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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003) 41-66

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The Repositioning of Citizenship
Emergent Subjects and Spaces for Politics

Saskia Sassen
University of Chicago

MOST OF THE SCHOLARSHIP ON CITIZENSHIP HAS CLAIMED A NECESSARY CONNECTION to the national state. The transformations afoot today raise questions about this proposition insofar as they significantly alter those conditions that in the past fed the articulation between citizenship and the national state. The context for this possible alteration is defined by two major, partly interconnected conditions. One is the change in the position and institutional features of national states since the 1980s resulting from various forms of globalization. These range from economic privatization and deregulation to the increased prominence of the international human-rights regime. The second is the emergence of multiple actors, groups, and communities partly strengthened by these transformations in the state, and increasingly unwilling automatically to identify with a nation as represented by the state.

Addressing the question of citizenship against these transformations entails a specific stance. It is quite possible to posit that, at the most abstract or formal level, not much has changed over the last century in the essential features of citizenship. The theoretical ground from which I address the [End Page 41] issue is that of the historicity and the embeddedness of both categories, citizenship and the national state, rather than their purely formal features. Each of these has been constructed in elaborate and formal ways. And each has evolved historically as a tightly packaged bundle of what were, in fact, often rather diverse elements. The dynamics at work today are destabilizing these particular bundlings and bringing to the fore the fact itself of that bundling and its particularity. Through their destabilizing effects, these dynamics are producing operational and rhetorical openings for the emergence of new types of political subjects and new spatialities for politics.

More broadly, the destabilizing of national state-centered hierarchies of legitimate power and allegiance has enabled a multiplication of non-formalized or only partly formalized political dynamics and actors. These signal a deterritorializing of citizenship practices and identities, and of discourses about loyalty and allegiance. Finally, specific transformations inside the national state have directly and indirectly altered particular features of the institution of citizenship. These transformations are not predicated necessarily on deterritorialization or locations for the institution outside the national state, as is key to conceptions of postnational citizenship, and hence are usefully distinguished from current notions of postnational citizenship. I will refer to these as denationalized forms of citizenship.

Analytically, I seek to understand how various transformations entail continuities or discontinuities in the basic institutional form. That is to say, where do we see continuities in the formal bundle of rights at the heart of the institution, and where do we see movement towards postnational and/or denationalized features of citizenship? And where might as yet informal citizenship practices engender formalizations of new types of rights? Particular attention goes to several specific issues that capture these features. One of these is the relationship between citizenship and nationality, and the evolution of the latter towards something akin to "effective" nationality rather than "allegiance" to one state or exclusively formal nationality. A later section examines the mix of distinct elements that actually make up the category of citizenship in today's highly developed countries. Far from being a unitary category or a mere legal status, these diverse elements can be contradictory. One of my assumptions here is that the destabilizing impact of [End Page 42] globalization contributes to accentuating the distinctiveness of each of these elements. A case in point is the growing tension between the legal form and the normative project towards enhanced inclusion, as various minorities and disadvantaged sectors gain visibility for their claim-making. Critical here is the failure in most countries to achieve "equal" citizenship—that is, not just a formal status but an enabling condition.

The remaining sections begin to theorize these issues with a view towards specifying incipient and typically nonformalized developments in the institution of citizenship. Informal practices and political subjects not...