Transnational Communities with Situated Diversification and Balancing

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Transnational Communities with Situated Diversification and Balancing

  • May 26, 2022
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Dr Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

We live in a world of an unprecedented opulence, of a kind that would have been hard to imagine a century or two ago— the different regions of the globe are now closely linked than they have ever been. This is not only in the fields of trade, commerce and communication, but also in terms of interactive ideas and ideals… And yet we also live in a world with remarkable deprivation, destitution and oppression, including persistence of poverty, unfulfilled elementary needs, occurrence of famines and widespread hunger, violations of elementary political freedoms as well as of basic liberties, extensive neglect of the interests and agency of women, worsening threats to our environment to the sustainability of our economic and social lives… To counter the problems that we face, we have to see individual freedom as social commitment” Amartya Sen “Development as Freedom” 2011

The social question is back… Yet, today’s social question is not primarily between labour and capital as it was in the nineteenth century and throughout much of the twentieth… While class has always been crisscrossed by manifold heterogeneities, not least of all cultural ones around ethnicity, religion and language, it is these latter heterogeneities- that have sharpened in situations of immigration and emigration over the past decades. The contemporary social question is located at the interstices between the global South and the global North” Thomas Faist “The Trans-nationalized Social Question” 2018

Introduction: The dynamics of transnational community mobilities[i]

This paper conceptually draws on propositions related to community’s organizational dynamics by Durkheim[ii], Weber[iii], Simmel[iv] and Schultz[v]. It re-describes community social mobilization as situated temporal circumstances with frameworks of multidimensional complexity. The approach implies research on the phenomenon of transnational mobilities, by members of migrant and diasporic communities, often requiring alternative epistemological understanding combined with attention to socio-ontological patterns. Such research perspectives assume and explicate complex community initiatives and projects as well as constant networking occurrences and transformations- despite existing often one-sided structural impositions and determinations.

Henceforth, in concrete terms, community members jointly, through formal and informal networks, produce and reproduce transnational horizontal mobilities. These include transformative instances and situations not only affecting further community movements, resource aggregation and diversification, but also the overall reputation of transnational social mobilities and continuing connections. Not all community members participate and pursue transnational mobilities. Parts of the community undertake such changes in limited transitional periods. Others sustain the transnational turn repetitively and in longer periods. In the case of benefitable and rewarding transnational mobilities, people maintain and consolidate such endeavors. If not, people might modify, reverse or abandon the transnational activities. The dynamics of such transnational community mobilities occurs within interconnected and somewhat non-linear circular, occasionally temporal, engagement stages starting with initial informal exchanges, consultations and evaluations followed by the mobilization and accumulation of resources both symbolically as well as in material terms. Communities in this regard draw on diverse formal and informal networks helping them link to additional frameworks of complex citizenships.

This paper suggests a shift from the current overemphasis on institutional platforms and priorities with top-down attempts of accommodating/ not accommodating transnational communities. Instead, it highlights existing situated community position-takings with discursive, imaginative as well as active individual and collective formations. In forging alternative understandings, opinions and steps, communities eventually become transformative and resilient.

Beyond conceptions of citizens vs strangers  

Durkheim suggests collective social formations, whether in communities or in more hierarchically formalized organizations, might fail to functionally accommodate, or in some cases overaccommodate, the interests and wishes of particular segments of the society. Under such conditions, members of deprived constituencies might suffer from anomie, experiencing increased gap between expectations compared to the prevailing actual practical situations[vi].  In extension to this structural deficiency, Weber proposes social mobility with embedded organizations referring not just to ethnicities and conscious expectations but also to the actual prioritization and restructuring of time and space through dynamic organizational forms. Within such relational conditions people in prospect consider moving towards more favourable and dynamic situations for their contemporaries and consociates, hereunder families and communities[vii]. Here, for instance, the parent generation sacrifices not just for their own sake but also for future generations- not just where they currently might reside but also in relation to multiple locations. Such considerations let communities pursuing a kind of self-performing creative social mobilities- making the involved better off individually as well as collectively. Simmel and Schultz partially supplement such linear teleological analysis of community social mobilities by suggesting a different process emerging from intersubjective social platforms not just from individuals struggling against dominant collective organizations but also communities jointly discussing and exchanging ideas and priorities. Such community dynamics simultaneously occurs within and in relation to multiple contexts and scales[viii]. Thus, transformative instances with multiple actors and networks constantly occur[ix].

