Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tahseen Shams's "Here, There, and Elsewhere"

Tahseen Shams is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Toronto - St. George, and the 2020-21 Bissell-Heyd Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the United States of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Here, There, and Elsewhere: The Making of Immigrant Identities in a Globalized World, and reported the following:
Here, There, and Elsewhere is about how, contrary to common perception, immigrants’ identities are shaped by geopolitics not just in the immigrant sending and receiving countries but also in those places beyond the homeland and hostland—places I conceptualize as “elsewhere.” Based on ethnographic data, in-depth interviews, and analysis of social media activities of South Asian Muslim Americans, it shows that different dimensions of these immigrants’ “Muslim” identity category tie them to different “elsewhere” contexts, such as those in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. But “elsewhere” does not mean everywhere. A place beyond the homeland and hostland by itself is not important to the immigrants’ identities. Just how a faraway foreign land becomes salient to the immigrants’ sense of self depends on an interplay of global hierarchies, homeland politics, and hostland dynamics.

Page 99 picks up this very thread to summarize how: 1) “elsewhere” contexts, by interacting with hostland dynamics, add global dimensions to immigrants’ homeland ties; and 2) how the homeland’s historic and ongoing sociopolitics make certain places more salient as “elsewheres” than others in the immigrants’ worldviews. The summary, which concludes Chapter 3, “Global Dimensions of Homeland Ties,” also reflects the dynamism of the elsewhere framework. It says:
“Homelands are not geopolitically static or isolated once their people leave for the United States. South Asia has long maintained relationships with the “elsewhere” Middle East, the effects of which have influenced various aspects of society in the immigrants’ homelands, including politics and religious life. These interconnections with “elsewhere” have come to affect immigrants by shaping not only their national and Muslim identities but also the ways they are perceived by the larger host society. In addition, the subcontinent’s past at the hands of British colonizers is still salient in the worldview of South Asians, including those who have immigrated to the West. The remnants of these countries’ colonized past are deeply rooted in their language, politics, religious life, and community-building. South Asian Muslim Americans are aware of the continuing conflicts between the West and the Muslim world. Their perceptions of these geopolitical conflicts shape how these immigrants navigate their Muslim-ness in the hostland, collectively locate themselves at the global level, and bring their worldview into their political engagements. These understandings of homeland-“elsewhere” dynamics are critical to getting a clear picture of the ways in which immigrants function as vectors of globalized ideas and perceptions…”
This paragraph also presents a crucial piece of the book’s central arguments—that immigrants are “vectors of globalization” who both produce and experience the interconnectedness of societies, not only the societies of origin and destination, but also, the societies beyond. Migration Studies, as a result of its focus on the dynamics exclusively between the sending and receiving countries, largely overlooks the impact of places beyond the homeland-hostland paradigm and consequently fails to see how “elsewhere” and the events transpiring them shape immigrants’ lives and identities. My book extends the scholarship by systematically showing how places beyond the homeland and hostland—“elsewhere”—shape how immigrants view themselves—i.e. self-identification with “elsewhere”; and how these places shape how others in the hostland view these immigrants—i.e., identification of immigrants by others in relation to “elsewhere.”

From this perspective, the page 99 test works for my book fairly well! But I encourage readers to read the rest of the pages too, as they show in other ways just how meaningful yet overlooked “elsewhere” is to the lives of both immigrants and of those around them.
Visit Tahseen Shams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue