GLOBALCIT Review Symposium on Alan Gamlen, Human Geopolitics: States, Emigrants, and the Rise of Diaspora Institutions, Oxford University Press, 2019


Alan Gamlen, Monash University

Thank you very much to the GLOBALCIT programme for organising this Review Symposium, especially reviewers Luicy Pedroza, Maarten Vink, Mike Collyer, Jen Dickinson & Harris Mylonas, and the editors Jelena Džankić and Jo Shaw. Thanks also to Rainer Bauböck who proposed it. I will respond individually to each reviewer, but will first note a common refrain: four of the five reviewers wanted more attention to the diasporas themselves and their practices of external citizenship. This seems appropriate since we are writing for GLOBALCIT here. But, in the end, I defend my focus: as Pedroza says, Human Geopolitics is ‘not a book on everything you need to know about diasporas. It cannot possibly be so and it does not aim to offer this.’ This is intentionally a book about diaspora institutions, not diasporas as such.

Response to Pedroza

Pedroza, alas, takes issue with my ‘gloomy view’, arguing that benign diaspora engagement – not strategic human geopolitics – is the norm for diaspora institutions. Call me Eeyore, but I certainly did intend to sound a warning note in the face of what Collyer calls ‘the standard celebratory rhetoric about diaspora engagement’. Pedroza foregrounds how diaspora institutions recognise and help migrants, but most research says they are very strategic about tapping migrants’ money and influence. By contrast, I argue that, since 2000, most states both tap and embrace diasporas primarily because the experts have taught them to. Making it okay for states to project domestic policy abroad has had both good and bad consequences. Some do good pro-migrant work, as Pedroza highlights. A few states are clearly emboldened in their revanchism. Yes, the bad apples are few, but we all know the saying. It’s time to articulate what separates legitimate from illegitimate diaspora engagement.

Second, Pedroza suggests that Human Geopolitics downplays a primary driver of diaspora institution establishment – migrant activism – not least because the book lumps together executive- and legislative-branch offices under its definition of diaspora institutions. The former, she suggests, seem more likely to be established top-down by the executive, while the others are often established incrementally from the bottom up by civil society. Yes and no. I agree there is room to study the differences among different types of diaspora institutions, and have started doing so with my colleague Michael Cummings. We examine the different knock-on effects of different diaspora institutions on the venture investment environment of developing countries to which diasporas send remittances (Cummings & Gamlen 2019). I hope others will use the data for more studies in this vein. But on the other hand, the legislative institutions that Pedroza highlights comprise a very small portion of the total, shown by the dashed line across the bottom of Figure 1 in my Introduction to this Symposium.

Basically, I argue that migrant activism matters to some extent but is well covered by prior studies, which I cite as part of the ‘embracing’ perspective in Chapter 1. I do often mention the role of diaspora organisations and activists. I note that common core aims of diaspora institutions include ‘addressing the concerns of diasporas… and helping them to vote and have influence in … their origin country’, as well as protecting their rights and interests (p. 4). Diaspora pressure for incorporation into the homeland is implicit in the ‘exile ingathering’ story (Chapter 3). And diaspora organizations are central to the ‘diaspora engagement industry’ covered extensively in Chapter 9. However, in a story with ‘too many moving parts’ already, as Mylonas puts it, I chose not to put the main emphasis on migrant activism. I explain this choice further in my response to Vink, who makes a similar point and presents some new analyses.

Response to Vink

Vink argues that domestic citizenship laws matter when it comes to explaining the rise of diaspora institutions: states may be more open to international ideas about diaspora engagement if they already allow dual citizenship and extra-territorial voting. He explores these hypotheses by bringing the data from Human Geopolitics into conversation with his own data on dual citizenship and external voting in a way we have both looked forward to for several years.

The results reinforce findings from earlier research. External voting provisions do not seem to make much difference. Using panel probit estimators, Gamlen et al (2013) show that openness to external voting made states a bit more likely to form diaspora institutions, but our concerns about data quality led us to exclude them from the event history analyses in Gamlen et al (2019). Using better data, Vink’s event history analyses in this Symposium found external voting provisions have no strong impact. Similarly, longitudinal mixed-method study of New Zealand’s overseas votes found that diaspora votes were a tiny portion of the total and had a negligible electoral impact, despite their discursive and symbolic prominence (Gamlen 2015). Dual citizenship seems to matter more. Using multinomial logistic regression, McIntyre & Gamlen (2019) found that both dual citizenship and naturalization laws relate to diaspora institution establishment. With better data, Vink’s review similarly finds that, since 1990, ‘countries which allow their diaspora to naturalise abroad while maintaining their origin citizenship broadly speaking are more likely to have a diaspora institution in place’.

