Towards a sociology of everyday statelessness

In the first weeks at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (EUI) I’m finalising an article for a special issue on ‘Markers of Identity’ linked to the Oxford Diasporas Programme and its sister programme at the University of Leicester. The article draws on the work I have done for the ‘Stateless Diasporas in the EU’ project with Dr Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh and Dr Barzoo Eliassi. I’ve presented a draft version of the paper last June in Oxford and was very well received. I’ve now sent the manuscript to the editors, Professor Joanna Story and Dr Iain Walker, that have waited patiently (despite the deadline had passed a few weeks ago). Look forward to hearing their feedback.

Here is the abstract:

This article is an invitation to reflect sociologically on statelessness, to date mostly absent from an otherwise burgeoning sociological debate on citizenship, rights and legal status. Millions of stateless people worldwide challenge a core tenet of state-centric teleological imagination – that in order for the hegemonic state system to work everyone must be a citizen of a state – confirming instead the need for a more nuanced understanding of contemporary forms of membership attentive to the interplay of different rights regimes.

It argues that the experiences of Roma families who have lived for years in Italy in absence of any formal citizenship complicates Hannah Arendt’s powerful and insightful characterisation of stateless people as rightless; the lack of any citizenship doesn’t make them bare life, it reveals instead political subjectivity as an as embodied and emplaced process, where subjects negotiate individually and collectively their position in the world and vis-à-vis the state.

Theresa May, statelessness and Hannah Arendt

photo credit: luiginter via photopin cc

photo credit: luiginter via photopin cc

The UK Secretary of State Theresa May’s call for new powers to strip citizenship from individuals who are deemed a threat to public order is now formalised in the Immigration Bill. Many have argued against this further erosion of Britons’ right to citizenship. In an excellent opinion piece in The Guardian (see also one on The Conversation),  noted that ‘during the dark days of the second world war, when Britain was in mortal danger, only four people were stripped of citizenship. Theresa May has denaturalised more than four times that number of in the last three years alone’. With the new Bill coming into force we can only expect even more British citizens to be consigned to the condition of statelessness. The relatively small number should not disguise the political significance of this move. The following passage from Chapter 9 of Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism says it all:

One is almost tempted to measure the degree of totalitarian infection by the extent to which the concerned governments use their sovereign right of denationalization.