Nacira Guénif-Souilamas – Blurred citizens. An orientalist mapping of other beings, belongings and becomings

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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 20: New Cartographies of Citizenship

Dr Nacira Guénif-Souilamas (University Paris-Nord/13) – Blurred citizens. An orientalist mapping of other beings, belongings and becomings

The question as to whether young people of colonial and immigrant descent may and/or should be/become, for example, French is irrelevant, as many of them already are and all of them are always-already French, for they are born within or connected to the former borders of colonial France. Such paradoxical citizenship is subsequent to the colonial rule morphed into a new imperial order. According to this assumption, sovereignty does no more follow national borders but rather breathes through embodied boundaries. This reticular and rhizome-like configuration requires unusual ways of qualification. Some sort of proofreading, dedicated to human beings under condition of recognition, becomes a mandatory checkpoint. Each and every potential alien-citizen (i.e. citizen of a new (human)kind and/or of colonial descent) has features and attributes bound to undergo a random test, along a vast range of pixelized modes. Starting with birthplace, whitewashed color skin, wrist bones size, face visibility, fashionable black dress code, race profiling and body search, undocumented narratives, fluent accent-free idiomatic expression, sexual availability.

In order to understand the rules of this endless set of tests, one has to connect the dots left after each completion, whether successful or failed. One thus sees a map of various modes of belonging and their vicissitudes appear before one’s eyes. Yet the political translation of this set of tests is reversible, either leading to recognition or to dismissal: signs of “integration” may highlight a dangerous proximity potentially preceding an invasion; conversely signs of “lack of integration” point at the same threat. Just as resemblance is integral to Orientalism, in all the dangerous encounters it promises and calls for, blurred citizenship is coextensive to new national perimeters. Become unpredictable and therefore under suspicion, the Other citizens are caught in the web of a refreshed Orientalist predicament. Since they no longer sit on national borders but rather travel through bodily experiments, these blurred citizens relocate themselves. Their escape from the limits and limitations comprised in this citizenry of another kind is likely and challenging, expected and dubious. In any case this citizenry idiosyncrasy is political because it points at the long-term invisible race and gender fault lines it was build upon and the class divides it has triggered and lived with.

Race and ethnicity, class and gender provide us with combined observation lenses to explore a Europe made stranger to oneself. Along this process, citizenry is metamorphosed. Its old components are reworked and crafted so that nationality becomes irrelevant, homeland exchangeable, belonging plastic, and embodiment replicable and replaceable. How then does this new political entity, still called citizen, spell itself?, what does it rely on, if ever, to stand by itself?, what kind of bounds and ties does it choose and/or comply with? These are some of the questions I suggest to document and unfold through iconic and discursive items chosen from the provincialized Europe visual and written archive. Eventually, they may lead to another set of questions: why citizenship is still desirable and worth fighting for? What precious privilege, intrinsic quality, attached to it, makes it so invaluable and unquestionable? A close look at southern Arab blurred borders may then prove useful.

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