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Transnationalism is a research field and social phenomenon grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the receding economic and social significance of boundaries among nation states.[1][2][3][4]


The term "trans-national" was popularized in the early 20th century by writer Randolph Bourne to describe a new way of thinking about relationships between cultures.[5] However, the term itself was coined by a colleague in college.[6] Merriam-Webster Dictionary states 1921 was the year the term "transnational" was first used in print, which was after Bourne's death.[7]

Transnationalism as an economic process involves the global reorganization of the production process, in which various stages of the production of any product can occur in various countries, typically with the aim of minimizing costs. Economic transnationalism, commonly known as globalization, was spurred in the latter half of the 20th century by the development of the internet and wireless communication, as well as the reduction in global transportation costs caused by containerization. Multinational corporations could be seen as a form of transnationalism, in that they seek to minimize costs, and hence maximize profits, by organizing their operations in the most efficient means possible irrespective of political boundaries.

Proponents of transnational capitalism seek to facilitate the flow of people, ideas, and goods among regions. They believe that it has increasing relevance with the rapid growth of capitalist globalization. They contend that it does not make sense to link specific nation-state boundaries with for instance migratory workforces, globalized corporations, global money flow, global information flow, and global scientific cooperation. However, critical theories of transnationalism have argued that transnational capitalism has occurred through the increasing monopolization and centralization of capital by leading dominant groups in the global economy and various power blocs. Scholars critical of global capitalism (and its global ecological and inequality crises) have argued instead for a transnationalism from below between workers and co-operatives as well as popular social and political movements.[8]

Transnationalism as concept, theory and experience has nourished an important literature in social sciences. In practice transnationalism refers to increasing functional integration of processes that cross-borders or according to others trans bordered relations of individuals, groups, firms and to mobilizations beyond state boundaries. Individuals, groups, institutions and states interact with each other in a new global space where cultural and political characteristic of national societies are combined with emerging multilevel and multinational activities. Transnationalism is a part of the process of capitalist globalization. The concept of transnationalism refers to multiple links and interactions linking people and institutions across the borders of nation-states. Although much of the more recent literature has focused on popular protest as a form of transnational activism, some research has also drawn attention to clandestine and criminal networks, as well as foreign fighters, as examples of a wider form of transnationalism.[9]

Some have argued that diasporas, such as the overseas Chinese, are a historical precursor to modern transnationalism. However, unlike some people with transnationalist lives, most diasporas have not been voluntary. The field of diaspora politics does consider modern diasporas as having the potential to be transnational political actors and be influenced by transnational political forces.[10] While the term "transnationalism" emphasizes the ways in which nations are no longer able to contain or control the disputes and negotiations through which social groups annex a global dimension to their meaningful practices, the notion of diaspora brings to the fore the racial dynamics underlying the international division of labor and the economic turmoil of global capital. In an article published in 2006, Asale Angel-Ajani claimed that "there is the possibility within diaspora studies to move away from the politically sanitized discourse that surrounds transnational studies". Since African diaspora studies have focused on racial formation, racism, and white supremacy, diaspora theory has the potential to bring to transnationalism "a varied political, if not radical political, perspective to the study of transnational processes and—globalization".[11]


Different approaches have attempted to explain transnationalism. Some argue that it is driven mainly by the development of technologies that have made transportation and communication more accessible and affordable, which thus dramatically change the relationship between people and places. It is now possible for immigrants to maintain closer and more frequent contact with their home societies than ever before.

However, the integration of international migrations to the demographic future of many developed countries is another important driver for transnationalism. Beyond simply filling a demand for low-wage workers, migration also fills the demographic gaps created by declining natural populations in most industrialized countries. Today, migration accounts for three fifths of population growth on western countries as a whole, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

Moreover, global political transformations and new international legal regimes have weakened the state as the only legitimate source of rights. Decolonization, the fall of communism, and the ascendance of human rights have forced states to take account of persons as persons, rather than as citizens. As a result, individuals have rights regardless of their citizenship status within a country.

Others, from a neo-Marxist approach, argue that transnational class relations have come about concomitantly with novel organizational and technological advancements and the spread of transnational chains of production and finance.[12]

Immigrant transnational activities

When immigrants engage in transnational activities, they create "social fields" that link their original country with their new country or countries of residence. "We have defined transnationalism as the process by which immigrants build social fields that link together their country of origin and their country of settlement".[13] These social fields are the product of a series of interconnected and overlapping economic, political, and socio-cultural activities:

Economic transnational activities

Economic transnational activities such as business investments in home countries and monetary remittances are both pervasive and well documented. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that in 2006 immigrants living in developed countries sent home the equivalent of $300 billion in remittances, an amount more than double the level of international aid. This intense influx of resources may mean that for some nations development prospects become inextricably linked—if not dependent upon—the economic activities of their respective diasporas.