In addition, communities often engage within close neat networks- that simultaneously also seek engagement beyond the immediate network- depending obviously on projects people promote. Recognizing connections between extrinsic and intrinsic social realities, Schultz proposes the concept of multi-dimensionality within social systems but also among and across diverse communities[x]. In this regard, what is relevant to a particular social structure and relation is not necessarily valid for other structures. This diversification provides people with the options of simultaneously pursuing multiple related and unrelated social forms and activities.

So far existing socio-political studies on transnational communities focus on the gaps emerging following the lack of community integration and coordination within the framework of mainstream structures and societies. Other studies also propose community mobilizations depending on how individual networks and group considerations link the present with the future in which people try to get the best out of current situations- for their own personal gains as well as for their wider family and community relations and wellbeing. In addition, limited studies consider community formation and mobilization as prevailing complex intersubjective social constructions emerging from actual existential projects people simultaneously and variously engage for multiple purposes and contexts.

Societies often measure how migrants and refugees might integrate and contribute to host societies. Such approaches often underestimate community perspectives that also in their own terms informally measure and evaluate how societies contribute to community lives and wellbeing, including how close or far the mainstream society is from the community’s specific wishes and priorities. Such informalization tendencies implies migrants and refugees not just adopting to external prescriptions but also purposeful transformative search of self-creation thereby influencing trajectories of emerging specific community lifestyles and forms. Through perspective situatedness, communities constantly foster openings and modifications of living circumstances. For them to be a part of a particular society is not a conclusive project and thereby an end but rather temporal incomplete and unfinished situations as means to an end with constant evaluations and reevaluations.

In addition, while for relatively better organized societies, policy makers and others pursue the structuring and the management of time and space, communities remain flexible in engaging the dynamics of entering spaces with temporal and spatial instances and forms. In other words, communities are involved in constant and ongoing encounters and connections in which communities imagine and deploy means with ends. In this regard communities challenge both prevailing dominant subjectifications and objectifications by producing dynamic alternative intermediate transitional positioning, in the process subverting the proscribed strangeness with processes of diversifications, multiple belongings and flexible citizenship attachments.

Transnational communities therefore often object the universalizing ideas that people either belong to a particular citizenship or host-home society. Such communities seem in constant search of transforming and creating an informal transnational environment mainly designed to escape from static situations of host and homeland environments.

Host societies often categorize communities as integrating or if such process not work as segregating. The communities on the other do not follow such purposefully rational universalizing approach. While societies suggest people coming to a new country should adhere and adopt to that country’s language and culture and eventually acquire citizenship. From such formal bases, communities, if needed, might maintain transnational communications and ties. It is also within these formalized structures that with reluctance some countries provide dual citizenships- often designed mainly for state-centered socio-political and socio-economic gains[xi].

In contrast transnational communities seem not willing to fully fit preexisting social and political platforms. They might do it partially, strategically and reluctantly. The have the choice to be a transformative members of host societies society but they also maintain believes and desires of formally and informally remaining transnational. Migrants are convinced that their alternative transnational approach is the most suitable to their conditions and situations. Scattered in multiple societies their actions reflect a search of freedom to position and pursue own wishes and priorities.

Existing studies focus on how migrants, more or less successfully, adjust into their host countries and how they simultaneously also pursue state centered transnational connections- for instance connections to their homeland. However, there are limited studies on the creation of community driven transnational dynamics and connections- in which what communities wish and thereby form becomes the priority.

