Diaspora, Transnational Comunities and Alternative Media in Italian Context

1. Introduction

The phenomenon of migration has affected Italy in the past twenty years. After the fall in the number of migrants in 1970-2000, many have started leaving the country since 2000. The young generation flow towards developed countries re-started because of the poor conditions of the national economy. Some considered this situation unique, because the Italian brain drain is now a dilemma rather than a brain exchange, like in other European economies[1].

The findings of this research will be used for a TV reportage on the new diaspora, to help understand this phenomenon within the young generation. The project will give an outlook of the current Italian economy and its influence on diaspora, whose characteristics have already been discussed in a former paper. Examples of the Italian migrations in the United States will also be presented.

This research will be relevant to determine how the new Italian migrants get themselves organized abroad and the role of alternative media in building communities. As Bailey suggests[2], although diasporic media are not new worldwide, a recent idea of “national community in the host country” has spread and media produced locally and transnationally are now consumed locally and translocally. Beside newspapers, broadcasting, cultural groups, already existent in many countries to engage people under the “tricolore” flag, the young generation is today adopting modern channels to perceive itself as a community.

An overview on how the social media serves migrants’ needs, like overcoming the exclusion feeling abroad and maintaining contacts with their homeland, will also be given. New media (internet, social networks) have an important role not only in stimulating migrants to move, but also in re-affirming the homeland culture, by creating and maintaining linkages within the diasporic community. Individuals use internet services to find information at low cost[3] and interact with people they could not connect with in distant countries[4].


2. The transnational community – Connected communities in a connected world

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in how the diaspora notion has changed, in relation to the greater role played by technology. Firstly, the transmigrants model has been introduced. Glick-Schiller’s definition indicates those “persons who, having migrated from one nation-state to another, live their lives across borders, participating simultaneously in social relations that embed them in more than one nation-state”[5]. However, the concept itself has brought some questionable features. It does not consider that transnational practices may differ, by being constant, periodic, or just occasional. Nevertheless, they may occur consistently across multiple social domains (politics, economics, or culture) or may be limited to just one[6].

To investigate the relations between the newest migrants’ characteristics and communication, Fazal’s description of transnationalism – that includes the forces working across the nation’s boundaries – may also be functional[7]. It helps understand how today media influences social and cultural aspects of the diasporic communities, by working against the homogenization and approaching the ideas of “fusion” and “crossover”[8]. Mary Gillespie has introduced a similar explanation, by drawing attention to how communication technologies have reduced the importance of political borders and spatial and temporal boundaries[9].

Some authors have also attempted to illustrate innovations brought by the transnational community notion. Migrants develop global identities and trans-local understanding of home, but they also build national networks whose political, economic, social features can apply to societies in different countries[10].

In the study of international migrations, Faist has explored the progress of the transnational process[11]. The first stage is migration as movement of individuals towards other countries. Adaptation as second step can be achieved in three different ways: melt into the core, separation, and transnationalism. The third option best matches the perspective of the research in the way transnational paths develop, with a circulation of goods, people and information, crossing the borders in the migration system for a certain amount of time. Finally, adaption turns into a proper transnational community, where an equidistance between the former emigration country and the country of settlement exists.

Little attention has been paid to this process in the Italian context so far. Most studies focused on immigration and its impact on social and political contexts. The topic in the Italian perspective can best be treated under two headings: the economic and the cultural-social angles. Maurizio Ambrosini introduced different forms of transnationalism which may be significant in this investigation: the circulatory, where couriers build linkages between migrants and their families back home; the connective, mainly based on keeping in touch through identity features; the mercantile, based on migrants’ need of purchasing goods from their homeland, to overcome the sense of nostalgia; and the symbolic, which does not imply any real movement of products, but it helps recreate the migrants’ origins through cultural, social, and religious activities[12].

