This report explores the theoretical and conceptual basis underpinning academic debates on engagement in the politics of conflict and post-conflict by communities living overseas.

Migrant communities are increasingly recognised as critical actors in their countries of origin and destination

Migrant communities are increasingly recognised as critical actors in their countries of origin and destination, capable of influencing political action from abroad and determining the politics of conflict, conflict, resolution and post-conflict reconstruction.

The academic literature on migrant political engagement is often framed around four overlapping social science concepts, diaspora, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and translocalism – which are deployed to explain the processes associated with population movement and settlement, and the implications these have on collective and individual identity, community-creation, and to a lesser extent political engagement and political action.

This review of the academic literature focuses specifically on the contribution a conceptually-driven analysis can have in better understanding processes of mobility and political action across borders in the context of engagement that seeks to either support the use of violence to achieve political aims – or to reject it in favour of moderate politics – and under what conditions such political re-orientation might take place. 

It should be noted that the structure of the report separates out each of the four concepts and discusses their relevance to the analysis of diaspora political action. The authors identify, however, that within the literature the terms are used interchangeably and the meanings attached to them are not always consistent or shared.

Bauböck (2010) and others have suggested that refining the academic vocabulary, for example by adding new terminology such as ‘trans-polity’, could be a useful exercise to underline the analytical and methodological differences between these overlapping terms. Bauböck is right to caution however that ‘one should avoid…introducing too many new terms into a well-established field of study’ (2010: 310) as this risks further increasing the confusion and complexity into the scholarship.

This report acknowledges the interconnections between the concepts and the normative implications that each term carries both individually as well as in relation to one another.

The review has found that the conceptually framed literature has common ground in identifying the centrality of identity, membership, borders, and nation when analysing how political norms of citizenship and nationality develop within non-state settings and shape political action across borders.

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