We need to talk about the problem of citizenship

Tendayi Bloom, Lecturer in Politics and International Studies, University of Birmingham, UK. Lindsey Kingston, Associate Professor of International Human Rights, Webster University, USA. Heather Steele, Deputy Academic Lead, Forum for Global Challenges
/ 3 mins read

For the most part, the contemporary world is centred on the assumption that everyone has some form of citizenship. This creates problems for people without any recognised citizenship, those referred to as ‘stateless’, and those at risk of losing their citizenship. Traditional approaches to addressing this issue have focused on statelessness and stateless persons, and framed them as anomalous or problematic. However, there is nothing natural about either citizenship or statelessness. The construction of a world in which some people are citizens and some people are not is a choice, as are the systems that block people without citizenship from basic rights. It is time to interrogate the governance of citizenship and the use of citizenship as a governance tool. It is time to talk about the problem of citizenship.


Opening a new conversation

A group of over 40 contributors from around the world (including some ENS members) made a first step towards this discussion, which is set out in the forthcoming book Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship. This edited volume examines the problem of citizenship from a variety of perspectives and uses the lens of governance to understand the realities of statelessness. Contributors present the often-confusing ways in which governance structures – including local administrators, national policy makers, regional courts, and global organisations – move people into and out of recognition. They look at how this can affect people from the point of conception through into older age. And they demonstrate some of the strategies used by those affected in navigating their worlds despite the structures that exclude them.  

But this book is only intended as a starting point; rather than representing a finished project, the volume serves as an invitation to contribute to creating a new conversation about statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship.

Joining the discussion

We invite you to help advance this discussion through an experimental global event on Wednesday 3rd November and Thursday 4th November 2021. The event will take place over a 24-hour period, so that everyone should be able to find an activity that works for them, no matter their time zone. Dialogue will take place in four workshops, where experts who have contributed to the book will open the discussion around four key questions. After contributors share their opening thoughts, the conversation will be opened for attendees to share their reflections and ask questions. We want to hear from you. The workshops are:

Workshop 1: What does it mean for citizenship to be weaponised?

Workshop 2: What does it mean for citizenship to be fetishised?

Workshop 3: What does it mean to live without citizenship?

Workshop 4: How should the problem of citizenship be addressed?

There will also be some locally organised ‘complementary activities’. Find out more about all aspects of the event and book your place via our Eventbrite page or website. The workshops will be held virtually via a Zoom link that will be sent to all those who have signed up. There are also other ways to take part, as explained below.

Acknowledging the problem of citizenship is key to addressing global challenges more broadly 

The effects of the problem of citizenship can be found throughout the global system. It is crucial to examine the role played by citizenship and the governance of citizenship in producing and perpetuating some of the most fundamental and apparently intractable contemporary challenges. As such, this particular event discussing the problem of citizenship is part of a larger ‘Forum for Global Challenges’.

The Forum was created to bring together diverse perspectives and to generate interdisciplinary solutions to the global challenges of climate change and inequalities, covering a broad range of topics – from health and wellbeing to food and nutrition security. This event sits within the Mobilities and Migration theme. In May 2022, the inaugural conference of the Forum for Global Challenges will be held in Birmingham, UK. If you are working on solutions to the global challenges, please consider submitting a contribution to the programme.

We will share further resources about the event, the book (including a discount code for ordering copies), and the problem of citizenship in the Forum for Global Challenges online community, which is a free and open platform, in the weeks leading up to the event. This is also where you can join online discussions about the questions posed. We look forward to seeing you there and at the event.

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