Methodological aspects of diasporal politics

Abstract. The authors consider different approaches to explore diasporal politics. Certain traits and functions of diaspora are emphasized which prioritized by the states to implement diasporal politics in line with their interests. There is also characterized the interaction of Home country and diaspora.

Diaspora is very complex and multi-faceted phenomena. It comprises diverse features and functions primarily ethnic, religious, economic and political. The states prioritize its certain traits when implement their diasporal politics depending on the goals they pursue. Hence, there are different concepts and theories on the study of diasporal politics.

State support of compatriot’s abroad diasporal politics plays a leading role in strengthening the internal consolidation of foreign communities and the development of their potential impact on the power authorities of the country of residence. The success of the promotion of ethnic communities in the political sphere of the country of residence and the possibility of creating lobbyist structures depends on the nature and intensity of support from Home-state to ethnic communities. The relationship of diaspora and ethnic homeland takes the form of either state support of Diaspora from homeland or support of Home-state by more influential ethnic diaspora. However, in both cases, between diaspora and the country of origin takes place close interaction and mutually beneficial cooperation. On the one hand, these interaction and cooperation are aimed at ensuring an influential status of diaspora abroad and expanding possibilities of its political influence, and on the other hand, aimed at realizing political and economic interests of Home-state. Thus, diaspora politics traditionally involves bilateral process of mutually beneficial cooperation [1]. 

There are three basic models of relations of modern states with their diaspora: repatriation, paternalistic and pragmatic. In practice diasporal politics of countries are based on the combination of all three models in varying proportions. Any country conducting today whatever a successful diaspora policy, as a result tries to use political, cultural and economic potential of its diaspora (i.e. get “the party of influence”) to protect their national interests and the development of bilateral ties. In other words, among three models of diasporal politics (repatriation, paternalistic, pragmatic) the countries find the pragmatic model the most attractive [2].

Why and when do states increase their interaction with population abroad? What factors influence the implementation of the policy involving Diasporas? The concept of Rainer Bauböck and Thomas Faist, describes the comparative framework where researchers integrate the ideas of related-state and the migration-oriented cases. The evidences used by the researchers are from a wide range of cases. Firstly, while the state often use the rhetoric of attraction “global nation”, their policies are focused on specific groups of the population abroad, depending on the fact what these groups can offer to the home-state. Second, the state increases the interaction with a particular foreign population, as it serves a certain political and strategic objective. Diaspora represent a set of unique cultural, material and political resources that native state elite have come to recognize and seek to capture. Third, the government expands the boundaries of citizenship and membership in order to co-opt and control access to the resources of the diaspora. As this new collaboration involves the expansion of the political community, the development of diasporal politics often controversial process that could lead to a backlash against the involvement of Diasporas and the gap between rhetoric and policy essence [3].

American sociologist A.Bentli developed the theory of “Interest groups”, he analyzed the ethnic communities as the subject of political relations. A.Bentli considered the group as a functional unit of politics, acting under the institutional control of administrative agencies, courts, legislative bodies and political parties. Based on the research A.Bentli has formulated the concept of interest groups, to which Diasporas can be attributed at the level of social communities, and at the level of institutional structures [4].

The national component of diasporas gain the importance as the states seek to build or strengthen their national identity. Shain and Aharon Barth considered Diasporas as independent actors exerting influence on their homelands’ foreign policies. According to their concept, within international relation scholarship, diasporic factor can be placed into the ‘theoretical space’ shared by constructivism (with its emphasis on identity) and liberalism (with its focus on domestic politics). Given their international location, diasporas are suited to manipulate state’s international images and thus to trigger a “national identity dynamic” as the Armenian diaspora has done with their image as genocide victims. Once triggered, this dynamic can be used to influence decision making of homeland in its foreign policy. This is done by engaging in the domestic politics of the homeland, something that diasporas can do because, while being outside the state, they are still perceived as inside. C.King and N.J.Melvin also argue that diaspora is strategically important for its cultural-linguistic function, particularly in nation-building, national building of identity and cultural reproduction. Diaspora can serve in the construction of national myths which can be used to legitimize national political programs [5].

