Parvati Nair – Immigration, indignation, integration: Reinventing citizenship and democracy in Spain

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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

Professor Parvati Nair (Queen Mary University London) – Immigration, indignation, integration: Reinventing citizenship and democracy in Spain

This paper seeks to consider the recent popular protests at the economic crisis as experienced in Spain in light of an ongoing history of economic immigration to Spain from the countries of the global south in Africa, Latin America and, more recently, Asia. I shall explore the emergence of a common ground of dispossession and discontent between citizens devoid of economic advantage and immigrants who are non-citizens seeking alternatives to economic degradation in their home countries. Following four decades of dictatorship in Spain, the Transition to democracy and subsequent membership of the European Union combined with Spain’s geographic position at the edge of Europe to turn this southern European nation into an entry point for immigrants seeking to enter Fortress Europe. Over the past three to four decades, immigration has been a major phenomenon in Spain, testing the limits of tolerance and democracy, both in practice and in law. The majority of immigrants occupy interstitial and marginal positions in Spanish society, eschewed by the mainstream and often vilified both by the media and politicians. More recently, the movement of indignation in Spain has led to the occupation of city spaces in popular protest at the effects of the economic crisis. Many of the claims of the indignados incorporate those of immigrants and question democracy as currently practised. The commonality of dispossession and abandonment by the state exposes the extent to which citizenship and democracy, formulated and imagined within the framework of capitalism, fail to vindicate subjects who embody the failures of capital.
I shall analyse the ways in which, in both cases, the presence of bodies of the dispossessed in public space and the physical occupation of the latter reinvents the public sphere through bodily performance. If immigrants were the indignados of yesteryear, then today they are joined by a substantial economic underclass of subjects deprived of the privileges of citizenship through the failures of the prevailing economic system. Interestingly, the latter have incorporated the former’s struggle for rights and recognition into their claims for justice and socio-economic reform. The means for achieving these ends have, in both cases, been through physical presence in public and especially urban spaces. In this way, the bodies of the disenfranchised weave their way through and against the mainstream, thereby ensuring that marginality remains not on geo-social peripheries but rather as a visible feature of the everyday. I shall argue that both groups should be viewed not as separate from the practices of capital but as fields of resistance that test, challenge, deconstruct and expose the limits of citizenship and democracy when defined by capitalist ideology. The fundamentally non-violent nature both of recent protests and the non-violent movements of non-citizens coalesce to reinvent the public sphere in terms of a democratic praxis that is performative in its appropriation and refiguring of democracy.

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