Governing through Citizenship and Citizenship from Below

An Interview with Kim Rygiel

Kim Rygiel, Ilker Ataç, Anna Köster-Eiserfunke, Helge Schwiertz

Abstract This interview reviews some reflections from Kim Rygiel’s work on theorizing the struggles of migrants at the borders of Europe from a politics of citizenship perspective as forms of citizenship from below. The study of border controls reveals how restrictions on migrants’ mobility generates new forms of inequality and exclusion, but also social responses, and in particular, an emerging and growing activism of politicized groups of non-citizen migrants and citizens working alongside them in solidarity for migrants’ rights. Investigating border controls thus requires investigating multiple practices and sites of bordering, but it also raises questions about the nature of the border and how to study it. The concept of bordering solidarities highlights for her that as much as border controls are restrictive and divisive, borders also paradoxically act as bridges or moments around which people on either sides of the borders, non-citizen migrants along with citizens, come together in solidarity and support for migrants’ rights.

Kim Rygiel is one of the leading scholars of critical citizenship studies. In her research she analyzes citizenship as a way of governing individuals and populations but also considers the politics of citizenship as offering the potential for resistance. In this email-interview, Ilker Ataç, Anna Köster-Eiserfunke and Helge Schwiertz discussed with her aspects of migrant struggles, questions of solidarity, and dynamics of partial inclusion/exclusion in the context of different citizenship regimes.

1) We are very glad that you gave us the opportunity to conduct this interview with you. Over the last few years you have focused your research on the struggles of migrants at the borders of Europe. You have analyzed the struggles of migrants as “citizenship from below”. Can you tell us about your research? And can you tell us about how you conceptualize terms such as citizenship from below and acts of citizenship?

For the past several years I have been working on a project entitled “Geographies of Exclusion: Rethinking Citizenship from the Margins”. This research examines the proliferation of restrictive border controls as important sites through which differentiated and stratified rights to movement are produced, negotiated and re-imagined. Geographic mobility has been a key means throughout the modern period for people to acquire greater capital (social, economic, and cultural) and thereby social mobility. For this reason, rights to movement are always related more broadly to issues of social mobility and social justice such as to the ability to access a host of other rights including employment, housing, food, health, schooling, and security. One type of border control that is of particular interest to me is the space of the camp. Camps have proliferated in various forms along the internal and external borders of European countries, in places such as Calais, France or the Turkish-Greek land and sea borders, including but not limited to self-organized migrant camps, ‘guesthouses’ and ‘reception’ centres, and detention and deportation centres (Migreurope 2005). From a politics of citizenship perspective, my research has investigated how the restriction of migrants’ mobility through camps and detention generate new forms of inequality and exclusion, but also social responses, and in particular, the emerging and growing activism of politicized groups of non-citizen migrants and citizens working alongside them in solidarity for migrants’ rights.

Here, the idea of “bordering solidarities” (Rygiel 2011) has motivated my research in several key ways. First, the term border-ing indicates for me the importance of critically reflecting on what and where the border is such that the border is best understood as a process, whose meaning shifts and is constituted through various practices and technologies that materialize in different locations of the border. As critical border and security scholarship has pointed out, the border should not be seen narrowly as merely a physical, territorial boundary between two political entities — a ‘line in the sand’ as it were — but rather more expansively in multiple forms as “diffuse” (Côté-Boucher 2008) and disaggregated over space and time (Balibar 1998), extending to sites at a distance from the actual physical border such as to island detention centres (Mountz 2011) or dispersed within the state to sites such as the bus station, the employment office, the school (Balibar 2004; Nyers 2008; Squire 2011) and the body through, for example, biometric borders (Amoore 2006; Rygiel 2011) or “racialized borders” (Khosravi 2010). This notion of bordering took me to study the way borders regulate, exclude and enact violence over peoples’ bodies and lives, for example, by investigating the detention centre at Edirne; the 12 km fence running along the Turkish-Greek border; or the Greek cemeteries of Mytilini, Lesvos or in the hilltop villages of Sidiro and Agriani as sites where growing numbers of migrants are buried in unmarked graves, having died crossing the Evros/Meriç river at the Turkish-Greek land border or crossing the Mediterranean sea in dinghies from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.