The Italian pattern has developed in a distinctive way by mixing aspects from both the mercantile and symbolic outlines. This statement can be illustrated by some organizations which gather information about Italian entrepreneurs abroad. Even though most of them are settled in the host countries(as the Chambers of Commerce), the strong relationship with Italian institutions would not allow them to be considered in the transnational prospect. Instead, the “transnationalism” as movement raising “from the bottom” is present for instance in the Confederation of Italian Entrepreneurs Worldwide which develops a global network linking Italian business communities abroad with those operating in Italy. Its goal is to enable members to work cooperatively in foreign markets to promote innovation and opportunities of exchange experiences, ideas, contacts.

TheMind the Bridge Foundation represents an example within the young generation’s panorama. It is a non-profit initiative founded byan Italian ex-Google manager, Marco Marinucci (www.mindthebridge.org). While being involved in a business plan competition in Africa, he was inspired by the radical impact such an initiative played and he decided to replicate the model to achieve a similar impact in his own country, Italy. The goal is to promote a sustainable Italian entrepreneurial ecosystem, encourage more innovative ideas, and reinvigorate the complex new venture economy, providing Italian entrepreneurs with direct exposure to potential venture capital investors from the Silicon Valley. Every year Mind the Bridge runs an annual Business Plan Competition with the purpose of selecting the best innovative business idea among all the talented Italian applicants, who are often unable to promote themselves in their own country.


3. Migrating in a 2.0 world

One of the aspects of the modern diaspora is represented by the relevant function the digital communication plays in the migrants’ purpose of “feeling at home in the exile country”[13]. Migration as a process of estrangement, involving both spatial and temporal dislocations, can cause a break in people’s life and produce a sense of discomfort, alienation and loss[14]. In this perspective, the development of digital technologies has changed the ways people keep in touch. This is true not only in their attempt to organize a community in the host country, but also to build relations with their homeland.

Until the end of the 20th century, broadcasting was used as the main provider of contents from migrants’ homeland to the national communities abroad. As Scannell explains, radio and television created a “world in common” in which the sense of “our time, the time of our being with one another in the world” was shaped[15]. Today, online media are contributing to the same function. Qiu considers those media significant because they help cultivate new relationships through an instant access to thousands of contacts with similar interests and experiences[16].

However, King points out there is no evidence that the presence of diasporic groups online helps maintain the national identity[17]. Another investigation shows that their success is related to the possible “collapse of community” in a country where more individualism, isolation and lack of public responsibility are present[18]. Komito high-lights the impact of social media in migration processes: when the new technologies enable migrants to participate in the communities left behind or to create new ones, the connected migrant can guarantee a co-presence in the home world, based on family and friends, and in the destination country formed of fellow country-people[19].

The following examples will help understand how the Italian communities abroad are using social media to support new migrants and to maintain contacts with their homeland.


It was the first website which involves Italians who live abroad and those who want to leave Italy. Launched in 2003 by four Italian professionals in Paris, it engages a hundred thousand members in 78 different locations. The network is divided into sections, with diverse information. The strength lies in the opportunity, for the potential migrant, to contact people living in the chosen destination country. Other members’ support is possible both before leaving the homeland, with news on diverse topics (job opportunities, costs, immigration), and after reaching the host country, where events, activities are organized for the Italian community.


The blog has been launched to narrate an individual experience. A multi-knowledge Italian traveler started giving advice to migrate to another country. Followers are led by the same idea: life in Italy is not as satisfying as it was supposed to be; one option – as the blog name says itself – is to fly away. News are available on different topics, for instance how to get a visa; how to face an interview abroad, and how to improve language skills. The blog, once based only on the administrator’s contributions, is now opened to followers’ contents which represent a structured source of steps any “fugitive Italian” should take.

FaceBook Groups

Create a name, upload a picture and invite friends: the launch of a FaceBook page becomes extremely easy for any user. Italians living anywhere in the world can join a city-group to share ideas, problems, issues. A recent study underlines how social networks usually vary according to the content, the relationships between users, and the importance of sharing culture and language. FaceBook provides a source for individuals’ social need of belonging. It offers a real-time newsfeed which allows people to keep connected and prevents the social isolation which may emerge in a diaspora situation, by making individuals feel they belong to a circle of friends. Social networks “connect networks of individuals that may or may not share a place-based connection”[20].


