements and their complex mobilizations differ from earlier nation-state and class-based movements and associations. The new socio-political engagements not just concentrate on recurring economic and political inequalities and struggles but also socio-cultural differences as well as ethnic issues[iii]. Somewhat in a critical dialogue with Tarrow’s and Tourane’s propositions, in his latest book “the trans-nationalized social question” Thomas Faist equally asserts that the current transnational processes and formations differ from the past- as these are not just transnational encounters and connections following a linear process with clear purposes. These are, he suggests, transnational processes resting on their own terms, conditions and prospects. Such trans-nationalization process, which he refers to as “culturalization” involves not just class related political and social issues but also cultural dynamics. In addition, he adds, these are not socio-political conditions reserved only for individuals and states, but also a process that incorporate communities as well as diverse other social groups contributing to multiple levels of development and trajectories[iv].    

We know that, within the nation-state structure, societies find themselves experiencing calculated transnational procedures. For particularly the political systems, together with supporting bureaucracies, most transnational encounters and connections often represent means to an end. In this regard, nation-states specify and insist on pursuing such socially and politically objectified systems. Thus, the activities of diverse socio-political associations/organizations within such complex formal systems constitute a kind of sign-posts. Proponents devise such sign posts for mainly maintaining the consolidation of hegemonic nation-state structures. Since the beginning of the modern era, colonial expansions as well as subsequent liberalist versus socialist models of society structures asserted diverse hierarchical linear trajectories. Periodically and conveniently often dominant elites modify the systems in strategic attempts of maneuvering between competing and sometimes complementing democratic and autocratic platforms[v].   

In contrast, contemporary transnational societies often quest for overcoming the objectified nation-state enclosure- often from below. Such societal processes remain neither static nor conclusive. From presumably non-artificial platforms in the form of real human community centric trans-nationalizations, with continuing dynamics of social and political exchanges and modifications, transnational community activities represent an end on its own terms. The conflicting and complementing web of networks thereby constitute real life encounters and connections, often reflecting guide-posts for subsequent modifications.  Such endeavors often simultaneously occur at multiple levels- local, national and transnational. This societal based transnationalism neither aims at reaching at hierarchical top nor visions specifically designated goals. Instead people simply concentrate on getting the best out of their daily lives- insisting on continuing transformation and improvement of social and political conditions and opportunities.       

Research on TEC community mobilizations and transformations  

Within the current world, most societies engage in diverse forms of transnational encounters and connections. Such ties and transactions occur when people, belonging and identifying with particular societies, associations and networks formally or informally, reach out people in similar or different networks. Such exchanges could happen unintentionally as well as purposefully in which people pursue diverse separate or joint relationships and endeavors.

In this regard, the modern state largely consists of diverse societies formally organized into nation-states. Westphalian, as we know it, was originally a model of European insistence. Subsequent colonial expansions attempted to universalize and eventually download the system to other societies. Moreover, diverse international organizations such as the UN, continuously sustain the system through the formalization of nation-state recognition, sovereignty and legitimation. For instance, with the permanent security council membership, the system builds mainly on realpolitik and occasional coercion. Nation-states might periodically collaborate and coordinate in preventing potential conflicts among themselves.   

But, as Oommen suggests, nation-state structures, remain fragile and unstable and might eventually prove unfit for the genuine needs for most societies- who, more or less unconsciously, downloaded and transplanted the system into their countries[vi]. Similarly, transnational corporations, transnational civic associations and transnational communities assert pressure on the system.   In resolving such potential impasse, Oommen proposes the need for gradual lesser amplification of nation-states as well as its embedded partial claim of hierarchy and homogeneity. Following intense migration and the emergence of complex and flexible citizenships in most parts of the world, he adds, we should probably instead concentrate on analyzing the existence of a dialectical, interdependent national and transnational societies. This means that attempts of exclusively grouping societies as members of formalized structured societies belonging to a particular people with distinct homogeneous language, culture and territory might not properly work in an increasingly complex and diversified world. In the current world, there should, therefore, be spaces for multiplicity of belongings and sovereignties. In this regard scholars call for the modification of the current nation-state system by introducing the possibility of alternative national encounters and connections potentially through the fostering of new non-kinship national ties of constitutional patriotism[vii]. Under such circumstances people with different social, political, linguistic and cultural backgrounds could ascribe to national and transnational institutions in which people could pursue multiple belongings and priorities.