Investigating border controls thus requires investigating multiple practices and sites of bordering but it also raises questions about the nature of the border and how to study it. The concept of bordering solidarities highlights for me that as much as border controls are restrictive and divisive, borders also paradoxically can act as bridges or moments around which people on either sides of the borders, non-citizen migrants along with citizens, come together in solidarity and support for migrants’ rights. This includes Turkish people trying to set up a migrant solidarity network in Edirne, villagers and activists reaching out to assist migrants on each side of the border, and building transnational networks, as Greek activists connect with other European activists, for example in Germany, to build solidarity movements such as the Welcome to Europe and Infomobile networks. Through such networks, European citizens are mobilized in solidarity with non-citizen migrants: to assist them in their struggles to cross borders; access rights; provide alternatives to charity and detention in the form of open reception centres and solidarity kitchens and to assist families with finding and mourning missing relatives. The border, in this sense is not just restrictive in its power but also productive and can become a site where solidarities are built around migrant struggles for/at the border. This is, I believe, what Soguk (2007: 288) refers to when he notes that borders are not just a function of separation but of “practices of relationality that become possible in moments of tensions, conflicts, and contradictions as well as unexpected convergences of intentionalities”.

The above mentioned examples of struggles and movements are often about both solidarity and bordering in another sense: They question and challenge beliefs about the very borders of political community and belonging, political subjectivity and who can and should be counted as worthy of having “a right to have rights” (Arendt 1968). As Peter Nyers and I have argued (2012: 3), border controls can be restrictive but also “constitutive of new ways of ‘being political’ (Isin 2002)”. They give rise to new political subjectivities and “may reflect different ways of organizing political community through a condition of mobility, in which values of equality, justice and recognition come to be redefined from the perspective of mobile subjects” (Nyers/Rygiel 2012: 13). When migrants make demands for social justice and claim rights, they enact themselves as political beings (regardless of status) and it is in this sense that they can be said to enact a form of citizenship ‘from below’. The terms citizenship from below and acts of citizenship capture the idea that non-citizen migrants, through these struggles and social movements, make claims to rights, membership and belonging, and to being political subjects and that they do so often from the margins, both literally and figuratively, as non-citizens and outsiders with gradations of precarious status. These struggles are not just reactive, however, but they can also be transformative in challenging borders of political community, membership and notions of political subjectivity.

The latter point of making claims to being political subjects is significant in that it challenges popular public perceptions of non-citizen migrants as either victims, who are portrayed as being deserving of assistance, but nevertheless also passive recipients of charity, or else as illegal and, therefore, criminal. This latter depiction is used to justify denying assistance in favour of more punitive responses such as detention, deportation, and even abuse at the hands of police and smugglers or in the form of mental anguish caused by forcible confinement in detention in relative isolation from community and family or from years of waiting in limbo for the chance to move and to settle.

Concepts such as citizenship from below and acts of citizenship provide a language in which to discuss the struggles of migrants without reproducing the problematic stereotypes of migrants as either victims or criminals by emphasizing their subjectivity as political actors instead. Here the notion of “acts of citizenship” (Nyers 2006, 2008; Isin/Nielsen 2008) draws attention to the fact that subjectivities like citizen and non-citizen do not just exist as pre-social, settled identities. Rather, these subjectivities exist in relation to one another and are produced through acts or “creative breaks” that “rupture or break the given orders, practices and habitus” (Isin 2008: 18, 36). As Isin (2008: 37) notes, “acts produce actors that do not exist before acts”. So while citizenship is most often investigated as a legal and political institution, based on status, rights and duties within a polity (most often the nation state), or as involving practices that lead to distinctions between formal and substantive citizenship, investigating citizenship through acts places the political and political relations at the centre of the investigation into citizenship.

This is important if our aim is to break down citizen/non-citizen binaries, which often serve to justify the denial of rights and social justice to non-citizen migrants. The citizen-non-citizen binary is ontological in nature as it justifies who even gets to be counted as worthy, among the human, and as political subjects. As Arendt (1968) observed, those deprived of citizenship rights are often first deprived of the right to a political existence. In order to have the rights that come with legal citizenship status one must first be recognized as a political subject. Yet, as Arendt observes, recognition as a political subject is deeply tied in the international state system to one’s citizenship in a state. As Arendt (1968: 300) explains:

“If a human being loses his political status, he should, according to the implications of the inborn and inalienable rights of man, come under exactly the situation for which the declarations of such general rights provided. Actually the opposite is the case. It seems that a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a fellow-man.”

