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.

This article has been cited in the following:

Ravn, Tine. Burmesiske flygtninge i Danmark: personlige narrativer omkring identitet, tilhørsforhold og integration. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Aalborg Universitet, Denmark, 2009.

Smith, Carolyn. “Trial by Space; In Memory of My Mother.” Project Mimique (London), Feb. 27, 2008:

Mikula, Maja. “Displacement and Shifting Geographies in the Noir Fiction by Cesare Battisti,” Belphégor: Littérature Populaire et Culture Médiatique 6.2 (Juin 2007):

Full Text



Bammer, A., ed. 1994, Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Barkan, E., and M. Shelton, eds. 1998, Borders, Exiles, Diasporas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Breckenridge, C.A., S. Pollock, H. K. Bhabha, and D. Chakrabarty, eds. 2000, Cosmopolitanism special issue. Public Culture 12.3 (Fall).

Chow, R. 1993, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Dussel, E. 1993, 'Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures).' In The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Eds. J. Beverley and J. Oviedo. Special Issue of Boundary 2 20.3 (Fall): 65-76.

Dussel, E. 1995, The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of 'the Other' and the Myth of Modernity. Trans. M. D. Barber. New York: Continuum.

Dussel, E. 1998, Ethics and Community. Trans. R. R. Barr. Theology and Liberation Series. New York: Orbis.

Gilroy, P. 1993, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London and New York: Verso.

Hardt, M., and A. Negri. 2000, Empire. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press.

Hargreaves, A. G. 1989, 'Resistance and Identity in Beur Narratives.' Modern Fiction Studies 35.1 (Spring): 87-102.

Hirsch, M. 1998, 'Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile.' In Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances. Ed. S. R. Suleiman. Durham, NC, & London: Duke University Press. 418-46.

Kaminsky, A. 1999, After Exile: Writing the Latin American Diaspora. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kaplan, C. 1995, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lamming, George. 1992 [1960], The Pleasures of Exile. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Naficy, H. 1996, 'Phobic Spaces and Liminal Panics: Independent Transnational Film Genre.' In Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary. Eds R. Wilson and W. Dissanayake. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 119-44.

Pavel, T. 1998, 'Exile as Romance and as Tragedy.' In Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances. Ed. S. R. Suleiman. Durham, NC, & London: Duke University Press. 25-36.

Said, E. 2001, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schiller, N. G., and G. E. Fouron. 2001, Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. Durham, NC, & London: Duke University Press.