Transnational Comunities and Global Cities full text

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The ambiguous character of transnational communities and the ambivalence of their consciousness and identity is particularly evident when it is linked to discourses on global cities. The idea that immigrants may find their primary sense of identity at the level of the city rather than the nation-state is implicit in some current research approaches, such as the Canadian Metropolis Pro- gram. As the boundaries ofthe nation-state become blurred and porous, there is a temptation to put increasing emphasis on sub-national belonging — that is to re-territorialize identity at the level of the city Local social and political relations are seen as crucial, and local citizenship can be perceived as a sub- stitute for diminishing chances for political influence at the national and supra-national levels.

This focus on the city can be seen as a reaction to critiques of multiculturalism as a policy actually encouraging divisions on the basis of ethnicity It can be understood as an attempt to redefine transnational consciousness: the old diaspora, seen as ‘long-distance nationalism’ in ‘transnational virtual space’ can be replaced by ‘local transnationalism’ understood as the hybridization ofcosmopolitan transnational communities sharing local territorial space (Ang, 2000). Hybridity rather than nationalism in global cities is an appeal- ing perspective, but, again, it is far from clear that this is the most frequent outcome. Two problems need to be remembered.

The first is that cultural diversity in global cities does not in any way indicate equality or harmony between ethnic groups. Processes of differentiation based on class, race, gender and legal status lead to complex hierarchies of privilege in global cities. Certain groups — both local and immigrant — have the chance ofmobility into positions ofhigh income, status and power, while others have to do the ‘3D-jobs,’ or are excluded altogether from the labor market. Portes and others have used the notion of ‘segmented assimilation’: immigrants do not get assimilated into society as a whole, but into a certain segment; in the United States it can be seen as assimilation as white, or assimilation as black (Portes et aL, 1999; Zhou, 1997). Major social issues arise where ethnicity or race becomes strongly linked to class and location — as can be observed not only in the ‘black ghettos’ of the United States, but also in the immigrant neighborhoods of European and Asian cities.

The second problem is that a focus on the city as the key site for inter- group relations can lead to misconceptions on its relative autonomy. The city is no more self-sufficient nor closed-off than the nation-state. Rather, it should be understood as a node where various types ofglobal networks inter- sect, The transnational communities can be seen as one form of such net- works. Thus, members of transnational communities are likely to have both transnational ethnic consciousness and local hybrid consciousness — in vary- ing measures and at different times, Notions such as ‘code-switching’ and ‘negotiating identity’ (Kastoryano, 1996) are useful in understanding this.