So by using the language of citizenship from below the idea is to unsettle this very ontology of who counts as a political subject. But it is not just that the language of citizenship is useful here for discussing non-citizen migrants as political beings. It is also useful for unsettling citizen privilege. In the same way as the citizen/non-citizen binary works to render certain non-citizen migrants as ‘others’ (always constituted in relation to other dimensions of power such as gender/sexuality, class, racialization, religion etc.), it also serves to present citizens as having fixed identities that then justify their claims to rights and privileges. Investigating migrant struggles as acts of citizenship serves not only to reframe non-citizen migrants as political subjects but also to unsettle the privileged identity of citizens. It draws attention to the fact that the constitution of both are a matter of politics and that both subjectivities are constituted in relation to one another and ultimately, for my purposes, works to blur this binary so that these distinction are at least ‘troubled’. The hope is that this makes it more difficult to appeal to the notion of citizen/non-citizen in a matter of fact way as a means of justifying the denial of rights, justice, or status or of legitimizing violence against non-citizen migrants.

2) You describe those moments as acts of citizenship, in which migrants constitute themselves as political beings despite their lack of citizenship status. With the concept bordering solidarities you analyze different forms of support for migrant’s rights, in which citizens are mobilized in solidarity with non-citizen migrants and borders could be understood also as bridges. Do you think we need different concepts and methods in order to discuss these diverse acts of citizenship from below? Furthermore, we would like to ask you to elaborate on the unsettling of citizen privilege, which you describe as an additional effect of these acts?

I think the challenge for us as teachers, researchers and activists engaged in solidarity around migrant rights is to develop a rich vocabulary to discuss the types of politics unfolding and which we wish to envision materializing. Different concepts and methods allow us to be more creative in our thinking, to grasp different dimensions of politics and to imagine and foster different aspects of social movements around migrants’ rights. It is interesting to think conceptually about what we gain and lose in employing certain language and concepts, as in using the concept of citizenship from below in place of another alternative. It is also worth keeping in mind Arjun Appadurai’s (2000) insights about the “research imagination” and grassroots globalization or “globalization from below”. Appadurai warns of a “double apartheid” in which social exclusion is tied not only to disenfranchisement by current globalization processes but also as a result of epistemological exclusion, where those who are most affected by a growing inequality are also excluded from the discussion of naming what is happening to them. I think the same can be true in trying to describe a politics of mobility and control and the language we employ. We need to be sensitive to what language we use and for which audiences. As I have alluded to earlier, I think employing the language of citizenship strategically to describe the political actions and ways of being political of those often excluded from citizenship can be powerful in certain contexts but I also think we need to allow for the possibility of other ways of describing forms of political action and subjectivities as well. Moreover, given that we are living through a period increasingly characterized by securitization, militarization and fundamentalisms and extremism of various kinds (market, religious, national), all of which thrive on parsimonious and binary thinking, I think that we should definitely embrace complexity, interdisciplinary and multiple concepts and methodologies, as a way of resisting such logics. The richer the language and concepts to discuss these diverse acts of citizenship from below the better in my opinion.

When I teach about no border politics in the classroom I am always shocked by the very visceral reactionary responses I receive. I think that in order to understand why this reaction emerges, we need to dislodge the idea of citizenship as a grounds for justifying the denial of rights to others, who settle as non-citizens and who are trying to make a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, those that succeed in moving, especially when they do so outside of the very narrow, state sanctioned ways of moving across borders, are often criminalized in the public imagination. I think a first starting point about getting those people who are closed to the idea of non-citizens having a right to move to another country, with the aim of bettering their lives (a right incidentally that many citizens in North America and Europe believe they themselves should have), must come from unsettling this sense of entitlement that some citizens feel by thinking about citizenship privilege.

