Contemporary scholarship tends to characterize a “diaspora of knowledge” in terms of the phenomenon called brain drain:  the flow of skill-based knowledge out of developing countries to developed countries. This diaspora of expertise is typically taken up to discuss how emigrants can make a contribution—not necessarily financial—to their country of origin. Accordingly extant institutions that encourage diaspora networks create links between different points on the globe, but they tend to foster the  “return” of skilled or technological knowledge back to the country left behind.

This is not our model.  On our view, the idea of a diaspora of knowledge challenges us to tell a different story, that of the impact of diasporic local knowledge from the country of origin upon the host country: how it contributes to the societal, educational, and ecological knowledge of the locales in which the holders of local knowledges have landed.  Such knowledge flows among a multiplicity of networks, from ancient to contemporary, and across the globe. And while contributions to the host country’s knowledge can most easily be seen in food, architecture, and other types of materiality, these are often emphasized at the cost of other less measurable contributions—to ways of thinking about nature, the state, and the human, and to theories of the self and specific practices in philosophies of the world, to the contributions of the languages and religious practices that often flow along with diasporas in interesting and complicated ways.

Seen this way, the field of inquiry reverses the scientific and technical emphasis of current diaspora studies that assume that the most valuable diasporas of knowledge contribute to the bottom line of both the origin and host countries, while neglecting skills unconnected to global economies and skilled labor. SIFK’s 2022-2024 research theme on knowledge in diaspora will contribute to the notion that immigrants bring valuable knowledge with them that is less easily measured.

On our view, the idea of a diaspora of knowledge challenges us to tell a different story, that of the impact of diasporic local knowledge from the country of origin upon the host country: how it contributes to the societal, educational, and ecological knowledge of the locales in which the holders of local knowledges have landed.