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Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging

Final Report Summary - COHAB (Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging)

All over the world, stable concepts of home and belonging have, for a variety of reasons, become the exception rather than the rule. This has led to dramatic cultural, social and political changes and challenges. The study of diaspora and migration has therefore evolved into a burgeoning field of research with an urgent practical relevance. In a wide and sometimes confusing array of approaches it is mainly covered by the humanities and the social sciences. The Marie Curie Initial Training Network CoHaB - Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging unites world-leading experts in this field in the conviction that interdisciplinary training as well as international and intersectoral co-operation is key to any productive study of diasporas. Consequently, CoHaB is committed to training a new generation of scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds, but with similar interests in the field of diaspora studies by enabling them to join forces and develop their research
projects on a shared platform. To this end, CoHaB employs 12 Early Stage - or doctoral - and 3 Experienced - or postdoctoral - researchers working on various aspects of diaspora in relation to home and belonging.

As CoHaB’s very first network event, a kick-off meeting was held from November 27-29, 2011. The meeting took place at the Westfälische-Wilhelms-Universität Münster, CoHaB’s coordinating institution. Afterwards, the process of researcher recruitment started in January 2012. Since the beginning of CoHaB’s eligibility period, there have been various outreach activities, both locally and network-wide. Each partner has hosted a wide range of events focusing on notions of home and belonging, many of which have been streamed online. Apart from these occasions, both Early Stage and Experienced Researchers have participated in training events at their home institutions and have furthermore attended international conferences elsewhere and thus presented their research at various occasions worldwide.

There have been several joint network events: CoHaB’s first plenary meeting took place at St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, from November 18-20, 2012. This conference was attended by all members of the network and hence for the first time brought together all researchers,supervisory board and advisory members as well as representatives of the non-academic partners. During this conference, the researchers had the opportunity of interacting with fellow researchers and board members on a face-to-face basis and especially gain feedback on their academic work. For this reason, for all participants the meeting proved a vital first step in forming a network identity. CoHaB’s first summer school took place on March 21-26, 2013, organized by The University of Northampton School of the Arts, and was attended by all researchers currently employed by the network. The Common Core Course on Diaspora Studies, which was designed to familiarize CoHaB’s ESRs with seminal texts on diaspora theory, formed the hub of the summer school’s programme. CoHaB’s milestone event, the international conference on “Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging”, took place in Münster, Germany, on September 22-24, 2013. The CfP was advertised world-wide and met with huge response. More than 100 proposals were sent in by academics from various disciplines and from more than thirty nations, 60 of which CoHaB finally accepted. The organizers are proud to have won the following world-renowned diaspora experts as keynote speakers: Homi K. Bhabha (Harvard University, member of CoHaB’s advisory board), Ihab Hassan (University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin), Amitava Kumar (Vassar College), and Pnina Werbner (Keele University). CoHaB’s second summer school, hosted by the University of Mumbai, took place from 17 to 21 January 2014. The summer school focused on the Indian diaspora, showcasing experts from within India and all over the world. The final summer school took place from 10-14 April 2014, hosted by the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies at SOAS, this time with a focus on social anthropology and activism. With both summer schools, the talks and workshops were, as usual, attended by all CoHaB ESRs and ERs as well as several external students, both from within and outside the hosting institutions. The network’s concluding event took place at Stockholm University on 10 September 2014, bringing together all supervisors, researchers and advisory board members for a final wrap-up discussion. This private concluding event was preceded by a two-day conference on “Diaspora as a traveling concept”, hosted by Stockholm’s Department of Social Anthropology.

The CoHaB website has raised and increased the network’s international visibility as well as that of its researchers and their individual research projects. Thus, it contains information about the various areas of research within the network and informs the public about CoHaB events and even on-going research elsewhere, such as conferences on diaspora studies worldwide. Also, lectures on current issues in diaspora studies held in co-operation between academic partners have been made accessible to the public via the website and streaming will be continued here in the future. Specifically, the website contains the work-in progress ‘diaspora wiki’, which is publicly accessible through the website and aims at developing a shared, transdisciplinary terminology and interpreting the various types of response to diaspora and questions of home and belonging in order to compare the understanding and representation of similar and different experiences. Besides, the website includes a network channel on youtube and linkages with other social networks to further enhance the project’s visibility and increase its appeal to a wider audience.

By the end of the project’s funding period on 31 October 2015, the network has produced three major, network-wide publications. Firstly, the conference proceedings of the international conference “Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging”, showcasing contributions by all keynotes and panellists, have been published with de Gruyter in 2015. Secondly, “The Routledge Diaspora Studies Reader” introduces and collates key theoretical writings from across disciplines to serve as a text-book for the teaching of students and training of future researchers of diaspora in literary/cultural studies, geography, anthropology and other social sciences. While serving as an introduction to the pre-existing canon of diaspora studies, this new reader also incorporates the unique research aims of the CoHaB network. The reader will be published with Routledge early 2016. Thirdly, the ESRs and ERs have produced a joint publication under the guidance of CoHaB Coordinator Prof. Dr. Klaus Stierstorfer. This publication brings together articles on the topic of symbols in Diaspora Studies as a special edition of the peer-reviewed journal “Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics”, published with de Gruyter in 2014. Several scholarly articles and book chapters have been produced by all the researchers and publications of several doctoral theses will follow in due course.

Bringing together internationally renowned scholars from different disciplines such as literary and cultural studies, anthropology, sociology and social geography, this ITN has as one of its important network-wide objectives to effect a transition in diaspora studies from interdisciplinary to
transdisciplinary approaches — an innovative and ambitious goal other diaspora networks have not yet achieved or even begun to aim for. Drawing on and fusing different disciplinary models and approaches, CoHaB aims at developing a shared terminology and providing a new understanding of diaspora as an analytical category and lived experience. In terms of IRPs, CoHaB has sought to further widen the traditional focus of diaspora studies by extending it to the diasporic meaning of home — a place generally associated with security and comfort — and the diasporic construction of belonging in our modern time.In the light of recent developments in Europe and the world, (e.g. revolts / revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, ever increasing globalization of trade, commerce and the labour market, newly kindled debates about migration and integration into nation states and the EU) it becomes clear that the 21st century is faced with challenges that make the study and understanding of the concept of diaspora in all its complexity crucial not only for decision makers on local, national and international levels but also for the wider public. Therefore, the results of CoHaB’s holistic and momentous new approach to diaspora studies can be exploited twofold: on the one hand, they can serve as advice and guidelines for politicians, committees and other decision makers. Here, a start is already made with the inclusion of the Migration Policy Group into the network. On the other hand, they can be used for awareness raising, informational and educational purposes addressing all inhabitants of the diaspora space in order to increase their intercultural competence – cross-cultural communication, negotiation, and recognition of one’s own ethnocentricities – and to prepare the wider public for a future that will be characterized by more rather than fewer migrational developments and, consequently, more cultural diversity.