In extension, the serious consideration on local transnational dynamics could also represent alternative to the formal nation-state centric encounters and connections. Yet, social and political research mainly draws and builds on nation-state systemic orientation. In departing from such perspectives researchers often study social and political occurrences within or across nation-state systems, rather than highlighting the life-world connections between diverse societies and networking groups within multiple situations and locations.

Competing TEC research orientations

Recent research on TEC could be roughly divided into two main contrasting views. The first sees people pursuing social and political development in a natural environment. Here socio-political survival often depends on existing hegemonic social and political conditions as well as interactions. People, more or less consciously, move from the national levels to more transnational engagements- whether engaging in regionalism and supra-national institutional making such as the EU. In this regard, the purpose of human encountering and connecting relates to the achievement in the formation of new socio-political structures. People in different communities establish certain recurring communication and ties- working within the frame of common collective ambitions and endeavors. Such encounters and connections involve both communities and organizations- formally and informally. For instance, state institutions engage multiple transnational encounters and connections, while societies also, more or less, engage in diverse transnational encounters and connections.

Research adhering to the first orientation categorizes transnational civil society as part of a regional and global civil society in existing hierarchical dependencies. Under such structures, the transnational activities of local civil societies constitute an element in the wider transnational development hierarchy[viii]. From such perspectives, research have also suggested that change often comes from the dynamics of social movements and the generation of social capital[ix]. Such research also shows on how socio-spatial relations challenge normative spatial constructions of civil society in allowing transnational groups gaining influence and power[x]. It is also within the state-system approach that certain groups might acquire the status of ‘transmigrants’, with productive continuing mobility ties between their countries of origin and destination[xi]. Similar research have also insisted on transnationalism mainly occurring within a limited social, political and geographic spaces from which people create transnational enclaves and pursue transnational entrepreneurships[xii].

The second research proposition rejects the seemingly objectifying natural approaches in analyzing human quest, individually or collectively. The opposing research instead emphasizes the projection and subjection of particularistic and complex human wishes in, more or less freely, pursuing and entering relationships. Moreover, such research approach considers local transnational encounters and connections (LOTEC) resulting from conscious social maneuvering with both individual particular ambitions- but also with collective concerns and purposes. This includes the accumulation of diverse resources and subsequent positioning depending on prevailing opportunities and circumstances. Such encounters and connections are never pre-planned and structured but remain as part of existential occurrences- in which people either, as individuals or through organizations, find themselves.  

In Denmark research has been, for some time, focusing on themes related to local-transnational interactions and dialogue. These include perspectives stressing attempts by authorities and communities in overcoming adjustment obstacles. Others highlight struggles for political mobilization and recognition[xiii]; topics of media framing and in explaining the persistence of social polarization and conflicts[xiv]; member states and the EU engaging diversity management[xv]; the complexity of family ties, gender issues and discourses[xvi], the transnational generation of social capital and dynamics of citizenship dilemmas[xvii]; transnational promotion of intercultural dialogue[xviii]: the transnational logics of integration policies[xix]: State regulation on transnational family affairs as well as the generation of transnational solidarities[xx]; Processes of contextualizing diverse transnational engagements[xxi]; the dynamics of Danish transnational ethnicities abroad[xxii]. Citizenship and transnational civic activism [xlii]. The dynamics of transnational faith-based associations and the state [xxiv].

So far, Danish TEC research mainly focuses on the consolidation or the confrontation of the nation-state- related to the processes of trans-nationalization and democratization. Such studies also include the analysis of community struggles and socio-cultural mobilizations of diverse communities. However, the research considers such social and political mobilization as part of transnational social movement encounters and connections with specific social, economic, political and cultural characteristics.