Political transnational activities

Political transnational activities can range from retained membership in political parties in one's country of origin and voting in its elections to even running for political office. Less formal but still significant roles include the transfer or dissemination of political ideas and norms, such as publishing an op-ed in a home country newspaper, writing a blog, or lobbying a local elected official. There is also the more extreme example of individuals such as Jesus Galvis, a travel agent in New Jersey who in 1997 ran for a Senate seat in his native Colombia. He was elected and intended to hold office simultaneously in Bogota and Hackensack, New Jersey where he served as a city councilor.

Political economy

The rise of global capitalism has occurred through a novel and increasingly functional integration of capitalist chains of production and finance across borders which is tied to the formation of a transnational capitalist class.[8][14] This approach has led to a broader study of corporate networks, the global working class[15] and the transnationalization of state apparatuses and elites.[16][17]


Transnational psychology developed in response to the new psychological contexts created by escalating globalization, global power dynamics, increasing migration, an ever more interconnected world, and other phenomena that transcend nation-state boundaries. It is a branch of psychology that applies postcolonial, postmodern context-sensitive cultural psychology, and transnational feminist lenses to the field of psychology to study, understand, and address the impact of colonization, imperialism, and globalization, and to counter the Western bias in the field of psychology. Transnational psychologists partner with members of local communities to examine the unique psychological characteristics of groups without regard to nation-state boundaries.[18][19][20]

Socio-cultural transnational activities

Transnationalism is an analytic lens used to understand immigrant and minority populations as a meeting of multiple simultaneous histories.[21] Socio-cultural transnational activities cover a wide array of social and cultural transactions through which ideas and meanings are exchanged. Recent research has established the concept and importance of social remittances which provide a distinct form of social capital between migrants living abroad and those who remain at home.[2] These transfers of socio-cultural meanings and practices occur either during the increased number of visits that immigrants take back to their home countries or visits made by non-migrants to friends and families living in the receiving countries or through the dramatically increased forms of correspondence such as emails, online chat sessions, telephone calls, CDs/ VDOs, and traditional letters.

In the late 1980s, ethnic studies scholars would largely move towards models of diaspora to understand immigrant communities in relation to area studies, although lone patterns of international flow would become accompanied by the multiple flows of transnationalism.[22] However, to say that immigrants build social fields that link those abroad with those back home is not to say that their lives are not firmly rooted in a particular place and time. Indeed, they are as much residents of their new community as anyone else.

Transnationalism is criticized for being too far removed from ethnic studies' efforts to empower solidarity in minority communities.[23][24] Asian American Studies provides a counterargument in that its inception was based in comparative analysis of the racial discrimination against Asian Americans and Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.[25] A collection of scholarly articles, edited by Terese Guinsatao Monberg and Morris Young, seeks to understand how transnationalism reveals ways Asian/Americans "negotiate, resist, and work against emerging, shifting, and often intensified 'highly asymmetrical relations of power.'"[26] Furthermore, inter-movement spillover plays an important role in transnational climate change politics. Based on these findings, one can conclude that when movements come together in the form of actors and social change tactics, movements become stronger and more prominent. This is the purpose and overall effect of inter-movement spillover.


Transnationalism has significant implications for the way we conceptualize immigration. Traditionally, immigration has been seen as an autonomous process, driven by conditions such as poverty and overpopulation in the country of origin and unrelated to conditions (such as foreign policy and economic needs) in the receiving country. Even though overpopulation, economic stagnation, and poverty all continue to create pressures for migration, they alone are not enough to produce large international migration flows. There are many countries, for example, which lack significant emigration history despite longstanding poverty. Also, most international immigration flows from the global South to the global North are not made up by the poorest of the poor, but, generally by professionals. In addition, there are countries with high levels of job creation that continue to witness emigration on a large scale.

The reasons and promoters for migration are not only embodied within the country of origin. Instead, they are rooted within the broader geopolitical and global dynamics. Significant evidence of geographic migration patterns suggests that receiving countries become home to immigrants from the receiving country's zone of influence. Then, immigration is but a fundamental component of the process of capitalist expansion, market penetration, and globalization. There are systematic and structural relations between globalization and immigration.

The emergence of a global economy has contributed both to the creation of potential emigrants abroad and to the formation of economic, cultural, and ideological links between industrialized and developing countries that later serve as bridges for the international migration. For example, the same set of circumstances and processes that have promoted the location of factories and offices abroad have also contributed to the creation of large supply of low-wage jobs for which immigrant workers constitute a desirable labor supply. Moreover, the decline of manufacturing jobs and the growth of the service sector, key drivers of the globalization of production, have transformed western economies’ occupational and income structure.