However, I defend the decision not to focus on these matters in the book, for several key reasons. First, that research is published elsewhere – though granted, more is needed. Second, as I say in Chapter 1, matters of extra-territorial citizenship have been under the spotlight in research on diaspora engagement for 25 years now, in what I call the ‘embracing’ perspective – and I wanted to focus on an under-explored dimension of the issue. Third, and most importantly, I suspect that in the final analysis both dual citizenship and diaspora institutions may be determined by the changing international environment that is the focus of Human Geopolitics; this would be consistent with Vink’s pathbreaking work on the diffusion of expatriate dual citizenship (Vink et al 2019). Now that these datasets can be brought together, it is possible to explore such hypotheses in more detail – an exciting prospect.

As Vink rightly says, the book provides descriptive trends, leaving room for further exploration of the data. I have begun exploration in a number of papers cited in this Response, and as I say in the final chapter of Human Geopolitics, I hope others will use the data. I also hope they will help improve the data. For example, Vink suggests that the Netherlands’ institution may be miscoded, as it ‘seems exclusively focused on engaging migrant diasporas from other countries in the development of those countries.’ Perhaps, but I note that the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service sits within the Ministry of Justice and Security, whereas the International Migration and Development Division sits, like many diaspora institutions, in the Foreign Ministry, and is linked to Consular Affairs, suggesting it is interested in Dutch people living abroad.

Such issues were considered carefully for each case during coding, but this one may have slipped through the net. Even if so, however, such a department would still be very relevant to the book – but on the right-hand side of the equation, as a driver of diaspora institution establishment, rather than on the left-hand side, as part of the dependent variable. As Collyer says, ‘inevitably there are details to quibble with, and the generous presentation of information and sources allows (even invites) that.’ Collyer’s own suggestions on refining the coding of Algeria are equally helpful (as is the news that the Figure 1.1 source was strangely missing. My apologies: it is Google Ngram Viewer). It is important to question and make refinements, but basically the data in Human Geopolitics is valid and reliable.

Response to Collyer

Collyer suggests that Human Geopolitics skims too quickly over the definition of the key term, diaspora. It leaps, he says, from saying that diaspora identity is fluid over time, to saying that governments are central to them. I accept this criticism to some extent. It’s quite right that many diaspora institutions deal with a tiny slice of the diasporas they claim to represent, and that sub-state or trans-state ethnic, religious, linguistic or other groups proliferate in diasporas that do not have states. But the transition does not seem abrupt to me: my first theoretical claim is that diasporas are mobilised rather than pre-given, and my next one is that states are among the most important mobilisers. I see nothing much contentious here and certainly no ‘definitional sleight of hand’. My unit of analysis is the diaspora institution, not the diaspora itself. Diaspora institutions define their diasporas differently, and my book doesn’t seek to set them straight. Nor does it aim to compare and contrast all these definitions in detail (though note, we do just that in McIntyre, Jacoby, & Gamlen 2014).

Collyer says Human Geopolitics does not talk enough about citizenship. I disagree, and if either of us truly believed this criticism, we would not be having this conversation in this forum. It is largely a question of semantics: talking about citizenship and using the word citizenship are different things. The book is clearly interested in the dynamics of collective identity, membership and authority – but uses the word citizenship, which I associate with the ‘embracing’ perspective, sparingly. It focuses more on sovereignty, which is the flipside of the citizenship coin, but citizenship is hiding in plain sight. Collyer does acknowledge that ‘much of what is called diaspora engagement in the book could … equally be labelled extraterritorial citizenship.’

I also disagree with Collyer’s claim that ‘border crossing is not a concern of diaspora institutions’. Yes, diaspora institutions often target stationary minorities ‘who may have never crossed a border in their lives’, as I make clear for example when I compare them to the Minority Treaties at the book’s outset. But border crossing is a concern of many current diaspora institutions. For example, several South- and Southeast Asian labour exporters are clearly involved in negotiating bilateral labour agreements, preparing workers for their journeys, keeping tabs on them while abroad, and ensuring that timely repatriation occurs (Chapter 5).

Moreover, many Southeast European, Sub-Saharan African and Asian institutions are involved in efforts to monitor irregular migration of people from or through their countries, either at the behest of the destination states, or because they view emigrants as ‘deserters’. For example, the Philippines’ diaspora institution worked with the US state department to help regulate private recruiters so as to get the Philippines taken off the US Human Trafficking Watchlist (Chapter 9, pp. 220-221). Several European Union (EU) border states, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, formed diaspora institutions as part of their overall bolstering of migration management infrastructures needed as a result of assuming more responsibility for regional migration management (Chapter 6, pp. 136-137). Eritrea’s interest in its diaspora is partly about keeping track of young people escaping compulsory military service; the government refers to them as illegal migrants and accuses the countries that take them in of ‘human trafficking’ (Chapter 4, pp. 100-101).

