Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Jody Decker

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


This qualitative case study grounds theoretical notions of diaspora in personal accounts of Russian Mennonites living on the Niagara peninsula of Canada. The focus is on successive, complex interrelationships with ‘place’ (in a fixed sense, and a globally connected sense), with attention to gender, generation, and life-stage. How have these individuals experienced diaspora, and how has this influenced their culture and identity? Interrelationships with place are examined within an analytical framework composed of three key elements as identified in diaspora literature: cultural hybridity, social heterogeneity (internal divisions), and responsibility flows. The results are both descriptive and theoretical, featuring first person narratives of fifty individuals from three generations collected via in-depth interviews and focus group meetings. Such in situ studies counter essentialist and universal notions ‘meta theory’) by highlighting heterogeneity within diaspora experience (‘minor theory’).

For the many various Mennonite groups, identity has been both a determining factor and a function of their settlement and migration processes. Their historical geographies are highly complex. The individual and group identities of the Russian Mennonites of this study, for example, have been forged and re-forged across time and space and continue to be reworked in diaspora in Niagara. Experiences of religion, persecutions, successive and simultaneous place-based associations and ethnic Otherings, national immigration policies, political and military processes, economics and labour choices, and the creation of networks have intersected with myriad social variables. The rich collective experience of these people and their ancestors provides fertile opportunity to explore grounded geographies of identity through the lens of diaspora theory.

The thesis finds that the Niagara Russian Mennonites simultaneously experience an intensely local sense of place in Niagara and a ‘stretched out’ experience of global community, both of which are functions of diaspora. A deep sense of contentment and ‘home’ in a receiving country is therefore not incompatible with a continuing transnational orientation; nodes (fixed places) can be as important as networks (connectors within the wider world) in the context of specific diasporic identities.

Convocation Year