Diasporas abroad are also regarded as a supplementary income by states. This approach proposes the emphasis of diasporal politics of a country on creation or controlling the connections with people abroad in order to benefit. Model “diaspora as a resource” explains motives and ways of cooperation of diasporas and home-states. According to Rainer Baubock and Thomas Faith’s concept, diasporas are the source of important material resources through remittances sent back to their home-countries, by diaspora investments or offering the states expanding markets for export, cultural output, temporalary labor force. The external conditions in international relations increase opportunities for countries to create and control their relations with external communities. In response to these challenges, the state extends its sovereignty and redefines the boundaries of the state citizenship and the national membership in order to establish and maintain relationships with people abroad. Most of the countries that send migrants, like the Philippines, Turkey, and many Latin American countries, European countries of Middle East and South-East, rely heavily on immigrant diaspora working in richer countries to contribute to the country’s GDP.

However, it is said that economic interests are less important in the non-migrant diasporas situations, especially when the home-states are more economically developed than the diaspora. Even the promise of possible future economic benefits can be used as a justification for the policy of diaspora activists in those states. For example, in Hungary ethnic Hungarians has been described as a potential resource for companies who need working as a selling point in neighboring countries for the Hungarian policy towards co-ethnic groups. Similar arguments were used to justify the repatriation programs in Romania and Russia.

Home-states have a greater access to these resources when they are able to produce the control of connection with Diasporas abroad and their organizations as much as it possible. In order to form these relationships the state expands sovereignty and revises the boundaries of citizenship and membership. The state includes members of the target population abroad by institutional packages policy of “engagement”. Government elites try to push this policy, while keeping in mind the requirements of the diaspora, who may or may not respond to these overtures. 

Diasporas are playing an increasingly significant role in the development of national capacities in the poorest countries and those that have undergone significant changes, such as the Eastern European and former Soviet Union countries. This is due to a number of factors, including access to economic resources, a large number of expatriate professionals, greater ease in communication and travel, and the entrepreneurs who have the skills and experience to offer [6].

Diasporal politics cannot be applied to all people living abroad, sometimes the states aim at certain groups of Diasporas to serve specific purposes. According to Rainer Baubock and Thomas Faith some countries collaborate with certain group of Diasporas. The states that are usually considered primarily as emigration-States have a potential to act as defenders of the members of the national community, who live in an area that was once part of the national homeland (eg, India, Haiti, and Mexico). Many related states also have significant economic and political groups of migrants (e.g.Hungary, Poland, Germany). Some states have policies that cover both cross-border minority and migrant communities, but most of them have chosen as a target only one for specific purposes. Targeting reflects the fact that the home-state wants to interact with certain groups of the diaspora population, as well as the feasibility of the integration of foreign communities, without the risk of tension in relations with other countries. A.Diener pointed out that Kazakhstan and Hungary policies were focused more on the integration of ethnic and linguistic kin than on engaging with migrant population. Kazakhstan’s decision to offer ethnic repatriation to ethnic Kazakh was targeted not to other soviet republics and which would therefore likely to speak only Russian, but to those outside the Soviet sphere in smaller Kazakh-speaking communities who would most effectively contribute to the cultural rebirth of Kazakhstan [7]. The factor of regional dissemination of diaspora is important for the countries that are targeting certain groups of Diaspora.

Steven Vertovec assumes potential Diasporas have to reduce brain drain in developing countries. Innovative national and international programs “concerning diaspora” were put in place so that the home-state can get access to expatriate experience, knowledge and expertise (as well as to external networks for trade, communications and technological development). One of the most famous examples is the transfer of the UN Development Program of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN), which began in Turkey in 1970 and is now established in 50 countries. The program supports thousands of emigrant citizens with professional experience, to return to their country of origin and work for a few weeks or months, although some of them decided to stay longer [8].

