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Contemporary migration literature still often takes for granted the idea migrants continue to hold a deep attachment to their home countries and those in them – with such attachments compelling them to assist future migrants, send remittances or dwell transnationally. In reaction to this, much of the diaspora literature has rejected the idea of innate attachments to homelands, instead conceptualizing diasporas as political formations. However, this in turn misses the very real and compelling sense of attachment migrants sometimes – but not always –do feel. To overcome this impasse, I suggest focusing on the notion of belonging; the idea that subjecthood and a sense of ontological security arise only out of situated engagements within particular contexts. When contexts change – as they often do in the case of migration – migrants experience a fundamental need to reconstitute a sense of belonging, and this shapes the particular transnational attachments and engagements that they pursue. I elaborate this point by examining the role of clan identities for Somalis, both in Somalia and the UK diaspora. Though often presumed to be innate, I show how clan identities are variously deployed in response to the changing possibilities Somalis face for establishing and maintaining a sense of belonging.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



Diaspora; Subjectivity; Belonging; Somali; Clan