In terms of unsettling citizenship privilege, Ayelet Shachar’s (2009) Birthright Lottery gives us a very important starting point from which to think about citizenship privilege. As Shachar (2009: 2) notes, “we cannot understand the resilience of bounded membership […] unless we revisit the legal and political institution of birthright citizenship”. She describes birthright citizenship as something akin to inheritance, that is as an institution that “provides a state-sponsored apparatus for handing down from generation to generation the invaluable security and opportunity that attach to membership in a stable, affluent, and rule-of-law society” (ibid.). In other words, simply by accident of birth, one can be endowed with greater rights. Looking at citizenship this way, as with any other system of power and hierarchy (race, gender, class, heterosexuality), forces one to acknowledge one’s positionality in this hierarchy of citizenships (and non-citizenships as in the case of the stateless and displaced). Barry Hindess (2000) has also written about citizenship privilege, although perhaps not referring to it explicitly as such. He notes that the official dismantling of colonial rule in many states emerged alongside the universalization of citizenship but that this worked to “keep the poor in their place” (ibid.: 1496). The universalization of citizenship reinforces the idea that while everyone (ideally) should have access to citizenship rights this should be done by materializing those rights in the state one is born into, an idea that normalizes both the hierarchy of access to resources and also problematizes the idea of challenging this hierarchy through movement across states. I would also include here Engin Isin’s (2002) work on Being Political as making an important contribution to thinking about citizenship privilege (although again perhaps not explicitly referring to it as such). Isin’s genealogy on citizenship illustrates that citizenship has often been used to refer to the experiences, worldview and interests of those in power but that when we look at the history of citizenship, the inclusion of groups and individuals (and the expansion of rights and responsibilities) is as much a result of the struggles of those historically excluded from citizenship, through their demands to be included, as it is by those in positions of power. Thinking about citizenship in this way is another way to unsettle citizenship privilege.

The notion of citizenship privilege has also, of course, become a very important issue for those working in solidarity campaigns and movements for migrant rights. There has been sensitivity in developing political strategies, for example, of the differential repercussions of strategies on those with and without legal status, as for example in strategies of occupation and no border camps, where protest may draw increased police presence to an area in which those in more precarious positions or lacking legal status inevitably disproportionately bare the brunt of police violence, detention and deportation (see for example Radical Migrant Solidarity’s (2012) discussion of this).

Hopefully, by speaking about citizenship privilege, as we do other forms of privilege, we will recognize and acknowledge our own citizenship privilege (where this is the case) and by doing so, we may open up space to be more compassionate to those who, simply by virtue of where they are born, find themselves with comparatively restrictive access to rights and a better quality of life.

3) In European countries as well as in the US there are different forms of struggles of migrants, for example refugee movements or migrant youths fighting for legal status and access to education. Some of these movements have successfully pressured the state institutions to pass legislations and other regulations, which give them a right to stay, to study and to work, when they fulfill certain criteria (for example the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the US or Bleiberecht, the right to stay, in Germany). On the one hand, these struggles achieved an important improvement for some. On the other hand, these regulations are criticized by migrant activists, because they are selective and still exclude most of the migrants. We can also see, that this form of inclusion might be linked to the differentiation between ‘good migrants’, which are described as well integrated and productive and ‘bad migrants’, which are often labeled as a threat to national economy and security. Is this dynamic of partial inclusion/exclusion inherently linked to every politics of citizenship? What are the consequences of this dynamic for rethinking the concept of the citizenship from below?

I think this is an excellent and provocative question. This is definitely an issue that comes up with regularization campaigns, generating much debate about regularization as a strategy, with some, as you note, arguing that regularization programs are reproductive of the very same problematic citizenship politics that the campaigns are designed to challenge. Yet, at the same time, it is very difficult to argue from a position of citizenship privilege that someone without the security of status should be denied the opportunity, through regularization programs, to gain status if this means a qualitative improvement in their lives and security. So in this case I think the question is one of always thinking in terms of multipronged approaches, where regularization can open up opportunities for some but exclude others, it can never be an end position in and of itself. Yet this does not mean it is not a valuable political strategy. I am reminded of Foucault’s (1980: 142) point here in which he notes that power is both constraining and productive and that while there is no position outside of power, there are also “no relations of power without resistances”. Every citizenship struggle, which gains new freedoms for an individual also further intertwines that person within the power of the state. Yet, by the same token, it is precisely in oppressive moments of power that new openings for resistance can be found. It is in these new political openings, sites, forms of action, and identities that a politics of citizenship as resistance emerges.

