Disconnections can lead to new connections: Diaspora and migration in modern times.


The process of migration is one of transition from one community to another. It has an impact on both the place of origin and the place where migrants settle as there are disconnections and connections that take place during the process; the push and pull factors usually at work can be economic, social, political or environmental. In this essay, qualitative and quantitative evidence from the study materials in support of the claim that “disconnections can lead to new connections” will be discussed, such as the personal experience of a migrant working on Cardiff’s City Road, the relationship that migrating mothers have with their home country, cultural roots and the place they have migrated to, the cultural sense of identity of Kurdish migrants and the effects of internal migration in the developing cities of Britain during the industrialisation period of the 1800s.

Connections and disconnections in relation to migration are about the relationships migrants leave behind and the new ones that form at their destination. These new relationships can form in the social world as they stem from a new job or neighbourhood. In Chapter 3 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, a few case studies from City Road in Cardiff are discussed, and the story of Nof Al-Kelaby, an Iraqi immigrant, is one of the new connections taking place in response to disconnections (Havard, 2014). Nof emigrated to Cardiff in the 1990s to study engineering; after graduation, he was unable to get a job in his field but found the opportunity to open a restaurant that had run successfully for fifteen years. Recently, however, the business was declining due to the rising competition in Cardiff, and Nof realised that the only way he could keep his business was to reinvent it to attract a different clientele. During the time when ‘The Hawaiian’ was successful, the social connections Nof had made were with the local community of the whole of Cardiff; when he reinvented his business and opened the ‘La Shish’ restaurant, the new social connections that formed were with the local Arabic community of City Road. Not found himself reconnecting with his own Iraqi identity as a result (The Open University, 2015).

For migrants, the sense of personal identity is strongly linked to one’s own background, native traditions and cultural heritage. Mothers play a fundamental role in creating and maintaining a connection with the culture that was left behind and the culture of the adopted country. ‘Translocalism’ is the term used by social scientists to describe the link people have to more than one place at the same time (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.157). In the focus group discussion led by Umut Erel (The Open University, 2015), three immigrant mothers are interviewed to get a better insight into their experience as migrant mothers. They all account for their likes and dislikes about living in London, yet they all have a definite awareness of where they come from, what that means for the children they are bringing up, what it means for them to be able to go back and teach the children their traditions, foods and language. Engaging with the neighbourhood is also very important to all of them, yet the most significant connections are made through their children’s schools, since for parents, and mothers in particular, networking with other parents is what leads to new social connections. All of these connections, both personal and social, are essential to the sense of identity, such as in the case of the mother of Kurdish descent, who, although raised in Germany from the age of five, finds it important to pass on to her children both German and Kurdish traditions.

The Kurdish population that has been migrating away from Turkey is a good example of a strong cultural identity that is being kept alive by traditions and language passed on from generation to generation. In Chapter 4 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Raghuram and Erel describe the term ‘Diaspora’ to identify a geographically sparse population that shares some common elements of heritage linked to a home, real or imagined (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.153).  They go on to explain that “diasporic cultural identity is often invested with a search for origins, yet it undergoes constant transformation” and add that “for many migrants the idea of a homeland is contested, particularly for refugees” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Even though the Kurdish people are the dominant ethnic group in parts of Eastern Turkey since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 Kurds have not been officially recognised (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Those publicly identifying themselves as belonging to that ethnic group have been marginalised or persecuted, particularly in recent years: the ongoing war the Turkish state is engaged in with the Kurdish guerrillas cost an estimated 40,000 lives and forced internal displacement of approximately one million Kurdish villagers (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.155). It is therefore important for the Kurdish people to maintain that fundamental sense of identity and pass it on and keep it alive with their future generations, often merging with the identity of the places they have migrated to. They regularly visit Kurdish community centres, they learn the Kurd language and attend religious, political, social events to reinforce their cultural identity (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.156).  As Raghuram and Erel put it, “these Kurdish mothers make new identities for themselves and their children as (in the case of Kurds that have migrated to the UK) British Kurds or Kurdish British”.

Raghuram and Erel go on to explain that “migration is caused by both the factors that ‘push’ people away from where they currently live […] and the factors that ‘pull’ people to other destinations” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.160). This is true for both international and internal migration. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Britain experienced the growth of cities and a change in how people lived, a process referred to by the term ‘Urbanisation’ (Dixon and Hichliffe, 2014, p.85). The population shifted from small villages to towns, which would then grow into cities. The reasons for this migration, although complex, can be summarised as changes in farming and the growing importance of industrial manufacturing (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.85). Data on the size of the population during a 90-year span was collected, beginning in 1801, and an estimate could be made: it was found that settlements with over 20,000 people increased ten-fold from 1.5 million to over 15 million over that period (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86). In interpreting the data, Dixon and Hichliffe state that “most of this population growth was in the centre of cities, with many people housed in appalling conditions” (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86): this had a significant impact on the way people lived and the connections they would make. Suddenly, numerous families would live closely together in slums, and new connections, that never occurred previously, would stem from such living arrangements. The term ‘Urbanisation’ encompassed not only the physical phenomena of growing cities but also to the subtle and important changes in the way people lived their lives (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.87).

As the above examples have shown, the claim that disconnections can lead to new connections goes hand in hand with the concept of migration, as inevitably there will be disconnections and equally inevitably there will be connections, stemming from the job opportunities migrants will encounter at their destination or the neighbourhood they will move to. The connections that formed in the social life of Nof on City Road led him to a new sense of identity, whilst for the migrant mothers interviewed by Erel, the social and personal connections are about maintaining their sense of identity; particularly for the Kurdish migrants, the sense of identity intertwines with the identity of the place they have migrated to without losing the sense of their cultural heritage; and as seen during the industrialisation period of the 1800s, people disconnected from the old way of life to make new connections in the form of new communities and new ways that families lived together.


Catriona Havard (2014) ‘Connecting Lives’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.

The Open University (2015) ‘Connecting Lives’ [Video], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620292&section=2 (Accessed 18 June 2015).

The Open University (2015) ‘Migrating Mothers’ [Audio], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620321&section=3 (Accessed 18 June 2015).

Parvati Raghuram and Umut Erel (2014) ‘Migration: changing and connecting places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.

John Dixon and Steve Hinchliffe (2014) ‘Connecting people and places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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