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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Gatherings in Diaspora
Edited by RS Stephen Warner & Judith G Wittner

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
409pp. Index. $59.95; ISBN1-56639-613-1. Pb.: $24.95; 1-56639-614-X.

Warner and Wittner have edited a nice collection of ethnographic studies looking at how immigrant communities in the United States articulate a collective identity on religious grounds. Each of the chapters writes a micro sociological study of the processes of religious identity creation of a small, local community of post-1965 immigrants in the United States. Instead of a textual production of identity, the authors self-consciously emphasise a participatory research of the institutional processes of identity formation. The chapters cover a rich patchwork of religious communities: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Rastafarians and practitioners of Voodoo from countries such as Korea, Mexico, Morocco, China, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iran, and Jamaica.

The book includes some excellent ethnographic chapters offering detailed descriptions of everyday community practices. But, systematic reflections about the general concepts which inform the micro sociology are only scarcely present. It would have been interesting to see in each of the chapters a more explicit reflection on how the concept of identification is understood, for example. Another problem with micro-studies is that the structural context within which the everyday practices are located often remain underarticulated. Integrating micro-analysis with a more general reading of national and global economic, cultural and social structures and processes could have improved the thickness of the descriptions. This would also have opened a way for a more critical theorising of the subject. It must be said though that the book aspires mainly to be a collection of interesting ethnographic studies and that the weakness just described is to an extent unavoidable in such a collection. But, an easy way out - the more difficult being to demand of each individual author to address these issues - would have been to add a strong introductory and concluding chapter which deal explicitly with conceptual and contextual dimensions. Although the introductory and concluding chapter of the book do this to an extent, they could have been structured much more tightly around conceptual and methodological questions and the link between the wider social context and the local situations. The introduction, for example, reads like an explanation of the general project of which these case studies are a part instead of offering a more general substantial interpretation of diasporic communities in the United States. In conclusion, the book is interesting in its detail but somewhat lacking in its more general picture.

The ethnographic studies are preceded by a general introduction which explains the larger project of which these chapters are a part. The concluding chapter evaluates the general orientation of the micro-studies from a broader perspective including issues such as globalisation.

Jef Huysmans, University of Kent

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