Home » Musings

Inclusion of the excluded in the global city

11 February 2010 No Comment

LDG assignment-Summary of:

Sassen, S. (2005) The Repositioning of Citizenship and Alienage: Emergent Subjects and Spaces for Politics, Globalization Vol.2, No.1, pp. 79-94

Globalization is causing a ‘destabilizing of national state-centered hierarchies of legitimate power and allegiance’. This in turn is triggering a twist and shift in the concept of citizenship; what it means, who can be a citizen and how it is achieved whether legally or not, as well as, formally or not. This concept is investigated by Sassen, where she discusses the historicity and the relative notions of citizenship and nationality. She further identifies legal citizenship and ‘informal’ citizenship, what she views as existing but on the parallel, emerging. She uses case-studies to discuss the role of unrecognized participants of the state and how a global city provides or should make room for their participation. Moreover, it is a call for the recognition of the oddballs of the state such as aliens, sexually-marginalized individuals, refugees, aboriginals that are continuously causing a tension in the city. Citizenship, Sassen says, is partly produced by the act of those excluded from society and how in a global city, these should be recognized.

The terms ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ have intertwined with each other and usually could be passed off as one another. An example of this would be that in current legal documents such as visa applications of certain countries such as the UK and India, the identification of nationality is usually a question of citizenship and the legal document of the passport confirms this. But this wasn’t always the case; while both are in regard to the subject’s connection to a state, Sassen stipulates nationality as an ‘international legal documentation in the context of an interstate system.’ Whereas citizenship is the domesticated version and refers to the allegiance to a place, city or a rather urban demarcated area. Moreover, the act of being a citizen is one of involvement in the political, social and economic spheres of the city and in doing so, attaining citizenship of the place. Therefore, nationality was seen as an acquired tribute as warranted by the laws of the state (such as heritage, birth), whereas citizenship is the achieved by actions and participation within the city which was the case in medieval cities, an opinion of Max Weber’s The City as quoted by Sassen. However, eventually citizenship was converted into a separate legal framework by the state, setting it lawfully apart from nationality.

During eras of penchant nationalism, if two nations were warring with each other, like in the case of England and France, it would not have been easy to be a dual national of these countries without being seen as a traitor on either side. But the perception of this has changed in the current century and viewed as an effect of globalization; it is becoming common to possess this duality or more and critical, the state provides international legal ground for doing so, with consider to International law and Human right decrees. Sassen quotes Spiro, Rubenstien and Adler who forecast that with individuals having transnational backgrounds, the model of nationality will come to be devalued. As with nationality, rapid transformation has occurred in citizenship; the citizen has become disjunct with the governing state and Sassen utilizes the cases of the Iraq War and the stresses of globalization on the social-welfare states to demonstrate this. As ‘warfare’ is people-intensive and requires high capital, neither do citizens wish to participate nor do certain nations as economic and infrastructure damage it could incur would ward off global firms and economic activity. With social-welfare states opening their markets to the global field, which Sassen points out to be a contradiction, it would greatly affect the benefits the state offers its subjects and which results in the loss of trust of the citizen in the state and subsequently, inaction like indifference to voting. So, can such refusal to participate be seen as revoking citizenship?

But political effort by all groups that exist within a city does not occur due to the diversity and disparity that exists within races, politics, gender, orientation and so on, even though legal citizenship may occur. And therefore, the ideal of ‘equal’ citizenship is explored as a remedy where, as decided by the state, is governed by international law and human rights, to create identity by providing them with ‘formal legal status, rights and belonging’. These groups, however excluded or marginalized, exhibit some character of informal citizenship in two categories, as devised by Sassen : ‘unauthorised yet recognized’ and ‘authorised yet unrecognised’. In the former, she elaborates on how in certain instances USA provided citizenship to illegal immigrants who have assimilated themselves into the American way of life and contributed to the surrounding communities. Furthermore, countries such as El Salvador has championed their natives’ right to citizenship in the USA, as these immigrants support their families and relatives back home, in turn, providing relief to the poor economy of El Salvador- which in some instances, could be seen as a question of loyalty.

In the latter type of informal citizenship i.e. ‘authorised yet unrecognised’, immigrant housewives, who are official citizens, are the unseen proponents of activism in cities. This has to do with the opportunity to breakaway from the traditional boundaries of their home society, but at the same time, adhering to it. Traditionally, their identity is viewed as ‘homemakers’ but with increased social mobility and usually having seen hardship of some form, whether war, famine or simply poverty, they are quick to make use of the opportunity of the political system such as democracy(such as USA), partake in the community and demand for a better life. Both the instances do not fit in with the official framework of citizenship but they are claiming rights to the city, as in Weber’s medieval city. Therefore, this calls for inclusiveness in the legality of citizenship, and therefore, Sassen questions the grounds of citizenship for these groups: whether postnational citizenship is the route, where informal participation is recognized by the state? Or should nationality even be the basis of citizenship in a global city i.e. denationalized citizenship? Sassen suggests that a middle ground has to be found between these concepts in delivering recognition, with a foundation set in equality or in conjuncture with International Human rights, and thereby empower these so-far-invisible actors of the state,. She views this as necessary in light of ‘globalization’, where immigration is one of the key actors, and therefore, flexing ‘citizenship’ is critical to providing these groups with the privilege of claim or place making in the city.

Thus, globalization is making the city a strategic site for these groups to function. As the city is a potpourri of inequalities, capital, exclusions, Sassen reiterates that this gives rise to ‘new types of operations- political, economic, cultural, subjective’. She notes that this is not a reversion to Weber’s historical city, where systems were a result of resistance to oppressors, but rather a production of ‘presence’. This was absent in industrial cities or mass-manufacturing Fordist cities, where factories and mines were the ‘agency’ of political work of the disadvantaged and harbored loss of social structure, which breeded social individuality and innovation. Sassen utilizes Weber’s medieval city to point out that the issues that dwelt within it, pushed its citizens into producing new systems such as governance and citizenship itself, and the same will occur in the global city. But for this to occur, there has to be providence of spatial arrangement or simply modification or denationalizing of existing civic institutions in order to draw these alienated groups into the political process, even though they are active is economic and communal aspects of the city. This will then be the conduct of the state or the city in localizing its global ‘presence’. In conclusion, Sassen reflects that for the city to become such a strategic site, there are perhaps two requisites: one is the redefinition of the urbania and its establishments and two is the loosening up of the necessity of ‘nationality’ as being a vehicle of inclusion into the urban society. She does not see the point in using the latter in limiting informal subjects of the state as it will also serve to recognize and empower them. But one must note that should such bureaucratic acknowledgment be currently inaccessible, people will always find ways of making the city their own.


Leave a Reply