Organizing Immigrant Communities in American Cities: Is this Transnationalism, or What? (Working Paper #103)

Gustavo Cano, University of California – San Diego

Introduction: The term “transnationalism” is now commonly used by a growing cluster of social scientists. However, some scholars assert that the term is hopeless: it generally ends up explaining nothing new, it seems to have no future, or even worst, its regular users seem not to agree on the definition of the term, and the debates that it generates generally takes social scientists nowhere.

This paper deals with this situation from two perspectives. Firstly, I point out the theoretical problems that “transnationalism” presents as an interdisciplinary concept. I identify different subjects and transnational fields of study in several disciplines (Political Science, Sociology, Economics, Law, Migration Studies, and Anthropology), and research fields (Communication, Gender, Religion), and expose how each discipline/research field has dealt with different issues while attempting to build a solid theoretical background of the broad term during the last twenty one years.

In theoretical terms, I argue that the use of the term “transnationalism” has been transformed to a point in which is practically impossible to sustain the broader sense of the term beyond its generic roots. Terms like political transnationalism, anthropological transnationalism, sociological transnationalism, etc., form a more feasible working frame if the term is to prevail in the neighborhood.

From an empirical perspective, I develop an analysis of political transnationalism based on the Mexican immigrant experience in Houston and Chicago. I expose an organizational approach of transnational politics, and lay emphasis on the role of the Mexican and American states in the process. I argue that the essence of transnational politics is highly related to the agenda setting process of the organizations that deal with immigrant issues, and then I address the role of globalization politics and policies in the process of elite formation among immigrants. Finally, I point out the importance of the influence of local politics and policies in the formation and consolidation of transnational politics from an organizational standpoint.

Working Paper #103»