 In contrast, the LOTEC research on the AarhuSomali case mainly complements the more society and community centric approaches stressing the importance of socio-political encounters and connections. The study focuses, not just on a historic or limited form of local transnational association and mobilization in which communities encounter and connect with diverse social, political and cultural groupings in the society. Instead the research deals with an ongoing transnational community mobilization that, depending on prevailing issues, individually and collectively, engage in activities involving diverse forms of transnational encounters and connections.

[i] Tarrow, S (2005) The new transnational activism. Cambridge university press.

[ii] Keck, M and Sikkink K (1998) Transnational advocacy networks in international politics: Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Cornell University Press

[iii] Alain, T (1998) Return of the Actor: Social Theory in Postindustrial Society. University of Minnesota Press

[iv] Faist, T (2018) The transnationalized social question: Migration and the politics of social inequalities in the twenty-first century. Oxford University Press.

[v] Wolin, S S (2018) Fugitive Democracy: And Other Essays. Princeton University Press.

[vi] Oommen, T K (1997) Citizenship, nationality and ethnicity: Reconciling competing identities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[vii] Habermas, J (2018) The post-national constellation: Political essays. John Wiley & Sons.

[viii] Bebbington, A (2007) ‘Social capital and development studies II: can Bourdieu travel to policy?’, Progress in Development Studies 7 (2):155–62

[ix] Naughton, L (2014) ‘Geographical narratives of social capital: telling different stories about the socio-economy with context, space, place, power and agency’, Progress in Human Geography 38 (1): 3–21

[x] Della Porta, D and Tarrow, S (2012). Interactive diffusion: The coevolution of police and protest behavior with an application to transnational contention. Comparative Political Studies 45(1):119-152.

[xi] Nina Glick-Schiller et al (1995) ‘From Immigrant to Transmigrant: Theorizing Transnational Migration’, Anthropological Quarterly 68 (1): 48–63

[xii] Bauböck, R and T Faist (2010) “Diaspora and transnationalism: Concepts, theories and methods.” InDiasporaandTransnationalism:Concepts,TheoriesandMethods. Amsterdam University Press.

[xiii] Kleist, N (2008) In the name of diaspora: Between struggles for recognition and political aspirations. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34(7):1127-1143.

[xiv] Mørck, L L, Hussain, K, Møller-Andersen, C, Özüpek, T, Palm, A M and Vorbeck, I. H. (2013). Praxis development in relation to gang conflicts in Copenhagen, Denmark. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies 14(2): 79-105.

[xv] Wrench, J. (2016). Diversity management and discrimination: Immigrants and ethnic minorities in the EU. Routledge.

[xvi] Sørensen, N N and Vammen, I M (2014) Who cares? Transnational families in debates on migration and development. New Diversities 16(2): 89-108.

[xvii] Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social capital: Implications for development theory, research, and policy. The world bank research observer, 15(2): 225-249.

[xviii] Stokke, C and Lybæk, L (2018) Combining intercultural dialogue and critical multiculturalism. Ethnicities 18(1), 70-85.

[xix] Jørgensen, M B (2012). The diverging logics of integration policy making at national and city level. International Migration Review 46(1): 244-278.

[xx] Agustín, Ó G. and Jørgensen, M. B. (2016). Solidarity without borders: Gramscian perspectives on migration and civil society alliances. Pluto Press.

[xxi] . Farah, A. O. (2016. Somalis. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd.

[xxi] Christensen, P S and Thomsen, T L (2019) Transmissions And Transformations: Comparing Danish Late-generation Ethnicity In America And Argentina. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies 6(3): 27-40.

[xlii]Siim, B and Meret, S (2019) Dilemmas of citizenship and evolving civic activism in Denmark. In Citizens’ Activism and Solidarity Movements (pp. 25-50). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[xxiv] Nielsen, M V and Kühle, L (2011) Religion and state in Denmark: Exception among exceptions?. Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, 24(2), 173-188.