The role of technology in the enhancement of diasporic networks
By Foteini Kalantzi
Picture: NASA on Unsplash.
In the current era, the scrutinising of the interrelationship between homeland and diaspora needs to include three important aspects. The first is that diasporas can only be seen through a transnational prism, affected by a multitude of goals, actors and agendas, with a capacity to affect economic and political developments in the homeland. The second is that the rapidly expanding technological innovations and the wide use of a variety of platforms, especially in the pandemic era, have upended the patterns of human communication and societal synergies. The third is that the networks between diasporas, as well as the networks between homeland and diaspora, follow different interactive patterns in comparison to previous eras, and this can be associated, to a great extent, with the digitisation of human interaction.
According to academic literature, diasporas have the capacity to influence the homeland negatively through, for example, conflictual claims and radicalisation of certain groups, or positively through partaking in fundraising activities, humanitarian causes, and business investments. Certainly, information technology has reshaped the ways that these interactions take place. The flexible character of the internet contributes to the formation, configuration and dissemination of agendas, goals, ideas, and networks. Through the employment of information technology, diasporas have the capacity to influence policy changes easily and quickly, to show their solidarity through lobbying, and to strengthen social bonds, professional networks and relationships. For example, several initiatives by Greek diasporic entrepreneurs demanded the facilitation of the right of Greek citizens to vote from their place of residence. Campaigns were launched through the internet, in forums, and through social media initiatives. After the 2019 law that was passed by an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians to allow Greek diasporans to vote from abroad, the government set up a registration platform. Through this particular platform, Greek voters abroad can now register on the special electoral lists by submitting all the required documents online.
These new and altered modes of homeland-diaspora communication set a different framework for scrutiny for migration and diaspora researchers. Using the Greek Diaspora Project at South East European Studies at the University of Oxford (SEESOX) as a case study, there is a firm realisation that there is a necessity to develop technological tools responding to the demands of the current era, such as the Greek Diaspora Digital Map. The goal of this tool is to promote the interaction between Greece and its diaspora, and also among the Greek diaspora itself. The map constitutes a user-friendly tool, through which people can access the rich information on different diasporic organisations and filter them according to the country they are located in, their activity profile, and also their connection to a specific geographical origin in Greece. The essential benefits of technology in facilitating and analysing diasporic networks are twofold: firstly, this tool can serve not only as a record of the Greek presence around the world, but can also provide a platform of communication for global Hellenism; secondly, it can contain not only organisations that traditionally exist physically, but also newly created organisations with only a digital presence – a growing trend. There can be multiple benefits from the usage of the digital map that can be placed in the wider framework of much-needed diasporic engagement with the homeland, particularly due to the economic crisis and the changing requests/wishes of the diaspora towards Greece.
Greek diasporans of older generations participate in diaspora communities, for example cultural or professional associations, in those connected with the Greek Orthodox church, or in associations based on regional origins (i.e. people from the Peloponnese, Crete, etc.). These have been the traditional ways of staying in touch with their national and cultural identity and traditions. Newer generations (either those that are second-, third-, fourth-generation Greeks or those that emigrated in the recent large wave caused by the 2008 economic crisis), also choose to connect through online communities. Technology can be an indispensable medium for interaction between communities of scattered Hellenism. It can bring diasporans with a specific cause together (i.e. funding Greek schools abroad) in an online forum, or help them mobilise for economic, philanthropic, or political purposes in the homeland. Especially during the pandemic, there have been numerous examples that demonstrate diasporic engagement facilitated through information technology. For example, technical and psychological support was offered online, as well as fundraising campaigns which were enabled through platforms (for example, one of the Greek diaspora’s campaigns was launched through ‘The Hellenic Initiative COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund’).
Technology has been progressively nurturing diasporic networks. Especially during this unparalleled pandemic crisis, it has assisted recent emigrants and diasporans to remain in touch with their loved ones, to retain social bonds to their homeland and psychological links to their identity. In fact, the impact of technology since the outbreak of the pandemic has further eradicated boundaries and helped in the creation of new diaspora groups, which offered support, connectivity and valuable information to communities in need.
Dr Foteini Kalantzi is the A.G. Leventis Researcher at South East European Studies (SEESOX), St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Her work focuses on migration, diaspora politics, European borders, and Greek political affairs.
This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.