So every moment comes both with new openings and new closures, as there is no pure position outside of power. However, this does not mean that there are not more and less violent and exclusionary articulations of citizenship politics and that it is not possible to think and practice a politics of citizenship in which the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion are weakened, challenged, or rearticulated to produce a different kind of politics and different ways of living together and this is the challenge. For example, when we look at specific alternative solidarity projects, the aim is to think about citizenship in ways that challenge or practice or evaluate inside/outside politics differently. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell campaigns in Toronto and Sanctuary City campaigns are a good example of this, where the idea is to make the issue of legal status less relevant or even irrelevant for the accessing of rights to the city such as access to schools for children (which should be independent of their or their parents’ legal status) or the ability to access health care or housing or to seek assistance from the police without fear of having to show proof of status and without fear of deportation. Such policies work to rearticulate the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion around residency rather than status. Of course there are some who will see citizenship as always a problematic concept precisely because they read the term through its historical association with the nation-state and as therefore always inherently evoking an inclusionary/exclusionary dimension. This is the challenge to us. Must citizenship always be thought through the nation-state and bounded notions of community? This is at the core of recent debates about thinking about citizenship without community discussed by Balibar (2012), Isin (2012), Closs Stephens and Squire (2012) and others.

4) As you develop it in your book Globalizing Citizenship (Rygiel 2010), citizenship is also a mode of governing mobility on a global scale. Could you give us an idea what you mean by governing through citizenship? And how do you see the specific role of citizenship in neoliberal regimes and in the production of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ populations?

When I began writing about citizenship it was within the context of the now well-rehearsed debates about whether or not globalization processes were transforming the state and the argument that, as a result of this transformation to the state, citizenship was in crisis. A proliferation of literature within citizenship studies emerged arguing either for the need to protect bounded notions of political community or else celebrating the crisis as an opening in which to think about new models of citizenship such as transnational, diasporic, dual and multiple and even global citizenship. I argued at the time that we needed to investigate the logic of governing that citizenship made, and continues to make, possible before we could understand whether, in fact, citizenship was in crisis.

Speaking to citizenship in neoliberal regimes, my argument here was that neoliberal globalization had not in fact undermined or weakened citizenship. Rather, citizenship is an increasingly important way today of governing individuals and populations. At a time when physical mobility has become an ever more important resource and pathway towards upward economic and social mobility, governments — particularly in the wealthier global north — have increasingly turned to citizenship as a way of governing over individuals and populations, in part through the regulation of movement. More than this though, in response to your question about citizenship as a mode of governing mobility on a global scale, I argued that citizenship was transforming into a globalizing regime of government by which I meant that citizenship was increasingly becoming as much about governing populations between and across states as it was about governing within the state. Neoliberal globalization processes have shifted citizenship practices in ways that displace governing power from government authorities to other actors such as international organizations, private companies and individuals and through political technologies such as risk profiling, biometrics, and data aggregation. This involves the dispersion of power and politics from the territorial state to other sites such as extraterritorial detention camps, the individual body and the body politic. As a whole, this dispersion of power from governments to other authorities, and its inscription into the political body, makes for a stronger state and regime of governing through citizenship. Moreover, at the same time as citizenship is globalizing as a regime to govern individuals not just within the state but more globally between and across states, it is also recasting what it means to be a citizen, away from liberal modern notions of the citizen as a rights bearing subject to more technocratic and depoliticized definitions of citizens, which come to be understood as authorized bodies permitted to move rather than as having rights to movement, which has profound implications for the future of democratic citizenship.

But first, let me just respond in a bit more detail to your question about what I mean by governing through citizenship. To make the argument that citizenship is globalizing as a regime of governing, I needed to work with a concept of citizenship that differed from the traditional understanding of citizenship as a modern liberal institution conferring legal status and political membership in a political community (most often that of the nation-state). The liberal regime of citizenship is often associated with the history of the extension of rights between all members of the nation-state, such as is articulated in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776) as well as T.H. Marshall’s (1950) well-known argument that liberal citizenship evolved through the extension of rights from civil rights in the eighteenth century to political rights in the nineteenth century and social welfare rights in the twentieth century. Of course, this liberal perspective is problematic if we consider citizenship from the perspective of those excluded from it for whom citizenship is as much a history of exclusion and denial of rights. As feminist scholars have long pointed out, for example, the supposed inclusiveness of modern universal citizenship has, in fact, been a myth, with universal citizenship historically taking on the characteristics of the perspectives and experiences of the white, male bourgeoisie and experiences that differ from this particular embodied experience of citizenship are seen as not properly belonging to the domain of citizenship (Young 1989, Yuval-Davis/Werbner 1999) Citizenship has also been a part and parcel of the more violent aspects of nation-building and state-making processes involving the exclusion and elimination of various groups of people from the polity. In other words, it would be a mistake, to equate citizenship with being either a progressive institution, based on liberal notions of the extension of rights and responsibilities, or an exclusionary one, as both are integral aspects of citizenship. Citizenship is constituted as an institution, status and identity as much by those excluded from it, who have fought for or challenged the parameters of citizenship, as it has by those who have held the power in society. In other words, the focus of citizenship needs to be on this dialogical relationship of inclusion and exclusion and on the dynamics of the type of politics at the heart of citizenship. For this reason, informed by a Foucauldian perspective, I evoked a concept of citizenship as government to encompass the broader political relations involved in shaping the “conduct of conducts” (Foucault 1994: 138). Citizenship as government invites us to consider the relationships of power, discourses, practices, technologies, and subjectivities involved in governing others and in self-government, recognizing, as I noted earlier that there are “no relations of power without resistances” (Foucault 1980: 142). This broader definition enabled me to look at this dialogical and political relationship between inclusion and exclusion as being at the heart of citizenship. It also enabled me to consider alongside the logic, practices and technologies of citizenship the ways that such governing might also open up avenues for resistance and the constitution of citizen and non-citizen subjectivities.

