Catherine Neveu – Rescuing citizenship from its theories: Anthropological perspectives

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Event Date: 7 February
Christodoulou Meeting Room 11
Walton Hall campus
Open University,
Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA

Opening the Boundaries of Citizenship

The conference addresses the performative and creative side of social movements, practices of identity negotiation and political participation questioning the meaning of citizenship. Which actors, sites and rights are constituted in contemporary power struggles redefining ‘the political’? Which neo-colonial or neo-imperial nodes emerge from the analysis of issues such as democracy or secularism? Under this light, how is the language of law challenged and remoulded?

Panel 19: Colonial Legacies and Migration

Catherine Neveu (LAIOS – IIAC) – Rescuing citizenship from its theories: Anthropological perspectives

In their call for papers, the Conference organizers stress the fact that in most of the recent debates on citizenship, “the question over the Euro-American assumptions for conceiving citizenship remained out of scope”.
Indeed such assumptions exist, and they do have effects as to the ways citizenship is conceived of and analysed. This is certainly the case in France, where “citizenship” has historically been a particularly powerful keyword, and where its “weight” has slowed the development of heterodox approaches to it, and especially of processual ones, that consider citizenship not strictly as a status, but as sets of relationships that manufacture its meanings and uses. This paper will explore some of the effects of such assumptions on the ways French academic literature shape and discuss citizenship, by critically analysing recent debates.
But if there is indeed a need to disclose such implicit framings, a number of research having tried to do so have fallen in the reverse trap, or indeed the same gross generalisation: that of considering there would be one and only one “Western model”, generally the liberal one, as if political struggles and mobilisations around citizenship were always framed by such a specific model.
My main argument will thus be that efforts to better grasp contemporary reconfigurations of citizenship require not only to pay attention to other ways to define and practice it, especially among postcolonial minorities and in non-Western sites; but also to adopt new tools and standing points from which to explore citizenship processes in the “West” itself, tools and standing points that should avoid to subsume the complexity of citizenship struggles to one or another theoretical “model”. In other words, the much needed destabilising work in citizenship studies is not just about enriching the picture with views and practices that challenge established meanings; it is also about adopting a political and academic standpoint that reframe citizenship in general, and clearly contextualise it, as well as its theoretical discussions. Anthropologically inspired approaches, with their empirically based bias and their habit of never taking for granted political categories, might be particularly well equipped for such an exercise. Arguments in this paper will rely on the author’s recent research on social movements and mobilisations, as well as on recent anthropological literature on citizenship.

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