The praxis of transnational encounters and connections

Performing consultations and evaluations: –Transnational community members mainly flee from existing immediate fears they confront or following precautional judgements on what the future might potentially bring. While some members prefer not to undertake transnational mobility, meaning moving or resettling into a second or a third country, others fathom transnational exits and sanctuaries. Often, such process purposefully starts with casual conversation among acquittances or with a person or a group whose recent supposedly successful transnational mobility produced new interesting experiences of resettlement. The individuals and groups considering resettlement potentialities then jointly cooperate in producing and consuming discussions and discourses on the potentialities and pitfalls of additional transnational adventures. The activities involve a possible tradeoff between costs and benefits of pursuing such transnational initiation[xii]. With careful assessments on potential destinations and risks, the involved, together with the wider community, create some form of unformalized reputation and guidelines for designated favorable and unfavorable host destinations.

Accessing symbolic and material resources: – Activists and leaders not only facilitate their own participation but also contribute to the collective mobilization by providing symbolic as well as entrepreneurial resources with concrete financial investments. In collecting resources transnationally, prominent members focus on the accessibility and conventions around such resources.

Transnational community entrepreneurs and families thereby diversify and balance opportunities in their host and home as well as with other societies.

Influential members, such as entrepreneurs, the educated and family heads and parents, pursue alternative opportunities for their businesses and family relations. Activities include cautious exploring travels to diverse host societies, herewith assessing opportunities and limitations. Though not going after a set of rules and criteria, with further consultations members eventually move businesses and families to new host societies. If people subsequently benefit from their resettlement, they often stay course and pursue such alternatives. Otherwise people return to the original location of either the host and home societies. When, for instance, people achieve their objectives of educating and empowering children, families return to the host society. In return, the empowered children enter professional platforms and then empower families and communities both in host and homeland environments. Not all members diversify and succeed- and not all involved pursue similar ways of diversifying.

According to Basch et al (1994)  ‘Transnationalism’ is the process by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social, economic, and political relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement . . .many immigrants today build social fields that cross geographic, cultural, and political borders[xiii]

Transnational communities, consisting of diverse groups such as entrepreneurs, families and others facilitating and supporting more or less large groups, often balance their immediate concerns and needs with opportunities they access or could access in multiple contexts. They then create and maintain further connections and links among people and networks in different locations and contexts. The efforts of balancing current prevailing situations with potentialities require resources and also demand organizational, coordination and investment capabilities.

Relying on networks:While some community members might reside with a specific single host society for generations, others remain mobile and link to multiple societies. In this regard, accessing legal citizenship status, as well as opportunities for economic entrepreneurships, elevates and sustains mobilities[xiv]. With such transnational resettlement mechanisms people acquire social, political and cultural skills not exclusively obtainable in separate host and home societies. In mobilizing resources by learning from each other and from successful cases, people pursue and arrange networking connections in multiple places within systems and beyond

One of the main challenges people accessing resources informally, through private networks, include the risk of exploitations[xv]. In addition, scattered community hubs emerging- eventually reproducing challenges that people initially migrated from, exclusion and stigma. Sch crucial social, political, cultural and social decisions impacting not just them but also the wider society and beyond.

Diversifying citizenships: – Community members generate movements and accessibilities to resources and also sustain resettlement schemes into a new destination. Often, the citizenship people carry with motivate and organize the world into advanced and lesser advanced societies[xvi]. Such bureaucratization classifies people into citizens vs. strangers, objectifications that affect further mobility, accessing resources and diversification. For instance, people with formal documents from privileged societies enjoy better accessibilities to resources and varieties of host destinations[xvii]. In consequence, some of them accumulate and mobilize substantial resources. Such access to organizational and institutionally support similarly facilitates and provides people with obtaining concrete opportunities.