4. Conclusion

The aim of this investigation was to assess topics for a documentary about Italian migrations. It confirmed previous conclusions on transnational migrants and their role in the global scenario. The major outcome was that the flow of migration generates the basis for building transnational communities. The Italian context showed features which change according to the destination country and the migrants’ choices. Firstly, this study developed the understanding of diasporic communities and the methods they use to keep linkages with the homeland and to get organized in the destination countries. Secondly, it contributed to the current literature on media and diaspora. The findings suggested a role for internet services in promoting the national community and supporting cohesion among its members. This is also viable for the Italian framework.

In this perspective it has been significant to analyze the development of diaspora’s relations with media and the global implications, both in the national and the destinations’ context. Nowadays migrants are aware of where to go, how to get information and how to build new connections. However, only the stories told in the documentary will reveal which factors most influence migrants’ choices and whether or not their experiences can be considered similar to that from the last century.


[1]           Francesca Romana Seganti, Practicing Reflexivity in the Study of Italian Migrants in London, London, London Metropolitan University, 2010.


[2]           Olga Bailey, Myria Geourgiu, and Harindranath Ramaswami, Transnational lives and the media. Reimaginining Diaspora, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.


[3]           Francess Cairncross, The death of distance. How the communications devolution will change our lives, London, Orion Business Paperbacks, 1997.


[4]           Nicholas Christakis, and James Fowler, Connected. The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives, New York, Little, Brown and Company, 2009.


[5]           Nina Schiller Glick, Linda Basch, and Cristina Szanton Blanc, From Immigrant to Transmigrant: Theorizing Transnational Migration, “Anthropological Quarterly”, 68, 1 (1995), pp. 48-63.


[6]           Peggy Levitt, The transnational villagers, Berkeley, University of California Editor, 2001.


[7]           O. Bailey, M. Geourgiu, and H. Ramaswami, Transnational lives and the media. Reimaginining Diaspora, cit.


[8]           Ibid.


[9]           Mary Gillespie, Transnational Communications and Diaspora Communities, in Simon Cottle (ed.), Ethnic minorities and the media, Buckingham, Open University Press, 2000, pp. 164-178.


[10]          Nadje Al-Ali and Khalid Koser, New approaches to migration? Transnational communities and the transformation of home, New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 10.


[11]          Thomas Faist, The volume and dynamics of international migration and transnational social spaces, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000.


[12]          Maurizio Ambrosini, Un’altra globalizzazione: il transnazionalismo economico dei migranti, Working Paper 5/08, Milano, Facoltà di Scienze Politiche, 2008.


[13]          Russel King and Nancy Wood, Media and migration. Constructions of mobility and difference, New York, Routledge, 2001.


[14]          Asu Aksoy and KevinRobins, Banal Transnationalism: The difference that television makes,inKarim Haiderali Karim, The media of diaspora, London, Routledge, 2003, pp. 89-104.


[15]          Paddy Scannell, citato ibid., p. 101.


[16]          Qiu Xialong, Communication among knowledge diasporas: online magazines of expatriate Chinese students, in Karim Haiderali Karim (ed.), The media of diaspora, cit., pp. 148-161.


[17]          R. King and N. Wood, Media and migration, cit.


[18]          Ray Pahl and Liz Spencer, Personal Communities: Not Simply Families of “Fate” or “Choice”, “Current Sociology”, 52 (2004), pp. 199-221.


[19]          Lee Komito, Social media and migration: virtual community 2.0, “Journal of the American Society for information Science and Technology”, 62, 6 (2001), pp. 1075-1086.


[20]          Zizi Papacharissi, The virtual geographies of social networks: a comparative analysis of Facebook, LinkedIn and A Small World, “New Media & Society”, 11, 1-2 (2009), p. 201.