Diaspora Dilemmas and Experiences

How has English, and languages generally, been used in citizenship determination, refugee status and service delivery. How does a transnational world of mobility and change transform everyone’s sense of attachment and belonging? What are some effects of geopolitical relations, and tensions, between Australia and some Asian societies on domestic communities identifying across national homelands?

Event details

When: 11.30am-1.00pm (AEDT), Friday 18th November 2022
Where: Ballarat Goods Shed


Professor Ghassan Hage

The Diasporic Condition

In this presentation, based on my most recent book The Diasporic Condition, I will go through the key components of the diasporic condition that is ethnographically detailed in the work: transnational viability, comparative spatiality, anisogamic intercultural dynamics and lenticularity. I will speak about their significance and about the significance of conceptual innovation in migration and diasporic studies more generally.

Ghassan Hage is a professor of anthropology at the University of Melbourne and a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology in Halle (Germany). He has published widely on questions of racism and multiculturalism including key works such as White Nation (2000) and Against Paranoid Nationalism (2003). His more recent works include Alter-Politics (Melbourne University Press 2015), Is Racism an Environmental Threat? (Polity 2017), Decay (Duke University Press 2021), The Diasporic Condition (University of Chicago 2021) and The Racial Politics of Australian Multiculturalism (forthcoming – Sweatshop 2023). He is currently working to finish a book on the anthropology of Pierre Bourdieu and a book titled ‘Anthropology and the Viability of Life’ based on the Ruth Benedict Lectures he has delivered the at Columbia University in April 2022.

Professor Wanning Sun

A Question of Loyalty: Mandarin-speaking Migrants in Australia and the Impossible Politics of Belonging 

This presentation centres on the experience of Australia’s first-generation Mandarin speaking migrants as they live out the daily challenges of being caught between China and Australia – two countries that are growing increasingly hostile toward each other. It examines how the current geopolitical dynamics of Australia’s foreign policy shapes their citizenship practices and politics of belonging. By tracing the formation of a new transnational Chinese subjectivity against the backdrop of an emerging new Cold War, the presentation advocates a rethinking of the concept of Chinese transnationalism as well as the notion of the diasporic condition in general. 

Wanning Sun is a Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. She is currently a member of the College of Experts (2020-2022) of the Australian Research Council. A fellow of Australian Academy of the Humanities since 2016, she has worked in the area of cultural anthropology of migration for more than two decades. Wanning has spearheaded global diasporic Chinese-language media as a distinct area of research, with the publication of her first book, Leaving China: Media, Migration, and Transnational Imagination (2002), and three edited Routledge volumes on this topic: Media and the Chinese Diaspora: Community, Communications and Commerce (2006), Media and Communication in the Chinese Diaspora: Rethinking Transnationalism (2016, with John Sinclair), and the recently published WeChat and the Chinese Diaspora (2022, with Haiqing Yu). Her new book Digital Transnationalism: Chinese-language Media in Australia (Brill, with Haiqing Yu) is forthcoming.

Group Presentation

Shibboleth: The role of language tests in Australian citizenship policy 

Language tests have long served as regulatory mechanisms in controlling immigration flows, access to citizenship and other prized forms of social participation and advancement (Davies 1997, McNamara & Roever 2006, Shohamy 2001, 2009, McNamara & Khan 2017). The paper offers a historical overview of the powerful roles played by English language tests in the context of Australian immigration policy.  We begin with reference to the notorious Dictation Test (McNamara 2009) designed to exclude ‘undesirable aliens’ under the White Australia policy and then consider iterations of the Australian Citizenship test first introduced in 2007 to test knowledge of society through the medium of English (McNamara & Ryan 2011).  We then consider the debates around the (failed) attempt in 2017 to introduce a stand-alone English language requirement for citizenship in addition to the knowledge of society test (Macqueen & Ryan 2019, Elder, Knoch & Harradine 2019). It is argued that despite their quasi-scientific character, modern psychometrically informed language tests established as shibboleth mechanisms controlling immigration and citizenship rights are implicated in the inherent violence of law and of language itself and reflect what Derrida (1986) calls ‘the terrifying ambiguity of the shibboleth, sign of belonging and threat of discrimination…’.

Associate Professor Ute Knoch

Associate Professor Ute Knoch is the Director of the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests are in the areas of policy in language testing, and assessing languages for academic and professional purposes. Her recent books include ‘Scoring Second Language Spoken and Written Performance’ (2021, Equinox, with Judith Fairbairn and Jin Yan), ‘Fairness, Justice and Language Assessment’ (2019, OUP, with Tim McNamara and Jason Fan), and ‘Assessing English for Professional Purposes’ (2020, with Susy Macqueen).


Professor Tim McNamara

Tim McNamara AM is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the School of Language and Linguistics at The University of Melbourne. He is best known for his work in language testing. He has also written extensively on language and identity, in which he has focused on the impact of poststructuralist approaches. His recent books include Language and Subjectivity (CUP, 2019) and Fairness and Justice in Language Assessment (OUP, 2019, with Ute Knoch and Jason Fan).


Associate Professor Catherine Elder

Catherine Elder is Associate Professor and  Principal Fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics and a former Director of the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. She has worked in various roles at the interface between language policy and assessment in English and other languages.

About the Symposium

Questions of citizenship and belonging have long featured in Australian public life. From the rights and citizenship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through to exclusionary immigration policies, from internment of ‘enemy aliens’ to citizenship controversies of the Australian parliament, from demands of loyalty from diaspora groups to cancelling the citizenship of terrorists, their widows and orphans.

Citizenship is both an externally protective and projective mechanism, and a marker of ‘who belongs’. Around the world, notions of citizenship are often divided between so called ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ principles. Australia’s own experience shows that forms of national belonging are more complex than this binary suggests.

The 53rd Annual Symposium will explore themes of loyalty and nationality, internationalism, mobility and how these interact with questions of participation, affiliation and the politics of ‘nativism’. Moving beyond legalistic approaches, it will imagine a new and unique Australian civilisational compact – a substantive kind of citizenship for a multicultural society with deep trans-national and diaspora connections and a reimagined polity negotiated with First Nations concepts and rights.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.