This becomes important with respect to your question regarding the role of citizenship in neoliberal regimes in producing notions of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ populations.

Within the context of greater securitization, many of the technologies that have now become integrated into regulating movement both within and between countries (such as risk management and profiling, biometrics, data aggregation and data mining) operate by construing a profile of a ‘desirable’ or ‘low-risk’ mobile subject. Those that deviate from this profile are considered to be riskier or less desirable subjects. These constructs are, of course, also highly gendered, racialized, and classed constructs as well. For example, many of the changes brought in by North American and European governments in the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks created a profile of a high-risk mobile subject as being a person (particularly a younger man) who was of Middle Eastern and/or Muslim faith or background. However, it also included people whose movement escaped state regulation and the gaze of the state in some way such as individuals who overstayed visas and work permits and irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

There are many examples of policies implemented that illustrate this: from the creation of trusted traveler programs, designed to induce the idea that if you are low-risk you should self-identify, be pre-screened for security clearance and then gain greater mobility rights as a reward to Advanced Passenger Information/Passenger Name Record systems designed to make mobile subjects known to airlines and then government authorities. Examples also include more restrictive visa policies implemented in many countries and policies that place greater restrictions on the mobility and rights of temporary workers’ (such as the new law in Canada, which came into effect 1 April 2015, which puts a 4 year limit on migrant workers’ rights to stay in Canada and bars them from applying for re-entry for 4 years). It also includes increased use of punitive measures, such as deportation and detention, for irregular migrants and asylum seekers, which constructs such groups as ‘illegal’ and ‘criminal’. In Europe, these issues have been politicized but perhaps less well known is the fact that Canada too is making greater use of detention for addressing irregular migrants. In 2012 a new law, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, came into effect. This Act gives the Minister of Public Safety the power to designate the arrival of two or more foreign nationals as an “irregular arrival”, a designation that makes possible mandatory detention (if over the age of 15) for a period of up to 12 months (subject to review). There are also many policies implemented around making mobility more risky for persons of Middle Eastern origin and/or dual nationality including registration of such populations (the most blatant example within the North American context being the National Security Entry and Exit System, which was implemented in the United States for a period immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks) or the cases of men subject to extraordinary rendition in Europe and Canada with Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin, being the most well-known Canadian case. He was detained in 2002 by US authorities in New York’s JFK airport while en route home to Canada and secretly sent to Syria where he was held for a year and subject to tortured. A formal Canadian inquiry looking into his rendition concluded that there was no evidence to link Arar to terrorist activities and that US officials had acted on information provided by Canadian officials, with the Canadian government subsequently offering a formal apology and compensation for its role. These types of policies and cases show the ways in which such polices work to construct some individuals and some groups of people as less desirable and more risky than others.

5) You are working on migrant and solidarity activism in North America and Europa. Where do you see similarities and differences? Can we understand the similarities as an expression for the emergence of a global mobility/border regime? How do you explain the differences?

