Introduction: Exile and Social Transformation

Paul Allatson
Jo McCormack


This paper serves as an introduction to the special issue of Portal on exile and its potential to effect social change. The critical and creative discussions that follow this introduction respond to a particular set of problems. What factors permit and preclude exilic individual and communal transformation? Is there a need to rethink exilic agency in accord with local times, cultures and places, and to refocus attention on exile communal impacts on a host society? And, in a globalized epoch characterized by mass population movements across geopolitical lines, do states and national desires still have key roles to play in the production of exile? There are no straightforward answers to these questions, but all gesture toward the inadequacy of a single overarching definition or description of exile. Indeed, the process of exile has generated a great deal of debate regarding to whom the term exile applies and when. Furthermore, a number of unresolved issues recur in the extensive literature on the topic: the problematic location of exile and its definitional dependency on a home or homeland; the multivalent struggles to attain and maintain exilic voice, representation, memory, and identity on many fronts (individual, familial, communal, national, transnational); exile’s uneasy relation to modernity, the state, and globalization; and exile’s conceptual competition with other terms, such as diaspora, exodus, refugee and migrant. Intended as a selective reprise of these issues and the ways the contributors to this issue have responded to them, this introduction identifies some of the claims that have been made of exile as a space or mode of social transformation, as well as the possible limits of such claims.

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