Workshop: The Government of (Post)Colonial Citizenship and Migration

On 15 June 2015 the University of Sheffield hosted a workshop – ‘The Government of (Post)Colonial Citizenship and Migration’. Co-funded by the Department of Politics and the Migration Research Group, the aim of the event was to bring together different voices on the (post)colonial dynamics of rights regimes, mobility and political subjectivity. By looking at migration and citizenship together, the workshop sought to complicate the divide between citizen/non-citizen and to consider how colonial logics still persist in the global socio-spatial management of different subjects and groups.

The workshop was opened with a round-table discussion on the relationship between ‘Race and (Post)Colonial Citizenship’. The participants each reflected on the role of race in their own work. John Hobson opened the discussion with an overview of his latest research on the persistence of Eurocentricism in critical IR thought. He went on to argue that we should move away from an analysis of race/racism and understand contemporary thought as implicated in a project of ‘Eurocentric Institutionalism’. Lucy Mayblin began by reflecting on the need to appreciate the persistence of race and, drawing upon her own work, used examples of Asylum policy to illustrate its centrality. She argued that we need to see race as part of a broader critique of ‘modernity’.

Jack Harrington’s contribution focused on recent innovations in critical citizenship studies by examining his role in the production of the Global Handbook of Citizenship Studies. In particular he reflected on the role of academic gatekeeping and the traditional focus on the global ‘North’ which the text attempted to move away from. Teodora Todorova argued that an examination of race (and Orientalism) has always underpinned her research and has also shaped her own relationship with the academy. She proposed that an analysis of race needed to be realised alongside other historical categories such as class. The general discussion focused on the methodological implications of using race as both an analytical and historical concept, the conceptual and empirical intersections between race, class, gender and sexuality and the role of race in both the academy and publishing.

The first panel session explored the persistence of colonial rationalities, logics and techniques in the regulation of migrants and ‘non-citizens’. Lucy Mayblin examined the emergence of the regime of refugee rights and argued that from its inception this has been guided by both a colonial outlook and the dictates of Empire. Focussing on a close reading of the British state’s policy towards asylum seekers she revealed that the British apparent support of the Geneva Convention was to maintain an image of British ‘civility’ internationally and instead made strong attempts to exclude colonies from the international regime. Strategies to limit asylum today must then be read in this context.

Anne McNevin introduced her recent research investigating the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) efforts to manage the smuggling of Asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia. The efforts rely on an assemblage of educational strategies which draw on numerous Islamic and Christian texts as well as more coercive forms of government. Whilst drawing upon colonial logics to manage migrants such practices are marked by ambiguity and the tension between success and failure. Elizabetta Spano finished the session by reflecting on the contemporary dynamics of Botswanan citizenship. She argued that the colonial distinction regarding the boundaries of ‘Botswana’ and its ethnic inhabitants (Tswana) persist in the continual exclusion of settled second and third generation migrants from South Africa. These subjects are given formal citizenship but marked as ‘citizens on paper’.

The second session focused on the production and regulation of citizenship under Empire and the tensions and connections with both our contemporary understanding and practices of citizenship. Jack Harrington presented a section from his latest book which examines the exclusive composition of French and British citizenship through the institutional and ideological arrangements of Empire. He focused on French Algeria as an example of how, even under the auspices of Republican universalism, differentiated groups right were constructed under occupation and the exclusive legacies this had post-independence.

Cristina Dragomir explored the historical emergence of the government of ‘Gypsies’ in India. Whilst most research focuses on the European Roma, she suggests that there are paralell’s with the representation of Gypsies in India – known through racialised stereotypes of criminality, pollution, unproductivity. This reveals the presence of colonial knowledges which underpin this ‘discursive apparatus’. Joe Turner presented his analysis of what he calls the ‘government of family life’ in the UK. Examining recent social policies which attempt to re-domesticate the lifestyles, ambitions and morality of certain ‘troubled’ or ‘problem’ families he argued that this is etched with colonial rationalities. Family emerged as a particular target of colonial rule because it revealed anxieties about intimacy, inter-racial sex, reproduction and the degeneration of European and British superiority. This persists in the management of the reproductive site of the ‘troubled family’.

The third session examined the ambiguity of boundaries and borders that demarcate citizens/non-citizens/migrants and looked at alternative claims of solidarity/belonging. Alexandria Innes explored the narratives of collective memory in the context of the division of Cyprus. Presenting an analysis of different methods of memorialisation she argued that the Green line produces hybrid and transnational identities through the complex threads of trauma attached to it. The Green line is constantly reproduced as a contingent (ontologically insecure) site through the lived experiences of both asylum seekers and the Cypriot diaspora.

Sarah Demart argued that the Congolese population in Belgium have been consistently governed as ‘unthinkable’. Despite representing a large ethnic minority and the development of Black activism their presence has been actively ignored in both government practice and academic thought. Whilst this dynamic is shaped by colonial inheritance, it is also formed through contemporary patterns of migration and a broad anxiety in Belgium concerning low-skilled migrants. Teodora Todorova explored how activism in Palestine is shaped by postcolonial relations. She argues that solidarity movements are impacted by white, western privilege where international activists are allowed to move across borders, offered greater protection from state violence and can gain access to international audiences. Inadvertently this often displaces the centrality of the occupied and besieged Palestinians whose struggle they seek to support.