Living like human beings
Ethnography Review of Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-distance nationalism and the search for home
Written by Jade Fulton
The ethnography, Georges Woke Up Laughing— initiated during a research trip to Haiti in 1996, was developed in order to address the forces that shape the contemporary immigrant experience, directly speaking to what has become a central question today:
“At a moment in history when worldwide flows of media, fashion, and finance seem to market the emergence of a global society, what motivates people to fight, kill and die for ancestral homelands?” (Fouron Glick & Schiller 2001, 5)
Through a course of joint research and writing, both authors, Nina Glick Schiller, the grandchild of Russian Jewish immigrants; and Georges Eugene Fouron, a first-generation Haitian immigrant, assess this question as they display the harsh realities of transnational migration in the Haitian context— as they attempt to maintain their connection both socially and politically across-borders (7). While seemingly worlds a part from one another, Fouron and Glick Schiller use their combined immigrant experiences to illustrate the phenomenon of long-distance nationalism; providing insight into the sociological, anthropological, and political effects of globalization. Much like other immigration stories, the authors use this book in order expose the cruel ultimatums that are placed onto immigrants; as they are unwillingly mandated to assimilate, ultimately cutting ties and loyalties with their homeland, language, and nation. In the book, Fouron and Glick Schiller investigate the impact of long-distance relationships, potentially causing both a divide or even unification within nations; going into depth of not only the solidarities, but also the disjunctures and contradictions that exist between transmigrants and those still living in the homeland (11). Overall, this ethnography highlights the forces that have inevitably shaped the immigrant experience of governments and citizenship—creating elements of transborder citizenry that have become all so common today.
The authors, Fouron and Glick Schiller, use this book to bring direct dialogue into transnational migration; offering an entry point into the public discussion of the forms of identity and political action— admittedly having the ability to unify and change life as we know it (5).
“…Nina came to understand how Georges’s nationalism and that of many Haitians could unite them with people struggling around the world for a decent life.” (4)
Throughout the book, Fouron and Glick Schiller recollect their joint life experiences; aiding in their description of the forces that shape emigrants experience within their new homes. As the authors reminisce of their journeys, they actively demonstrate a large presence in their narrative; revealing their profound expertise in the understanding of this social phenomenon. However, while maintaining such a strong presence, they continue to offer a critical focus in their research and writing, remaining sensitive and accessible to their readers; subsequently allowing a better understanding to all political and public spheres.
“We do so [write this book]… without jargon so that they can read and enjoy it. So, while we build our definitions on the scholarly literature, we will not review its intricacies” (17).
The accessibility of the ethnography allows the authors to extend their demographic past the norms of previous ethnographic research. While Fouron and Glick Schiller maintain their scientific authority and experience, they find it possible to extend their primary readership to not only students, but to all those wishing to further their understanding of the topic. Not only does this ethnography consist of influential content, its unique approach rejuvenates the mundane context of ethnographic text. Georges Woke Up Laughing was a fascinating text, chalk full of accessible knowledge; not only did it successfully initiate and support the discussion of loyalties, identities, nationalities, and citizenship, but it rose the standards of modern ethnographic research and writings.
In order to access a deeper understanding of the text, reviews of Georges Woke Up Laughing, offered a further interpretation of its research. Marie-José N’Zengou-Tayo, known widely for her ground-breaking research in transnationalism and migrants negotiations, offered an in-depth and educational analysis of Georges Woke Up Laughing within the Caribbean Quarterly. Throughout the review, N’Zengou-Tayo summarizes the authors ethnography, while including analogies of Glick Schillers previous work, In Nationalism Unbound, in order to further the reader’s understanding of their conception of transnational migration. While indulging in her own knowledge of the topic, N’Zengou-Tayo illustrates the ethnography as a new insight into migration studies (N’Zengou-Tayo 2002). Due to its close examination of the economic and political relationships established by Haitians abroad, this investigation brings into the forefront the patterns of relations that were often overlooked by researchers; seemingly because they belonged to the private sphere of family relationships. Through the review, N’Zengou-Tayo assesses long distance nationalism, as migrants have increasingly have made themselves a force to be reckoned with— both in their host countries and new nations. In addition to that of N’Zengou-Tayos academic review of Georges Woke Up Laughing, Mike Evans of the University of Alberta, offers an approach in which he compares his own work in the Tongan context to that of the latter. Analyzing Fouron and Glick Schillers ethnography from that of his own work in the South Pacific, Evans is astonished by their new and creative ethnographic techniques throughout their text— stating it was …”difficult to do this book justice in a short review: there is so much her to think about” (Evans 2001). Through Evans interpretation, he illustrates the ethnography as combing a detailed ethnography, autobiography, and history in order to describe the social fields that make up the Haitian transnational experience (Evans 2001). Going on to discuss not only the systematic social connection built and maintained by transmigrants, but also identifying commonalities and contradiction that exist within Fouron and Glick Schiller’s research. Overall, both reviews expressed high regards for the ethnography, as it Fouron and Glick Schiller offered an approach that was often overlooked, and surprisingly refreshing (Evans 2001).
Evans, Mike. “Nina Glick Schiller & Georges Eugene Fouron Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home Durham, NC; Duke University Press, 2001.” Journal of International Migration and Integration: 468-69.
Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron. 2001. Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism & the Search for Home. American Encounters/Global Interactions., edited by Gilbert M. Joseph, Emily S. Rosenburg. US: Duke University Press.
N’Zengou-Tayo, Marie-Jos. 2002. “Review: Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home by Nina Glick-Schiller; Georges Eugène Fouron” Caribbean Quarterly 48 (2): 128-132.