National Narratives and Migration: Discursive Strategies of Inclusion and Exclusion in Jordan and Lebanon

What role do emigrants play in the national narratives of Jordan and Lebanon, and what can this tell us about each state’s political landscape? Laurie Brand of the University of Southern California investigates these questions in an article published in the Spring 2010 issue of the International Migration Review. As emigrants have chosen or were driven to leave their country, how they feature in the national narrative — “the story that the state (or a particular regime) propagates about the nation’s history, struggles, and mission” — can be particularly revealing. Both Lebanon and Jordan have experienced large-scale, politically significant migration and, using them as cases studies, Brand performs a detailed analysis of each country’s government history and civics textbooks, which she argues are “the most obvious, concrete, and reliable source of the state-sanctioned national story.” Indicative of the political landscape of both countries, Brand finds that inclusion of emigrants in the official history is largely affected by the relationship between elites and the socioeconomic or political challenges that emigrants have played a role in. More telling, “if the emigrant/migrant experience reinforces the legitimacy of the existing power structure or can be scripted to perform such a function, the cases here suggest that the regime may seek discursively to instrumentalize the migrant experience to its benefit.” Conversely, Brand argues that if the country’s migration history threatens the regime, the national narrative will likely marginalize or omit migrants.

Abstract: National narratives play a key role in state consolidation and identity construction. This article proposes four factors that may affect how a regime chooses to portray the role of migrants and migration in official historical narratives: the relationship of emigrants to the colonial versus the post-independence state; the relationship between migration and sending state economic development; and the relationship between migrants and the home state elite – either benign neglect or instrumentalization. Taking Jordan and Lebanon as cases, the presentation examines school textbooks as key sources of the national narrative to discern their treatment of major population movements. It concludes with an evaluation of the four factors, finding greatest support for that of instrumentalization.

Download National Narratives and Migration: Discursive Strategies of Inclusion and Exclusion in Jordan and Lebanon from the International Migration Review if your university has access, or contact POMEPS for help.

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