Response to Dickinson

Dickinson also wished for more attention to the ‘diasporic ‘humans’ of Human Geopolitics’, arguing that they ‘are not given any significant agency of their own’. This is partly another way of suggesting greater focus on diasporas than on diaspora institutions, and so my previous responses apply: the focus of the book is justified. However, the point about agency is important. I did this research partly because too many studies focused exclusively on grassroots diasporas, leaving elites uninterrogated. Far from granting greater agency to migrants, that obscures the structural forces at work when elites manage to get migrants to do things – like send money home, or submit to extra-territorial monitoring – ‘for their own good’. Without studying elites we cannot see dynamics of domination, false consciousness, governmentality, and all the other complex, multi-directional ways that power operates. Part of the aim of the book is to address that imbalance.

Dickinson suggests that ‘the book downplays the lived dimensions of human economic and social security’  migrants experience through ‘social rights, privileges and protection offered by diaspora institutions’, as well as their reproduction of inequalities and exclusions. I disagree with this. If there exists in print a more extensive account of the ‘social rights, privileges and protections’ accorded to migrants by diaspora institutions around the world than the one in Human Geopolitics, I am unaware of it. The book does not ‘downplay’ this anymore than do umpteen in-depth studies of individual diaspora institutions by migrant activists who find that they barely scratch the surface of diaspora concerns and are largely about appearances.

Dickinson suggests that the book conceptualises ‘geopolitical power as operating vertically downwards’, providing a ‘unidirectional’ account. Not so. The book does show that power structures exist and that diaspora institutions increasingly represent the powerful having things their way, rather than emancipating migrants from the nation-state as was once hoped. But the book offers the opposite of a unidirectional analysis. For example, Chapter 8 examines how ‘migrant optimists’ have imposed their views upward into policy. Chapter 9 studies how migrant consultants and NGOs have pushed their own origin states to engage by going ‘over their heads’ to international organizations. Such complex, multi-directional power dynamics are not incidental to Human Geopolitics: they are central to its theoretical foundations in the policy mobilities literature, and to its detailed analyses of ‘benchmarking loops’, ‘donor menus’, ‘agentic others’, ‘pressure points’ and other dynamics (e.g. see Chapter 10). The book takes a systemic view of power, not a deterministic one.

Response to Mylonas

Where the other reviewers emphasise the need for attention to what I call ‘embracing’ factors, concerning the practice of external citizenship, Mylonas is more interested in ‘tapping’ ones. For him, the real causes of diaspora institutions should be sought in states’ underlying security interests. The book argues that such realist ‘tapping’ approaches are overly mechanistic, so it is perhaps not surprising that from a realist perspective the book has ‘too many moving parts for the story to be parsimonious’. The book does cover a long historical period, over which different logics operate. But these moving parts form a coherent, single explanation for the rise of diaspora institutions. What joins them is the notion of institutional evolution: organisational ends and means diverge gradually. The process begins when a few policy actors respond strategically to specific problems with specific policies and ends when it would be unthinkable not to have the policy, even for actors who do not have the problem (c.f. Finnemore & Sikkink 1998; Schofer & Meyer 2005). I highlight this key process in a number of places throughout the book, including in the Introduction (p. 16), and the Conclusion (p. 248).

Mylonas also rightly asks, why didn’t international norms have an effect on the 39% of countries that don’t have diaspora institutions? In response, below I discuss these ‘dogs that didn’t bark’. Some simply did not bark in time for this book, but actually do have diaspora institutions, according my updated 2019 data. It turns out Gabon has a Ministry for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Gabonese Abroad. Central Africa has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad. Mauritania has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Mauritanians Abroad. And Kyrgyzstan has a Diaspora Engagement Council. Others are exceptions that prove the rule. For much of the period under study, Libya, Venezuela, Myanmar, North Korea, and Cuba were self-isolated from the wider world culture and society and tended to reject international advice on principle. This too supports the notion that states formed diaspora institutions when penetrated by global norms, and did not form diaspora institutions when they isolated themselves from these norms. 

