About this Site

Leong Yew, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

The Postcolonial Web is largely organized according to traditional categories: countries and regions that were once colonies of the British Empire, the authors who live in these countries, the type of literature they produce, their influences, historical or political conditions, and so on. While these categories were implemented for ease of navigation around the website, they can, admittedly, overwhelm the fluidity, borderlessness, and transcultural implications of postcolonialism. There is only so much cross-listing can do on websites like the Postcolonial Web.

This new section on diaspora seeks to reorganize the links to documents on the website while also introducing new categories. By listing authors according to various general diasporas such as the African or Indian diasporas, it enables one to appreciate how the sense of homelessness and displacement has come to produce types of culture that are not geographically synchronous. For example, while the United States is not considered on this website as a postcolonial country, it is also the place where much of the diaspora culture is produced. Writers like Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed speak powerfully to the postcolonial audiences, but because of the original categorization schemes they have been left out of the website. Furthermore, where would we situate the Indian born British author, Salman Rushdie, who has now made his home in New York?

On this new webpage, I take the concept of "diaspora" disjunctively from two sources. In Appiah and Gates' The Dictionary of Global Culture, the only diaspora that is mentioned is that of the Jews (178-179). This appears to be disappointing because it omits the dispersal of so many other peoples around the world while lauding the Judaic diaspora as the only legitimate historical example. Nonetheless Appiah and Gates' entry is of significance because the Jewish diaspora contains a tremendous amount of tension and ambivalence that one can interpolate into other forms of diaspora. Particularly there is no simplistic response to this type of diaspora. Zionism does not offer any solution to the diaspora -- in effect exacerbates it by fragmenting the Jewish sense of identity, history, and culture, while also forcing a confrontation between the religious, exo-modern sense of time and space with the more secular and modern conceptions of sovereignty, nationhood, and political destiny.

When we examine Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin's take on "diaspora," it is possible to discern a parallel form of ambivalence and cultural fragmentation. For them, diaspora cannot be separated from colonialism, as it was this historical condition that led to the displacement of people across the world under different circumstances or forms of compulsion. Ashcroft et al. resist the temptation of dividing the subjects of diaspora into two categories: the people from metropolitan centres who relocated to the colonial peripheries or the colonized who were forced back into centres through processes like slavery. In effect the link between diaspora and colonialism is noted to be by far more complex. Whether or not the people of the diaspora were settlers, migrants, transported convicts, slaves, or labourers is beside the point; what is more apparent is the capacity of colonialism to produce so many varied forms of power that compel people to move. Consequently the culture produced by diaspora cannot but contain so many resonances of the movement, the imagination of their homelands, sense of tradition, the circumstances of their removal, and the reaction to the places they currently live:

The descendants of the diasporic movements generated by colonialism have developed their own distinctive cultures which both preseve and often extend and develop their originary cultures. Creolized versions of their own practices evolved, modifying (and being modified by) indigenous cultures which they thus come into contact. The development of diasporic cultures necessarily questions essentialist models, interrogating the ideology of a unified, 'natural' cultural norm, one that underpins the centre/margin model of colonialist discourse. It also questions the simpler kinds of theories of nativism which suggest that decolonization can be effected by a recovery or reconstruction of pre-colonial societies (Ashcroft et al. 70).

The importance of the tensions and ambivalence experienced by the Jews and notion of diaspora as a consequence of imperialism cannot be overstated. Both reinforce the constant intermingling between the nostalgia for an "irrecoverable" original history/tradition and the need to mediate this within more dominant or mainstream culture.

However, I am not claiming that these two notions of diaspora are the only valid ones. Rather, I suggest that they are interesting starting points that will, hopefully, lead to further discussion and examples of dissent that will appear here. While western imperialism did have a tremendous role in explaining the diaspora of the 18th to the early 20th centuries, it falls short of accounting for an interminable process. Refugees, job seekers, people moving for family reasons, are all products of the old and new diaspora. They have their own stories and actively contribute to the culture of diaspora. Both theoretical reflections on these forms of diaspora as well as the culture that is produced are something that needs to be addressed and will be most welcome on this site.


Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. The Dictionary of Global Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

If you would like to contribute to this section on Diasporas, in the form of essays, suggested links, discussion pieces, and anything of interest, please contact


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Last Modified: 21 February 2002