UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Spring 2008: Migration and Diaspora


Led by Susan Stanford Friedman (English, Gender & Women's Studies)

The seminar will explore current theory and its implications for understanding aesthetic practice in the exploding field of migration and diaspora studies. The most recent phase of globalization-enhanced by the new technologies of communication, information, and warfare-has intensified the global movements of people, goods, ideas, cultural practices, and money to epic proportions. What is often called "the new migration"-the massive transcontinental movement of peoples in the post-World War II era-has been the subject of extensive theorization and scholarship. This emphasis on recent migration on a global scale has also reinvigorated the study of migration in earlier historical periods, with many arguing that human mobility, civilizational clashes and intermixing, and global cultural flows have been endemic to the human species since the beginning. What is developing, in my view, is a new paradigm for reading human cultures and civilizations, one that supplants the older model of cultural and civilizational exceptionalism with a framework that emphasizes networks and relationality, bringing into the foreground interculturalism, borders and borderlands, and hybridic formations even as these occur in situations of great inequality, violence, and conquest.

The seminar will work to build bridges between theories of migration and diaspora in the humanities and social sciences. While cultural theory in the humanities is particularly adept at dealing with visual and verbal forms of representation and the subtleties and variations embedded in texts, cultural theory in the social sciences has produced concepts that foster comparative work and theorization across different ethnic, racial, and national groups. Our seminar will aim to put these two strengths (with their concomitant limitations) in dialogue-using, for example, the sociological models of push/pull and circulation migration to illuminate literary or cinematic migration narratives; and using theories of memory, loss, and the fictionalizing imagination to add a phenomenological and linguistic dimension to social science modeling and typology. Several edited collections are now available that encourage this kind of interdisciplinary conversation: e.g., Theorizing Diaspora (Braziel and Mannur); Migration Theory: Talking cross the Disciplines (Bretell and Hollifield); The New Immigration: An Interdisciplinary Reader (Suarez-Orozco et al.); and Writing across Worlds: Literature and Migration (King et al.). Additionally, some important theorists themselves work across the humanities and social science divide-e.g., sociologist Nikos Papastergiadis and anthropologists Avtar Brah and James Clifford.