International human rights law guaranteed the ‘right to a nationality’ following the World Wars, reinforcing the assumption that legal nationality was a social good that guaranteed political membership and rights protection. Yet today we see troubling shifts in how states view citizenship and nationality rights; at the individual level, denationalisation (the involuntary loss of citizenship) is increasingly used as a method to punish enemies and reward others, thus de-valuing the concept of citizenship as a fundamental right and instead positing it as a privilege. At the group level, denationalisation sometimes targets entire identity groups in the quest to create and isolate ‘strangers’, particularly in times of rising nationalism. In this chapter, Lindsey N. Kingston challenges the belief that legal nationality is always a social good and contends that legal nationality – the assumed marker of political membership in our world system – can be weaponised. First, modern citizenship and its ensuing documentation exist in many communities with deeply harmful consequences. Second, citizenship is approached by some political leaders as both a reward for exceptionally good deeds and a punishment for bad behaviour deemed threatening to the state. Third, the statelessness that results from the revocation or denial of citizenship serves as a method for the erasure of specific identity groups.
When a person is not recognised as a citizen anywhere, they are typically referred to as ‘stateless’. This can give rise to challenges both for individuals and for the institutions that try to govern them. Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship breaks from tradition by relocating the ‘problem’ to be addressed from one of statelessness to one of citizenship. It problematises the governance of citizenship – and the use of citizenship as a governance tool. It traces the ‘problem of citizenship’ from global and regional governance mechanisms to national and even individual levels. Part I examines how statelessness is produced and maintained, for example through global development efforts and refugee protection instruments. Part II traces the lived reality of statelessness, starting at conception and the issuance of birth certificates, then exploring the experiences of youth, workers, and older people. Part III demands a rethinking of the governance of citizenship. It interrogates existing efforts to address challenges associated with statelessness and suggests alternatives. Contributions span global regions and contributors include activists, affected persons, artists, lawyers, leading academics from a range of disciplines, and national and international policy experts. Written text, visual art, and poetry are also used to examine complex concepts central to this discussion. Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship rejects the idea that statelessness and stateless persons are a problem. It argues that the reality of statelessness helps to uncover a more fundamental challenge: the problem of citizenship.
Opening a conversation about statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship
Tendayi Bloom and Lindsey N. Kingston
According to international law, a person is considered ‘stateless’ if they are not recognised as a national by any country under the operation of its law. International law, then, provides an important dimension to understanding statelessness, and it is a dimension that has often been privileged. This chapter sets out to open out the discussion of statelessness to include consideration of more dimensions and how they intersect with each other. It shows how opening out the discussion of statelessness in this way provides new avenues for examining the often messy and complex ways in which the structures that govern society move people into and out of recognition. Central to this work is identifying the ‘problem’ that is being examined. While the traditional legal focus can make it easy to frame statelessness – and so also stateless people – as a ‘problem’ to be solved, a broader governance approach challenges this. Examining the relationship between governance and statelessness indicates that situations of statelessness are often underpinned by problems rooted in the governance of citizenship: in how citizenship is allocated, experienced, and even removed. Framing statelessness through governance, then, opens the way for new directions for studying both statelessness and governance. Crucially, this also makes it possible to develop new ways of both understanding and addressing statelessness and its implications.