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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

EUI - Diasporic formations in motion: (re)mobilising transnational communities, the case of Chile.

Awarded: NOK 2.3 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2024

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In October 2019, protests erupted in several Latin American countries. Beyond the local political significance of the events, this project addresses the reactions they elicited among members of their diasporas. Scholars have attributed diaspora mobilisations to triggering events in the homeland, which provoke emotional responses among emigrants, spurring them into action. Yet responses to the 2019 protests varied greatly between diasporic groups. While no large-scale mobilisations were observed among emigrants from Peru, Ecuador or Colombia, Chile stands out as an extreme case. Within a few days of the uprisings starting, 95 local organisations - a sizeable number for a diaspora this small - were formed across Europe to express solidarity with protestors in Chile. These organisations are all working together through a network called Chile Despertó Internacional. The circumstances under which migrants engage politically with their home countries have been discussed in previous literature. But as diasporas exist at the intersection of multiple political structures and contexts, it is challenging to attain the conditions required to compare cases. A proposed alternative is to reorient the empirical focus to the processes and mechanisms behind mobilisation. In doing so, however, academics have either focussed on situations where a domestic conflict has sustained mobilisation, or examined specific instances of mobilisation as isolated occurrences. Consequently, they have overlooked an essential factor: the temporality of collective action. I argue that a life-cycle approach that takes into account the historical contingency of diaspora mobilisations can explain why the Chilean diaspora has mobilised in such a remarkable scale and scope. The Chilean diaspora, as it was formed in the aftermath of the 1973 coup, had a strong political profile. In line with the literature’s predictions, with time, and as the conflict sustaining political activity ended, those who did not return to Chile shifted their energy towards improving their lives in the host country, new waves of migration diversified the established networks, and new generations nurtured different notions of the ‘homeland’. I expect that despite passing time and a diversification of actors, the high political profile and organisational capabilities of the Chilean diaspora in the 1970s influenced – or even conditioned – the mobilisation process. I develop this expectation through four theorised mechanisms. First, activists stayed in contact across localities after visible political activity ceased, which enabled transnational coordination (brokerage). Second, actors could re-deploy symbols used in the past to galvanise support locally (framing). Third, some organisations created in the 70s remained active without substantive political activity, enabling the building of a collective identity locally despite increased heterogeneity (collective identity building). This fostered group cohesion, and made it more likely for individuals to be drawn into the movement through stronger within-group norms. In a fourth mechanism, I consider the alternative possibility that previous experience did not matter as the mobilisation effort was fuelled by new, external actors with ties to political parties in the homeland and ulterior motives. If so, I anticipate alliances to have been formed between local and external actors (coalition-building). I explore these expectations through a combination of qualitative methods. I first use Social Network Analysis and Discourse Network Analysis to assess historical contingency at the network-level by tracing patterns of brokerage and frame deployment. Then, I conduct immersive fieldwork in Paris and Madrid to reconstruct the process of mobilisation locally. My within-case method is process-tracing, where I assess the evidence for and against all four mechanisms. The sites are chosen according to the demographic makeup of the diaspora by waves of migration, since I expect this to influence whether and the extent to which local actors could draw on previous experience. It is now acknowledged that diasporas can serve as transnational political advocates, as emigrants have been shown to mobilise aid, promote development, and facilitate democratic transitions in their home countries. The political significance of these initiatives makes the task of understanding how transnational networks are (re)activated to generate collective action all-the-more relevant. Driven by a lack of adequate theoretical tools to capture the temporality of diasporic contention, the aim of this project is to study the micro-dynamics of the processes behind the mobilisation of the Chilean diaspora to engage in theory-building on what I refer to as “diasporic life cycles”. By addressing whether the ability to draw on previous experience conditions the mobilisation process, this project also speaks to the question of why only some diasporas mobilise.

This aim of this project is to understand how and why diasporic formations lose steam and remobilise in the light of shifting conditions pertaining to the diasporic make-up, as well as to wider political developments both in the home country and globally. I will be exploring these processes through a mixed-methods study of the ongoing mobilisations within Chilean communities in Europe. These are the largest diaspora mobilisations observed since the end of the dictatorship in the 1990s, and culminated in a historical plebiscite in which they were able to take part. Through this research, I hope to contribute to a growing field of scholarship that considers the interplay between grassroot initiatives and wider political structures in shaping practices of transnational citizenship.

Funding scheme:

FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte