Citizenship in a Deterritorialised World

15 Feb

Evaluate the debate about citizenship in a “de-territorialized world”. What are the elements of this debate and what is its significance for the refugees at its centre and the nations with which they are associated?

 The idea of a ‘de-territorialised world’ and the associated idea of de-territorialised citizenship has been the subject of extensive debate across a variety of academic disciplines. This essay will concentrate on the debate occurring in refugee studies to explore how arguments about citizenship in a ‘de-territorialized world’ have implications for the refugees at its centre and the nations with which they are associated.  The debate is characterised by the degree of relevance denoted to the structure of the nation state, and the citizenship rights inherent in its democratic form. It looks to examine the conceptions of space and place in refugee studies, the consequences of which play out in the development of refugee policies and representations of refugees and asylum seekers on national and international levels. Firstly, a brief discussion of concepts of citizenship and identity will be followed by a summary of the concept of de-territorialisation. The implications of a deterritorialised identity will then generally be discussed before turning more directly to address the components of the debate. Finally, a discussion of how the conceptual elements of the debate can be seen to exist in current refugee policies.

Citizenship is a political concept which has been tied to Western discourse with the emergence of the nation state in the eighteenth century. The notion of citizenship has been widely contested, for example in whether it can be considered to be a universally accepted concept.[1] However, with the increasing prevalence of global interactivity as a result of globalisation, it has been argued that the conceptualisation of citizenship can be said to extend beyond the boundaries of the state, the implications of which are the existence of a form of global citizenship not tied to individual states but to a wider human community. The changing nature of citizenship has led to a crisis for the contemporary political system for those people who exist outside state membership, which offers them security, rights and opportunities. The global refugee problem has created a crisis of stateless persons.[2]

For refugees and the nations with which they are associated citizenship is inherently linked to the construction of their identity. Liisa Makki argues ‘identity is always mobile and processual, partly self-construction, partly categorised by others, partly a condition, a status, a label, a weapon, a shield, a fund of memories, et cetera. It is a creolized aggregate composed through bricolage.’[3] Furthermore, Don Mitchell argues ‘identity thus exists as a nexus, a meeting point, not as an unchanging “thing” rooted to place, and with each historical upheaval, each new conquest, each new round of “time-space compression,” identity is radically transformed’.[4]  The continuously changing nature of a refugee’s identity can be said to be partially the result of their changing citizenship. Furthermore, there is an inherent contest between citizenship rights and human rights, of which refugees are at the centre. Institutions which seek to enforce human rights may necessarily breach sovereign rights and hence, citizenship rights. Ideally they will develop to complement each other; however, the degree of separation between dominant and subordinate states suggests this process has many challenges yet to face.

            Citizenship has become an increasingly prevalent issue as the traditional territorial boundaries of the nation state are challenged by globalisation. Democracy is seen today as the most legitimate form of self-government. A modern democratic state must exist within a bounded territory to be legitimate, and hence, be an ‘effective actor in international relations’.[5] Gaim Kibreab defines territory as ‘an actual terrain in which the activities which sustain human lives and social relationships are produced, reproduced and transformed’. [6] Information technologies and economic forces are allowing for the detachment from the constraints of state based territorial identities to obtain social membership in highly differentiated societies.[7] Mitchell suggests social and economic identities are ‘uprooted as new systems of communication and new systems of power are constructed that seem to span, rather than reinforce, the traditional power of the nation-state’.[8] These changes imply a reconfiguration of space. For Mitchell, heightened tendencies towards de-territorialisation are for many an indication of the end of the nation state and the homogenisation of global culture, as a result of homogenised product consumption.[9] Citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ implies a cosmopolitan identity. It indicates a fragmented and insecure form of citizenship, with a de-territorialised belonging. The understanding of cosmopolitan forms of citizenship and identity relates directly to contemporary modern political agendas and how this de-territorialisation frames the reading of individual cosmopolitan subjectivity. It also suggests the need for strategies to cope with shifting attachments to national cultures or cultures created outside the state through ethnicity, gender, culture, etc., as well as, the need to assess the contradictions of diverse national belonging and multiple identity memberships of citizenship existing, for example, to the international community.[10]