The religious approach was used in research on diaspora and transnationality by Jayani Bonnerjee. Transnational communication built around religion, can also be an important way in which the homeland policy is transferred to the Diaspora. Prema Kurien, for example, examines the struggle between Hindu and Muslim Indian American organizations in the United States on the definition of “Indian”. While Hindu Indian American organizations were supported by the Hindu nationalist movement, their Muslim colleagues looked at India as a secular. In fact, faith, and religion is an important basis to organize diaspora life. In addition to these transnational connections, faith in politics has also played an important role in the creation of bonds on the local level. Using the example of the citizens of London, Jamoul and Wills explained how the organization “provides a means of strengthening the ties” between the various religious institutions and how they found “faith is especially rich resource in the process”. They further argue that faith institutions were politically mobilized to create cohesion of communities in the UK, as a rule, but the example of London’s population indicates that there is a room for more independent forms of political participation, particularly in the fight for justice in different communities [9, 10].

Russian researcher Poloskova T.V. notes that the study of experience of a number of countries shows, the historical homeland, engaged in cooperation with the diaspora, prioritize usually those states of residence in respect of which it has serious long-term goals in line with their geopolitical position and the presence of a significant number of compatriots. Where, also,

  • The presence of diasporas abroad is regarded as the factor of realization which ensures economic, cultural and linguistic presence in countries that have an important geopolitical and strategic importance for the state, a factor of bilateral relations where the diaspora is able to act as a “bridge”;
  • Assistance to political, economic and social integration of Diasporas to the country of residence, protection of the right for the preservation of cultural and ethnic identity;
  • The state policy of Host country towards the Diaspora is estimated as one of the important indicators of state’s policy in respect to the historical homeland of diaspora;
  • Support of preservation and development of cultural, linguistic, and information space as a factor of national presence in foreign countries is considered as an important foreign political objective (for instance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of French, State Department of the US have separate departments on the distribution and support of the French and English languages in foreign countries);
  • Providing support to the political and social organizations of Diasporas;
  • Implementing bilateral cooperation to protect the rights of Diaspora Representatives to preserve the cultural and ethnic identity;
  • The position of diaspora as an ethnic minority is regarded as a factor of domestic and regional stability, and based on the principles of preventive diplomacy, efforts to prevent possible ethnic confrontation is thought to be an important area of regional and international organizations.

The research of scientists based on certain features or functions of diaspora which prioritized by the state as diasporal politics tend to meet the interests of the states. However, this does not mean that the other components of diaspora are ignored by the states in their policies in respect to compatriots abroad. The external factors such as international situation, regional location of Diasporas and its quantity in the country of residence have a particular influence on the diasporal politics lead by the states.



  1. Diasporal’naya politika kak factor ukrepleniya edinstva rossiiskikh sootechestvennikov v SShA. Rezhim dostupa: (data obrascheniya 22.12.2016) [in Rus.].
  2. Omarova M. Politika Rossyi v gumanitarnoi oblasti. М., 2008. S.15, 20 [in Rus.].
  3. Bauböck, Rainer; Faist, Thomas. Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods. Amsterdam University Press, 2010. 135, 137, 141-142.
  4. Poloskova V. Diaspora v systeme mezhdunarodnyh otnosheniy. – Moscow, 2012. S.23 [in Rus.].
  5. King , Melvin N.J. Diaspora politics: Ethnic linkages, foreign policy and security in Eurasia // International Security. – 1999. № 3. – P. 103-138.
  6. Yossi Shain; Barth, Diasporas and International Relations Theory // International Organization Foundation. 2003. Vol. 57, No.3.
  7. Diener A. Kazakhstan’s kin state diaspora: Settlement planning and the Oralman dilemma // Europe-Asia Studies. P.25.
  8. Vertovec, The Political Importance of Diasporas. University of Oxford // Working Paper. – 2005. No13.
  9. Bonnerjee, Jayani; Blunt, Alison; McIlwaine, Cathy; Pereira, Clifford. Connected communities: diaspora and transnationality. Oxford,
  10. Erdashova A.B. Kitay ukimetinin kazak diasporasy men irredentasyna katysty ulttyk sayasaty// Izvestiya KazUMOiMYA imeni Abylai khana. Seriya “Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya i Regionovedenie”. – 2016. № 1 (23). S.11-17 [in ].
Year: 2016
City: Almaty