Spheres of Global Arab Communities – With a Focus on Brazil and the U.S.

The dynamic exchange of data and the ease in moving around a globalized world makes a new definition of migration necessary. The by now familiar theoretical concepts of diaspora, third space, transnational migration and network make an alternative, empirical examination of migration possible. These concepts place the community of migrants at the center of analysis. Permanent communication, symbolic interaction, and the ethnic colony are thus potent dimensions of its globe-spanning sociocultural organization.

The Arab immigrant communities in the Arab Mashriq in Brazil and the U.S. cultivated specific “life spheres” out of regular routines, symbolic practices, and established discourses that were nourished through worldwide kinship and community relations. Numerous publications have thematized the emigration of the Arab section of the population in the Levant who left for the New World. The majority of these articles describe the emergence of Arab communities in various countries in terms of a historical perspective. The United States, Brazil, and Argentina were the main destinations of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian emigrants. Although immigration to Brazil has sharply declined since the 1950s, in the U.S. it is as strong as ever. It is thus particularly interesting to compare the different dynamics of Brazil, as former migration destination at the beginning of the 20th century, with that of the U.S., where immigration continues to this day. Studies that examine the integration of Arab immigrants often speak of economic assimilation and cultural independence existing simultaneously. However, the links between Arab immigrants and their journeys to the intake countries being studied here with family members in both the country of origin and other places around the world are complex and cannot be encapsulated in a single concept (cf. Escher 1997; 2000; 2004). Arab “life spheres” in different countries should therefore be observed from a theoretical perspective which encompasses processes of migration and socialization in a global age (cf. Escher 2006; 2008). In a globalized world, these Arab communities transcend borders: Spatial distance no longer has the same significance; the segmented structure of these communities reach far beyond their physical homes in the intake countries to countless other countries in the world. Drawing on the social concept of “life spheres,” this study attempts to grasp these socially intertwined and spatially distributed communities beyond the conventional social scientific concepts and thereby bring to light cultural differences between Arab communities’ “life spheres” in different countries. Empirical investigations using a mix of methods will be carried out in the source countries of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine as well as in the destination countries of Brazil and the U.S.

The initial research questions are as follows:

  1. How do Arab communities form global “life spheres”?
  2. How do Arab “life spheres” emerge and function, and in which social, cultural, and political systems are they embedded?
  3. What role does place play in the global “life spheres” of Arab populations?

Brazil and the U.S. are particularly appropriate countries for study because of their numerically large Arab communities. As well, the communities are very active culturally, socially, economically and politically and are networked with many states around the world. This can be seen in the numerous Arab institutions and media organs that have been founded, such as radio stations and newspaper publishers as well as Internet presence in the respective countries. The processes and strategies of global “life spheres” can thus be very well demonstrated on the basis of the model-like development of Arab communities in these countries along with their strong media presence. At the same time, the comparison of different “life spheres” in different states opens up new perspectives for comparative research on Arab migration.

Empirical studies of Arab communities in Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Chile, Brazil, and Ecuador have been conducted under the supervision of the project director and as part of degree theses work. Currently, doctoral dissertations on Syrian and Lebanese communities in Argentina and West Africa are being supervised.

Project Term: January 2010-Ongoing
Funded by Förderlinie 1, JGU Mainz

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Anton Escher, Geographic Institute, JGU Mainz

Project Staff:
Björn Zimprich, Cert. Geographer, JGU Mainz
Tobias Boos, Cert. Geographer, JGU Mainz

Cooperation Partners:

Prof. Paul Tabar
Director of the Institute for Migration Studies
Lebanese American University, Beirut