The Scottish Council on Global Affairs is supporting a series of workshops which explore the historic and contemporary significance of citizenship and the debates around it. Our first event, a series of academic roundtables, brought together scholars from across Scotland whose work analyses citizenship through the lens of history, international relations, sociology, anthropology, film and public policy.
“Citizenship is multifaceted and complex. It impacts how we define ourselves and it influences how we view the world around us. The concept of citizenship is also tied up with a vast swathe of categories and labels, from citizen and permanent resident to immigrant, refugee and asylum seeker. It is an issue that is at the heart of political, public and academic debates over race, gender, migration, security and belonging.”
Over the course of three thematic roundtables participants spoke about citizenship in the context of race, gender and identity; politics and security; and refugees and migration. Despite these thematic divisions what became clear throughout the day were the many links across these themes.
On its face, citizenship might seem like quite a straightforward concept. Nations have established routes to claim or acquire citizenship that are based on birth, blood or recognised migration routes. However, the case studies discussed throughout the roundtables showcased that citizenship is a concept that extends far beyond legal frameworks of nationality. What makes citizenship such a complex concept is the myriad ways in which we experience it and talk about it, and the diverse spaces in which these debates are taking place.
Across all the panels, participants spoke of the many and complex ways in which the concept of citizenship (and relatedly belonging) have been analysed using legal, cultural, gendered and economic frameworks. Sarah Liu pointed out that the media often masculinises immigration, casting migrant men as economic threats and migrant women as cultural threats. Ian Paterson’s contribution demonstrated that this categorisation of migrants as a threat to ‘authentic’ citizens is echoed in the field of critical security studies.
This division between ‘safe’ citizens and ‘dangerous’ non-citizens is also present in the language used around migration, naturalisation and integration. Anna Maguire and Emile Chabal highlighted how migrants are assessed and labelled according to worthiness and values when deciding who is deserving of citizenship. This kind of value-based rhetoric has the potential to be even more troubling when we consider, as Pontus Odmalm has done, that mainstream British political parties are talking more about immigration and that nationalism has become a key feature of political manifestoes. This is also an issue that both Dan Fisher and Benjamin White examined in relation to the question of refugee policy and integration.
The roundtable discussions also made it clear that debates over citizenship and belonging extend far beyond the world of elite politics. Citizenship is a deeply personal issue, and it impacts the dynamics of families and communities. Raluca Roman, Katherine MacKinnon and Mirna Solic shared their research and outreach projects on promoting community dialogues around citizenship, identity and migration. Their work emphasises the importance of recognising that individuals might hold multiple citizenships and it explores how scholars and educators can record, teach and humanise experiences around citizenship and migration.
We began the day hoping to speak about citizenship – what it means and why it is important. In the conversations that unfolded it became clear that there are no easy answers to these questions. Our conversations demonstrated that to talk about citizenship we must also talk about race, gender, identity, class, belonging, politics, security, refugees and migration. They showed that conversations about citizenship are not the exclusive domain of high level policy making. These discussions inform how we situate ourselves as individuals, as families, and as communities. They concern us all.
Please stay tuned and sign up for exciting news about our second workshop in this series, a public seminar in which professionals working in the fields of citizenship, migration and human rights speak about their experiences. The workshop will be held in Glasgow in late August 2022.