Many dogs growled but didn’t actually bark: diaspora engagement policies were floating about, without formal diaspora institutions. These include Namibia, Republic of Congo, and Costa Rica – all coded as not having diaspora institutions in the dataset, but also all referenced in the book for their participation in the inaugural Diaspora Ministerial Conference (Appendix 2). Honduras does not have a diaspora institution, but like several neighbours, it does issue a consular ID card for Hondurans abroad (p. 42). El Salvador should perhaps have been discussed more (Bravo 2012). The growlers are important, not least because some countries in the dataset probably began by growling and worked themselves up to barking. Perhaps they began as part of an underground world of diaspora engagement that was brought out of the closet by changing international norms (or as Mylonas puts it, they ‘overcame a government-level preference revelation problem because of changes in the structure of the international system or a norm diffusion reality’). By the same logic, diaspora institutions may pop up soon in some of the states named above.

Some growlers were what Gerasimous Tsourapas calls ‘authoritarian emigration states’ (Tsourapas 2018), which have their fingers in the diaspora pie, but don’t have internationally approved diaspora institutions. Some of these seem recently strengthened, by the permissive climate for extra-territorial excursions, in their resolve to exert ‘remote control’ over émigrés. These include Saudi Arabia (think: Jamal Khashoggi), and perhaps North Korea (think: Kim Jong-nam). The World Bank noted disapprovingly in 2011 that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan ‘are either hostile to or are ignoring their diaspora populations’ (Heleniak 2011: V), even though Uzbekistan actually had an Agency for External Labor Migration in its Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations. Some such states may openly form diaspora institutions at some point, or more likely, re-brand existing institutions. Watch for changes like ‘The Department of Justice to Traitors and Deserters’ becoming ‘The Department of Diaspora Engagement’.

Other growlers, such as Britain, Canada, Australia, the USA and New Zealand do not generally think of themselves as having a diaspora (see Chapter 9, pp. 214-215). But proposed policies toward Britain’s diaspora were the subject of two reports by the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research, New Labour’s go-to think tank (Sriskandarajah & Drew 2006; Finch et al 2010). Canada’s Asia Pacific Foundation produced several reports advocating government engagement with the Canadian diaspora (e.g. Zhang 2007). Australia held a Federal Senate Commission of Inquiry on the Australian diaspora, accompanied by major reports from the Lowy Institute and leading migration expert Graeme Hugo (Australian Senate 2005; Fullilove & Flutter 2004; Hugo et al 2003). The New Zealand Government supports Kea – short for the Kiwi Expatriate Association – a public private partnership which aims to promote diaspora engagement (Gamlen 2013). The USA’s top migration think tank, the Migration Policy Institute, has even produced work on the American diaspora (Klekowski von Koppenfels 2015). Countries with diaspora policies but no actual diasporas are particularly interesting theoretically, because they suggest that such policies are considered ‘the done thing’: even when they serve no practical purposes, no self-respecting government would be seen dead in public without one.

This leaves very small number of countries that really don’t seem to have anything like a diaspora institution, and don’t have a good excuse for why not. These few are a surprisingly diverse bunch: they include Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark; Cambodia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea; Chad, Botswana, Sudan and South Sudan; and Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama, and Suriname. I am happy to be corrected if any do in fact have diaspora institutions. Interestingly, they are in geographical clusters – perhaps a clue for some future study. But for now, they remain a mystery.

Mylonas also refutes what he interprets as my timing of the ‘origin’ of human geopolitics. This may be a misunderstanding. My basic position is that human geopolitics are an inherent element of politics, which has taken different institutional forms and waxed and waned in salience over time. The interwar period is not a turning point but rather a point at which a specific institutional form emerges: the diaspora institution. I do refer to excellent work on a few earlier examples such as Mexico, Italy and Poland, by authors such as Robert C. Smith (2003) and Alexandra Délano (2011). I do not argue that human geopolitics started with the Minority Treaties; the book’s first line reads, ‘Human geopolitics, the competition for population rather than territory, has preceded violent conflict throughout world history’ (emphasis added).

Finally, Mylonas suggests that the book may represent the high watermark of a trend which depends on the continuation of open trade, without which ‘we may return to a world where human geopolitics gets trumped by territorial and security logics’, where ‘international organisations will also stop promoting such institutions’. I fully agree: even before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, global trade was taking a battering from populists in Europe and North America. The restrictions on all forms of mobility and migration in place at the time of writing suggests that territorial and security logics may storm back to the centre of global politics quite soon.

In finishing

I am deeply grateful to all of the reviewers for taking the time to engage with my work, which is in itself a real honour, and for writing such rigorous and insightful feedback. They have given me much to think about. Projects like this book take an enormous chunk of life energy, and we always worry about the views and judgements of the people we most respect and admire, so I was relieved these reviewers found many positive things to say. I hope that the book, and this Symposium, will help catalyse further research of mutual interest.