Digital Society Forum Digital Society Forum
Dossier 18/02/2014

E-diaspora: Existing online

Separated by oceans or by a street, it makes no difference to migrants in maintaining their community bonds. Not only a place of communication, but also a representation of oneself or of mobilization and action, the internet is conducive to the expression of a collective identity.

Starting with social networks: to feel a sense of being from somewhere, often coming together, among themselves, online. As can be seen from The Bans, a platform created in 1996 by a couple of Romanians, newly installed in Toronto. Originally, it was to offer practical information and tips to Romanian newcomers to the Canada. Very quickly, the site became both a discussion forum, a job exchange and... a true melting pot community. Indeed, for researcher Dana Diminescu, during the 2000s this "revolutionary" site was not just a 'knowledge - flow' exchange platform between migrants, but also the "catalyst for a collective identity". More than simply sharing practical information to facilitate migration and integration, this social network actually allows the strengthening of a sense of belonging among nationals. A feeling which does not necessarily remain confined to the virtual world: the momentum created by the network has led to the creation of an association and a Romanian school in Toronto.

Mobilization online


Collective identity can give rise to a simple solidarity initiative, such as sharing useful migration information, but it can also find its expression in online social mobilization. The migrants concerned then become `netizens', a contraction of “Internet “and “citizen” (citizen). Funding research, discussions on the criteria for faculty service promotions, concrete proposals to reform the world of education, for example, are among the topics discussed and analysed on Ad-astra.ro. In 2002, both the site and mailing list were launched simultaneously by young Romanian scientists, and became a remote actor in Romanian civil society. This virtual agora gathers brains dispersed in a multitude of Western universities. Physically far from their country of origin, their collective identity crystallizes via a common objective. The Group has ended up creating a Romanian NGO to strengthen its territorial anchoring, proof once again that virtual interactions can replicate "real" interactions. The example of Ad-astra.ro thus proves to us that to leave one's country does not mean drawing a line under one's citizenship: one can maintain bonds with one's country, even being an actor in one's own right, remotely.

Collective identity


However, it would be wrong to believe that the collective identity is based only on communication, mobilization or practical help, in short, on action. This identity can be also the fruit of a shared history, of a collective memory, which structures the community, resulting from real or imaginary accounts… For example, this is the case for the Hmong diaspora. It is not surprising that these people without territory use the internet as a tool for symbolic reunion, a paradoxical cultural gathering which is accessible to all. Bear in mind, however, that while migrants certainly develop countless virtual networks, they do not compensate for all the inequalities. In the case of Hmong, the American communities being hegemonic, the voice of the French diaspora is weaker, for example.

By their capacity to compress space, online networks are thus conducive to the creation and maintenance of a strong collective identity. Thanks to the boom and to the innovative use of ICT, the localization of resources and people don't matter very much. Yesterday perceived as absent and uprooted, the migrant is now not only rooted in many cultures but is also a changemaker "here" and "there".


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