Trans-nationalism

The concept of trans-nationalism refers to multiple ties and interactions linking people and institutions across the borders of nation-states1. Trans-national activities can be defined as:

"those that take place on a recurrent basis across national borders and that require a regular and significant commitment of time by participants. Such activities may be conducted by relatively powerful actors, such as representatives of national governments and multinational corporations, or may be initiated by more modest individuals, such as immigrants and their home country kin and relations. These activities are not limited to economic enterprises, but include political, cultural and religious initiatives as well." 2

This definition indicates the close relationship between trans-nationalism and globalisation, which also refers essentially to the rapid expansion of cross-border transactions and networks in all areas of life. At the same time, the concept suggest that boundaries between nation-states are becoming less distinct.

Trans-national communities are one aspect of trans-nationalism. Trans-national communities are groups whose identity is not primarily based on attachment to a specific territory. The notion of a trans-national community puts the emphasis on human agency: such groups are the result of cross-border activities which link individuals, families and local groups.

Together with globalisation, the sharp increase of trans-national communities undermines the means of controlling difference founded on territoriality. Trans-national communities represent a powerful challenge to the traditional ideas of nation-state belonging.3 The idea of the person who belongs to just one nation-state or at most migrates from one state to just one other (whether temporarily or permanently) is undermined by the increase in mobility; growth of temporary, cyclical and recurring migrations; cheap and easy travel, etc. In the context of globalisation, trans-nationalism can extend previous face-to-face communities based on kinship, neighbourhoods or workplaces into remote virtual communities, which communicate at a distance.

Trans-national communities do not necessarily refer only to migrants, since cross-border groups with common cultural, sporting, political or other interests might also consider themselves a community. However, in practical terms, groups arising from migrations are the most significant type, and most research on trans-national communities refers to these. Clearly, migrants have always lived in more than one setting, maintaining links with a real or imagined community in the state of origin. The new is the context of globalisation and economic uncertainty that facilitates the construction of social relations transcending national borders. The increase in mobility and the development of communication have contributed to such relations, and has created a transnational space of economic, cultural and political participation.4


1 Vertovec, S. 1999, Conceiving and researching transnationalism, Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(2): 445-62. in Castles, S. 2000. International Conference on Transnational Communities in the Asia Pacific Region: Comparative Perspectives, Singapore 7-8 August, 2000

2 Portes, A. 1999 'Conclusion: towards a new world - the origins and effects of transnational activities', Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(2): 463-77.

3 Castles, S. 2000. International Conference on Transnational Communities in the Asia Pacific Region: Comparative Perspectives, Singapore 7-8 August, 2000.

4 For more on this see Kastoryano, R. 2000. Settlement, transnational communities and citizenship. International Social Science Journal. Vol 165 , September 2000. Blackwell Publishers/ UNESCO.

Back to top