I have just noted a number of examples of policies which I think reveal similarities within the European and North American contexts as to how citizenship has been used in governing the mobility of certain groups of people. Just as we have seen the sharing between governments and other actors around ways to regulate mobility, we have also seen a response to this control in the growth of social movements, campaigns and protests around migrants’ rights — and this is also part of the emergence of a global mobility/border regime but one which demands either for its democratization or provides alternative ways of conceptualizing it — including its elimination. Given that those working in campaigns and movements for migrants’ rights are often times part of transnational networks, kritnet being one example, it is not surprising that we see sharing and similar strategies employed. For example, anti-deportation campaigns, no border and/or protest camps, sanctuary city and regularization programs are but a few of the successful types of strategies and campaigns that are shared within migrant and solidarity activism within the North American and European contexts. The decision to focus attention on municipal-level city politics as a way of circumventing more draconian security-based policies found at the national level is another similarity.

But of course strategies of resistance must be extremely attuned to the local contexts in which they operate and so there will also be differences, which have to do with the socio-political economic and cultural histories and logics of places. One difference I have noticed in this respect is the importance within migrant and solidarity activism in Canada of making linkages between support for migrant rights and indigenous sovereignty and rights (see for example No One Is Illegal Toronto). The notion of the nation in Canada invokes an understanding of an immigrant settler society and a Quebecois nation existing within the context of a history of colonization of indigenous peoples. So solidarity and activism for migrant rights needs to be conducted in recognition of these three narratives of nation and in support for the very real inequality and violence that indigenous peoples continue to experience within Canada (the most glaring evidence of this being 225 plus unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and the recent findings of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police report (2014) noting conservatively that as many as 1017 indigenous women and girls may have been murdered from 1980-2012). The other difference, related to this, is that employing the language of citizenship strategically and critically seems to come with less baggage (perhaps because of the awareness and acceptance of the co-existence of these national narratives) than might be the case within many of the European contexts — so the starting point from where strategizing begins and the boundaries of support for newcomers differs. I was struck by this fact when participating at a kritnet conference a few years back in discussions of whether the language of citizenship could be used as a basis around which to build movements for social justice. The awareness of the fact that we are a settler society in Canada means that the binaries between citizen and non-citizen are already always held up as negotiated spaces in the popular imagination and that notions of belonging are already troubled and much more circumspect (with the exception of First Nations and other groups of indigenous peoples). The sense of being a settler society translates both into a desire when organizing around migrants’ rights to do so within the context of recognizing the situation facing indigenous peoples and a politics of alliance building in support of migrant and indigenous rights within a larger context of a history of colonization and settlement.

Thank you for your very insightful questions and the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with you and movements and I look forward to future discussions and collaborations on these issues.

Thank you very much for your responses. That was truly an inspiring interview and we have found lots of aspects that we would like to discuss and work on further in the future.


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  • Volume: 1
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2015

Kim Rygiel is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and School of International Policy and Governance (Balsillie School of International Affairs) at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Canada). She is a Research Associate with Laurier’s International Migration Research Centre and Assistant Editor with Citizenship Studies. Her research focuses on border security, migration and citizenship within North America and Europe. Her publications include Globalizing Citizenship (UBC Press, 2010), Citizenship, Migrant Activism and the Politics of Movement (co-edited with Peter Nyers; Routledge 2012), and her work is published in Citizenship Studies, International Political Sociology, European Journal of Social Theory and Review of Constitutional Studies. Websites: and

Dr. Ilker Ataç is post-doctoral research associate with the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at University of Osnabrück. Prior to this, he was post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Political Science at University of Vienna, Austria. His research focuses on migration policy and the political sociology of migration and citizenship in Europe, social movements and political economy. His work has appeared in several book chapters, including most recently New Border and Citizenship Politics (Palgrave) and Politics, Religion and Gender. Regulating the Muslim Headscarf (Routledge) as well in international journals including in Migration Letters (co-edited a special issue on Turkish migrants and their descendants in Austria).

Anna Köster-Eiserfunke holds a Diploma in Political Science. Her research interests are care-regimes, migration and (queer-)feminist approaches. Her PhD project focuses on care-practices and care-arrangements in multilocal families. She lives in Hamburg and is a member of the Network of Critical Border and Migration Regime Research (kritnet).

Helge Schwiertz holds a Diploma in Political Science and Law, University of Hamburg (2011). His PhD project „The Radical Democracy of Migratory Struggles“ at the University of Osnabrück focuses on the organizing and the political practices of migratory youth in Germany and the US. He is a member of the Network for Critical Border and Migration Regime Research (kritnet) and his research interest are Migration and Border Studies, Poststructuralist Theory, Radical Democracy, Citizenship Studies. ,