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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Borders, Exiles, and Diasporas
Edited by Elazar Barkan and Marie-Denise Shelton

(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998) Distributed by Cambridge University Press
340pp. Index. 35.00; ISBN 08047-2905-0. Pb.: 12.95; 08047-2906-9.



An unfortunate gap persists between "cultural studies" and social science approaches to culture. Barkan and Shleton's volume epitomizes the former and therefore will frustrate social scientists looking for insights into the politics of transnationalism.

Contributors cover a range of topics, from sexuality/gender in Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas to the philosophies of Benjamin and Wittgenstein. Most chapters focus on particular individuals or literary pieces, drawing on themes of exile and cultural encounter. Symptomatic of edited volumes, the book lacks an overarching argument or theme. Indeed, in that sense the book delivers on the editors' introductory promise to reflect the "open-ended, discontinuous, and syncretic nature of the postmodern experience" (p. 6). As such, social scientists can and should take a literary project on its own terms.

But the editors also claim that, because the volume "recognizes the political stakes of diasporic identity," it "combines the poetic with the political, while probing the existential consequences of displacement and cultural dislocation" (p. 5). Even those of us who accept the 1960s dictum that 'the personal is political' will regret the failure of the volume to deliver on its tantalizing potential for political insights that the editors rightly highlight.

While the volume as a whole may be too literary in its orientation to satisfy those more interested in the political and social dimensions of culture, a few contributions do deserve attention. Francoise Lionnet's chapter, "Immigration, Poster Art, and Transgressive Citizenship: France, 1968-1988," approaches multiculturalism in a way - poster art - which bridges the methodological gap between literary and social analysis. In "Scraps of Culture: African Style in the African American Community in Los Angeles," Leslis Rabin links African and African-American culture through clothing, an approach that could lend itself to more of a political economy perspective. And Catherine Portuges' "Accenting LA: Central Europeans in Diasporan Hollywood in the 1940s" reminds us not to generalize about content and nationality of cultural industries. These pieces point in fruitful directions for narrowing the conceptual and methodological divides between literary and social science views of culture. Only then will we be able to share a conversation about more specific concerns, such as the politics of transnationalism and cultural identities.

Audie Klotz,
University of Illinois at Chicago


Audie Klotz, University of Illinois at Chicago



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