On 16 January 2019, Maria Koinova (University of Warwick) opened this year’s SEESOX Hilary Term seminar series - Comparative Diasporas - on the topic of “Diaspora Entrepreneurs and Contested States”. Koinova drew on her 5-year long ERC Starting Grant project “Diasporas and contested Sovereignty”, which focused on the homeland-oriented political mobilization of 6 diasporas (Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian, Kurdish, Iraqi and Palestinian) whose homelands experience contested sovereignty. The project involved research across five different host countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK) as well as at the EU level. Koinova explored the question: under what conditions and by way of which causal mechanisms do different diaspora entrepreneurs mobilize in contentious and non-contentious ways, or use a two-pronged strategy simultaneously, when connected to contested states? Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College) acted as discussant.
Koinova defined the notion of the diaspora entrepreneur and outlined the methodological approach and comparative scope of her study of the Kosovo Albanian, Armenian and Palestinian conflict-generated diasporas to de facto states, based on more than 300 interviews in 50 locations in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Kosovo and Armenia, which she conducted between 2012-2017. She put forward the central findings of her research: a novel typology of diaspora entrepreneurs, based on their socio-spatial linkages to different global contexts, not simply to home-states and host-states, and a two-level typological theory, accounting for the causal pathways in which these diaspora entrepreneurs participate to pursue homeland-oriented goals with more or less contention, and through host-state, transnational and supranational channels. Despite the fact that diaspora entrepreneurs appear to be well integrated into their host-societies, they mobilize differently, as they respond in their own ways to stimuli from a political environment, relevant to them. This diversity raises the need to delve deeper into existing competing claims that diasporas become transnationally engaged when more or less integrated into their host-societies. Koinova’s account shows the conditions and causal mechanisms, which shape their transnational behaviours.
In outlining her theory, Koinova unpacked the relative strength and weakness of socio-spatial linkages of diaspora entrepreneurs, thereby associating types of configurations of linkages to different global contexts and spaces. She identified four ideal types of diaspora entrepreneurs, each of whom pursues their activism through different channels. She further developed the two-level typological theory demonstrating the causal pathways through which such linkages combine with external factors – host-state foreign policies, critical junctures and events, and homeland influences – and together lead to different modes of mobilization.
Koinova’s analysis, which is among the first to account for diaspora mobilization at the individual level, brings fresh relational theorizing and highlights the significance of socio-spatial linkages in foreign policy lobbying and contentious politics in Europe. It also gives theoretical and empirical insights into the intersection of migration integration, transnationalism and conflict studies, specifically regarding de facto states, and emphasizes the importance of socio-spatial positionality and autonomy of diaspora entrepreneurs in world politics. In addition, her Integrative typological theory offers explanations about causal pathways from theoretical domains not considered previously together (combining host-state, home-state and transnational social field dynamics). It is also fruitful to policy making, by questioning dichotomous views of diasporas as either war-mongers or peace-makers, rather highlighting the significance of systemic effects.
Othon Anastasakis praised Koinova’s theory for its originality, scope and sophistication and raised questions related to the central messages and the causal mechanisms identified. He also discussed the issue of methodological individualism versus groupism and highlighted the challenges of addressing diaspora-related phenomena, while focusing on individual diaspora entrepreneurs.
Manolis Pratsinakis (Onassis Fellow, DPIR and SEESOX)