            The debate about citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ has centered on the contentious issues raised above. Its implications for refugees and the nations with which they are associated have been carried out largely in the Journal of Refugee Studies. The debate is complicated and highly nuanced depending on individuals’ areas of study and their preconceived understanding of the issues at hand. The extremes of the debate argue citizenship is either not territorially anchored, implying the existence of global citizens or indeed that it is territorially anchored and hence, remain rooted in territorially bound state structures. Proponents who argue for the former argue to varying degrees that globalisation has resulted in the loss of significance for geographically based national borders and therefore, has made mobility the mode of existence, as a result of which ‘identity has more or less become de-territorialised’, characterised by a ‘“generalized condition of homelessness”’: ‘“we are all refugees”’.[11] For proponents of a de-territorialised form of identity, mobility and displacement are the emerging general condition of human existence. Hence, ‘refugeehood is in come conditions a physical manifestation of the general condition which characterises the state we are in’.[12] For Daniel Warner ‘homelessness’ has become ‘part of all our experience’.[13] The relationship between identity and a territorial place is denied, becoming citizens of a globalised world: ‘concepts such as homeland, locality, territorially anchored national or collective identities have either become a thing of the past or lost much of their significance’.[14] Makki argues ‘now more perhaps than ever before, people are chronically mobile and routinely displaced, and invent homes in absence of territorial, national bases…through memories of… places that they can or will no longer corporeally inhabit.’[15] Malkki does not ignore the importance of place in the construction of identity but rather tries to show the direct links between de-territorialisation and identity. Sedentarist thinking, which roots people’s identity to a specific place, is said to be ‘not anchored in the objective reality of our time’.[16] This argument logically concludes that since there is no need for identity to be tied to a geographic local, there idea of displacement is a ‘misconception’.[17]

            Those who maintain identity remains territorially bound follow an essentialist conception, arguing for a natural relationship between people and places. Gaim Kibreab is a proponent of this view. He argues a person’s identity is intrinsically linked to a state structure, in a geographically bound space, which extends citizenship rights to that individual, which they voluntarily accept.  In this view geographic areas remain highly territorialised under the system of nation states, and as such, ‘there can be no deterritorialised identity in a territorialised space’. [18] Kibreab argues ‘the globalisation process has not been accompanied by opening of borders to those who are forced to flee in search of safety’.[19] Mitchell provides an example given by Doreen Massey who points out ‘we may be able to communicate across the globe by email with just the press of a button, but as we do, “somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a woman – amongst many women – on foot, who still spends hours a day collecting water”. This is the reality of “reproduction in a de-territorialised context,” a reality marked not by the end of territoriality, but by increasingly unjust reconfigurations of space.’[20] Territorially anchored identity remains the ‘basis of membership and of apportioning rights’.[21]

In order to establish de-territorialised global citizenship, it is necessary that there are international institutions to protect identity rights as well as receptive governments to accept refugees. ‘Global citizenship or cosmopolitan identity cannot be established in a spatial vacuum’.[22] Gaim Kibreab views this conceptualisation of a de-territorialised identity as located within the ‘pursuit of adventure or tourism’.[23] For him citizenship in a ‘de-territorialized’ world exists only for those who can monetarily afford it to. Inherent in his argument is that refugees are seeking safety and security in other countries, not from a globalised body. He argues that de-territorialised citizenship reduces the refugee problem to that of mobility. He contends the problem of refugee displacement is dismissed as ‘there was never a “home” in the first place’.[24] Access to employment, ‘social services, rights to freedom of movement and residence’, political participation and protection of equal treatment exists only within ‘territorially anchored identities’. [25] As such the plausibility of being able to achieve a stable ‘socially and economically fulfilling life’ outside of the state is not within definitions of known citizenship.[26]  

            The consequences of the debate are present in the development of refugee policies and representations of refugees and asylum seekers on national and international levels. William E. Connolly’s discussion of political divisions illuminates the plight of the refugee, existing outside the realm of citizenship. For Connolly the division ‘between being an illegal alien and a citizen’ is a ‘fundamental [break] which scramble[s] the spheres both as descriptions of actuality and as norms capable of integrating outcasts…and aliens’.[27] Individuals, such as refugees, who experience the loss of the protection of citizenship and, hence, part of their political identity ‘encounter expectations, resentments, demands and cruelties that systematically demean, confine and depoliticise them’.[28] Refugees who walk along these dividing lines looking for admission are outside the currently recognised forms of citizenship of contemporary life. For Kibreab there are two discernable elements of the debate which have implications for ‘the refugee problem’. They are firstly, with the concept of displacement and, secondly, with the solutions to this displacement.[29] Current international institutions solution to the refugee problem are conceptualised ‘in terms of acquisition or reacquisition of nationality’.[30]

Globalisation, although resulting in an increase in global interconnectedness, has, according to Kibreab, done little allow refugees to forge transnational identities or new identities. He concludes ‘the globalisation process has been accompanied by restrictive immigration and refugee policies,’ especially since the end of the Cold War.[31]  For Kibreab geographic spaces will continue to anchor identities, as long as ‘places of origin will continue being the repository of rights and membership’. For refugees this implies the favourable outcome is voluntary repatriation. He argues never before has the desire to ‘inhabit culturally and ethnically distinct places’ been so intensely felt, as a result of the fragmentation caused by globalisation between the first and third worlds.[32]