Unlike the manufacturing sector, which traditionally supplied middle-income jobs and competitive benefits, the majority of service jobs are either extremely well-paid or extremely poorly paid, with relatively few jobs in the middle-income range. Many of the jobs lack key benefits such as health insurance. Sales representatives, restaurant wait staff, administrative assistants, and custodial workers are among the growth occupations.

Finally, the fact that the major growth sectors rather than declining sectors are generating the most low-wage jobs shows that the supply of such jobs will continue to increase for the predictable future. The entry of migrant workers will similarly continue to meet the demand. In turn, this inflow provides the raw material out of which transnational communities emerge.[27]

List of transnational organizations

Transnational organizations include:[28]

See also


  1. ^ Graham, Pamela (1997). Reimagining the Nation and Defining the District: Dominican Migration and Transnational Politics. Caribbean Circuits: New Directions in the Study of Caribbean Migration, Center for Migration Studies: Patricia Pessar.
  2. ^ a b Levitt, Peggy (2001). The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520228139.
  3. ^ Vertovec, Steven (2001). "Transnationalism and Identity". Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 27 (4): 573–582. doi:10.1080/13691830120090386. S2CID 145716849.
  4. ^ Castles, Stephen (2005). Global Perspectives on Forced Migration. University of Oxford: Refugee Studies Centre.
  5. ^ Bourne, Randolph S. (1916). "Trans-National America". Atlantic Monthly (118): 86–97.
  6. ^ Bourne, Randolph S. (1916). "The Jew and Tran-national America". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Definition of TRANSNATIONALISM".
  8. ^ a b Robinson 2004.
  9. ^ Moore, Cerwyn (2015-05-27). "Foreign Bodies: Transnational Activism, the Insurgency in the North Caucasus and "Beyond"" (PDF). Terrorism and Political Violence. 27 (3): 395–415. doi:10.1080/09546553.2015.1032035. ISSN 0954-6553. S2CID 56451099.
  10. ^ Kislev, Elyakim (2014). "The transnational effect of multicultural policies on migrants' identification: the case of the Israeli diaspora in the USA". Global Networks. 15: 118–139. doi:10.1111/glob.12043.
  11. ^ Angel-Ajani, Asale (2006). "Displacing Diaspora: Trafficking, African Women, and Transnational Practices". Diasporic Africa: A Reader. New York University Press. p. 296.
  12. ^ [citation needed]
  13. ^ Schiller, Basch & Blanc-Szanton 1992, p. 1.
  14. ^ Sklair 2000.
  15. ^ Struna 2009.
  16. ^ Robinson 2012.
  17. ^ Sprague 2012.
  18. ^ Kurtiş, Tuğçe; Adams, Glenn (21 August 2015). "Decolonizing Liberation: Toward a Transnational Feminist Psychology". Journal of Social and Political Psychology. 3 (1): 388–413. doi:10.5964/jspp.v3i1.326. ISSN 2195-3325.
  19. ^ Grabe, Shelly; Else-Quest, Nicole M. (June 2012). "The Role of Transnational Feminism in Psychology: Complementary Visions". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 36 (2): 158–161. doi:10.1177/0361684312442164. ISSN 0361-6843. S2CID 53585351.
  20. ^ Transnational psychology of women : expanding international and intersectional approaches. Collins, Lynn H.,, Machizawa, Sayaka,, Rice, Joy K. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. ISBN 1-4338-3124-4. OCLC 1090706835.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. ^ Arif Dirlik (1996) Asian on the Rim: Transnational Capital and Local Community in the Making of Contemporary Asian America. Amerasia Journal: 1996, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 1-24.
  22. ^ Jonathan Okamura (2003) Asian American Studies in the Age of Transnationalism: Diaspora, Race, Community. Amerasia Journal: 2003, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 171-194.
  23. ^ Alice Yang Murray (2000) Oral History Research, Theory, and Asian American Studies. Amerasia Journal: 2000, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 105-118.
  24. ^ Jonathan Okamura (2003) Asian American Studies in the Age of Transnationalism: Diaspora, Race, Community. Amerasia Journal: 2003, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 171-194
  25. ^ Glenn K. Omatsu, “The ‘Four Prisons’ and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s,” in Karin Aguilar-San Juan, ed., The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s (Boston: South End Press, 1994), 25-26.
  26. ^ Monberg, Terese Guinsatao; Young, Morris (2018). "Beyond Representation: Spatial, Temporal and Embodied Trans/Formations of Asian/Asian American Rhetoric". Enculturation.
  27. ^ [citation needed]
  28. ^ Schiller, Basch & Blanc-Szanton 1992, pp. 1–24.

Works cited

Further reading