International Organization


Diasporas and International Relations Theory

Yossi Shain and Aharon Barth


In this article, we incorporate the study of diasporas into international relations (IR) theory by focusing on diasporas as independent actors who actively influence their homeland (kin-state) foreign policies. We argue that diasporic influences can best be understood by situating them in the ‘theoretical space’ shared by constructivism and liberalism; two approaches that acknowledge the impact of identity and domestic politics on international behavior. We also maintain that the exploration of diasporic activities can enrich both constructivism and liberalism. First, diasporas' identity-based motivations should be an integral part of the constructivist effort to explain the formation of national identities. Second, diasporic activities and influences in their homelands expand the meaning of the term ‘domestic politics’ to include not only politics inside the state but also inside the people For the liberal approach, this is a “new fact” in the Lakatosian sense of the word. We theorize that the extent of diasporic influence on homeland foreign policy is determined by three components that make up the ‘balance of power’ between homelands and diasporas. We then test this theory by delving into the interaction between the newly established state of Armenia and its powerful diaspora, and by comparing this case with examples taken from the relations between Israel and diaspora Jews.

Yossi Shain is Professor of Government and Diaspora Politics at Georgetown University and Professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He can be reached at

Aharon Barth is completing his dissertation at Georgetown University on American military commitments in Europe. He can be reached at