            Refugee protection has become increasingly complicated for state structures in the contemporary transnational world. This has resulted in restricted access by states due to the linking of refugee protection and migration management: ‘states tend to consider refugees and asylum-seekers as part of a single phenomenon of irregular movement which needs to be controlled by various repressive means.’[33] Current policies do not effectively take into account the mixed motives or different protection needs of refugees. The application of a more restricted definition for refugee status means legitimate refugees find it more difficult to achieve the status they need for the international community to protect their human rights. A lack of inter-state co-operation means secondary movements of refugees are not addressed. [34] In July 2006, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees launched the ‘10 Point Action Plan on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration’,[35] which has since been met with mixed responses. Johannes van der Klaauw argues states are ineffectively handling mixed migratory flows, meaning refugees global citizenship status often results in them not receiving the legal and moral support they need. [36]  If de-territorialised citizenship is not recognised by the wider political community and the according responsibilities undertaken, refugees will not be provided the protection they deserve from the international community.

The debate surrounding citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ has implications for the protection and recognition of refugees in the nations with which they are associated: conceptually, morally and legally. Membership to a collective of shared moral standards, validated by other states recognition, remains important for the protection of individual rights. The boundaries of the territorial state may be abstract but they are not transparent, nor are they osmotic. Gaps in monitored territory do not permit the natural movement of individuals between state structures, certainly not with support from all parties involved.

Bibliography

Connolly, W. E., ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, Millennium – Journal of International       Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, (1991), p. 475.

Kibreab, Gaim, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999),         pp. 422-428.

Kibreab, Gaim, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal        of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), pp. 384- 410.

Long, Lynellyn D. and Ellen Oxfeld, eds., Coming Home?, (Philadelphia: University of    Pennsylvania Press, 2004)

Makki, Liisa, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of   National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural   Anthropology, vol. 7, no 1 (1992), pp. 24-44.

Mitchell, Don, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing,         2000).

O’Brien, Darren J., Dimensions of Global Citizenship: Political Identity Beyond the Nation-         State, (London: Frank Cass & Co., 2003).

Turner, Bryan S., ed., Citizenship and social theory, (London: Sage Publications, 1993).

Stepputat, Finn, ‘Dead Horses’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999), pp. 416-            419.

Turton, David, ‘Responses to Kibreab’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), pp.         419-422.

UNHCR, ‘Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action’, Jan. 2007,        Rev.1, [online]. Available: <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/45b0c09b2.html&gt;           (last visited 28 Mar. 2010).

van der Klaauw, Johannes, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status           and Protection Issues’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4, (2010),  pp. 59-86.

 Warner, Daniel, ‘Deterritorialization and the Meaning of Space: Responses to Kibreab’,   Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 12, no. 4, (1999), pp. 411-416.


[1] Darren J. O’Brien, Dimensions of Global Citizenship: Political Identity Beyond the Nation-State, (London: Frank Cass & Co., 2003), p. ix.

[2] Bryan S. Turner ed., Citizenship and social theory, (London: Sage Publications, 1993), p. 1.

See Lucia Ann McSpadden, ‘Contemplating Repatriation to Eritrea’, in Lynellyn D. Long and Ellen Oxfeld, eds., Coming Home?, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), p. 45.

Lucia Ann McSpadden, in her study of Eritrean refugees, argues refugees have an overt consciousness of the unpredictability of political events.  She argues ‘being Eritrean was basic to their identity, but being a citizen of a Western country provided political security.’   This suggests the security which refugee’s desire is only obtainable from a state structure, which provides them with rights and opportunities through citizenship.

[3] Liisa Makki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 7, no 1 (1992), p. 37.

[4] Don Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), p. 276.

[5] W. E. Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, (1991), p. 475.

[6] Gaim Kibreab, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999), pp. 424.

[7] Turner, Citizenship and social theory, p. 2.

[8] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 274.

[9] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 277.

[10] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 274-280.

[11] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), p. 385.

[12] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[13] Daniel Warner, ‘We Are All Refugees’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 4, no. 3 (1992) cited in Gaim Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), p. 386.

[14] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 385.

[15] Makki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, p. 24.

[16] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[17] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[18] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 387.

[19] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 385.

[20] Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (1994), cited in Don Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), p. 149.

[21] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 407.

[22] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 402.

[23] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[24] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[25] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386, 407.

[26] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386, 407.

[27] Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, p. 469.

[28] Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, p. 469.

[29] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[30] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 389.

[31] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 390.

[32] Kibreab, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, p. 423.

[33] Johannes van der Klaauw ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4, (2010), p. 60.

[34]  van der Klaauw, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, p. 60.

[35] UNHCR, ‘Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action’, Jan. 2007, Rev.1,

available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/45b0c09b2.html (last visited 28 Mar. 2010).

[36]  van der Klaauw, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, p. 59.

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