[With transnational platforms] “individuals’ actions adjust to a flexible and mobility-bound work market thanks to an opportunistic use of their citizenship rights. They stress the material motives that may underlie their decisions about nationality and mobility. These considerations contrast with the representations that laws and institutions attach to nationality, referring to sentimental ties with the place of origin and with the genealogic community, linking the individual to a shared history and to a shared culture[xviii]

 Moreover, the type of citizenship provides opportunities to combine, select and deselect. Depending on which citizenships you carry- makes one more or less flexible- counting on returning to the host society or to the homeland, if processes and plans do not work as designed. Often there exists a hierarchy among the same communities based on formal citizenships people might carry- in return determining the opportunities they access. Citizenship at the lower scale could mean lesser opportunities and even certain immobility and restrictions[xix].


Transnational community diversifications and balancing proves the existence of human agency. Despite numerous obstacles, with often imposed structural pressures and limitations, people imagine and strategize preferable transnational social mobility and status. Probably, no final and proper place and nation for such communities exists. So far, no ideal spaces for transnational exist in the current world. Spaces providing people with combined legal, political, economy and cultural belongings within the framework of an open, peaceful and prosperous democratic society. However, one might find reasonable places and nations with combative and accommodating platforms. Consequently, in the current era, transnational communities shuttle in connecting to and between diverse transnational spaces, times and opportunities- each case apparently producing and reproducing own distinctive social forms. Likewise, formal state and marked oriented trans-nationalizations proceed with policy implementations reflecting organization hierarchies. In response, transnational communities seem favouring and pursuing gradual and informal transnational horizontalization- thereby balancing immediate concerns and engagement with prospective self-positioning prioritization.


[i] Extract from a paper presented in a conference on African Migration and Migrants to Turkey- 19th -20th of May 2022

[ii] Durkheim, E. (1912/1995) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: The Free Press

[iii] Weber, Max (1947) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Edited and translated by H. H. Gerth

and C.Wright Mills. London: Kegan Paul.

[iv] Simmel, G. [1908] Group expansion and the development of individuality. In Donald Levine (ed.), Georg Simmel on individuality and social forms.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

[v] Benţa, M. I. (2014) The multiple reality: A critical study on Alfred Schutz’s sociology of the finite provinces of meaning (Doctoral dissertation, University College Cork).

[vi] Durkheim, E. (2003) Anomie. Key Ideas in Sociology, 22-26.

[vii] Weber, M. and Kalberg, S. (2013) The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Routledge.

[viii] Simmel, G. (2011) Georg Simmel on individuality and social forms. University of Chicago Press.

[ix] Schutz, A. (1970) Alfred Schultz on phenomenological social relations (HR Wagner, Ed.). Chicago: University of.

[x] Schutz, A. (2012) Collected papers I. The problem of social reality (Vol. 11). Springer Science & Business Media.

[xi] Spiro, P. J. (2019) The equality paradox of dual citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies45(6), 879-896.

[xii] Farah, A. O. (2020) Strategies of overcoming precarity: The case of Somali transnational community ties, spaces and links in the United Arab Emirates. In Coercive geographies (pp. 124-147). Brill.

[xiii] Basch, L., Schiller, N.G. and Szanton, B.C. (1994) Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States. Langhorne,PA: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.

[xiv] Doherty, C. (2018) Keeping doors open: Transnational families and curricular nationalism. International Studies in Sociology of Education27(2-3), 200-216.

[xv] Sørensen, N. N. (2018) From migrant identity to migration industry: The changing conditions of transnational migration. Nordic Journal of Migration Research8(4).

[xvi] Koh, S. Y. (2022) Elite transnational networks, spaces and lifestyles. Handbook on Transnationalism.

[xvii] Bauböck, R. (2019) Genuine links and useful passports: evaluating strategic uses of citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies45(6), 1015-1026.

[xviii] Blanchard, M. (2022). Italianness, Flexible Citizenship and Belonging: Unraveling Paths of Emigrants’ Descendants’“Return” in Northeastern Italy. In Italianness and Migration from the Risorgimento to the 1960s (pp. 61-71). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[xix] Grell-Brisk, M. (2018) Eluding national boundaries: a case study of commodified citizenship and the transnational capitalist class. Societies8(2), 35.