TRAILER: Who do we think we are?

Who do we think we are? is a podcast focused on the conversations we need to be having about British citizenship today. It tells the story of how British citizenship developed and why this matters for questions of migration, citizenship and belonging in Britain today. The trailer identifies some of the issues covered in the series, from the removal of birthright citizenship through the British Nationality Act 1981 to how Britain was made as a white nation-state through immigration and nationality legislation. The episode features contributors to the series Gurminder Bhambra, Devyani Prabhat, Elsa Oommen, Imogen Tyler, John Vassiliou and host, Michaela Benson.

TRANSCRIPT How the government could go to extreme lengths in ensuring that some people are always made to belong and how some citizens or some people could be citizens from the get go but could be made to feel like they are nothing and deportable. This whole situation then resulted in a mess about who was actually British and who actually gets to reside et cetera. People often conflate passports with citizenship but a passport is just a travel document given to somebody who has a certain citizenship status a passport itself is not what confers that citizenship. What we are seeing is a huge explosion of categories of people who are discovering that they are not citizens of Britain even though they may have lived here for their whole life. It seems to me that issues relating to citizenship in Britain or a regular feature of the headlines. A quick roll call for 2021 includes, what Britain should do for the people of Hong Kong in light of political oppression in the region; whether British Courts should have the right to strip those born British of their rights to citizenship; the Windrush Deportation Scandal; the new immigration act and the points-based immigration system; the new challenges faced by those from the EU at Britain’s borders in consequence of Brexit and COVID; And I’m sure that there is more. But what frustrates me when I look at the headlines is how misunderstood citizenship and migration in Britain today are and how social science understandings of these questions might help us think a little bit differently. I am Michaela Benson Professor in public sociology at Lancaster University and the host of Who do we think we are, the podcast that explores questions of citizenship, identity and belonging in Britain today. Join me alongside researcher George Kalivis and our guests as we debunk taken for granted understandings of who is a citizen and who is a migrant and introduce you to some of the history of how we got where we are. It’s not until the British nationality act of 1948 that Britain legislate for the first time who constitutes a citizen. I think you come across a term citizenship and you assume that it has a much longer history in the context of Britain. Because of the 60s legislation that the 1971 act could shape Britain as this white nation state. By making partiality the bedrock of the immigration act of 1971 Britain was constructed as this white state and so it was that 60s legislation that brought the first racialisation within legislation. Over the course of the series we’ll be looking at these contemporary issues and more in the context of the development of the UK’s citizenship and migration regime over the last eighty years or so. We’ll explore the very short history of British citizenship and its connections to immigration control including how citizenship emerged at a time when Britain was still an empire, with citizens spread across the imperial world. And we’ll be asking the question of how changes in Britain’s citizenship and migration regime were caught up in Britain’s shift from empire to nation-state. We’ll look at how immigration controls were introduced to stop some citizens from moving to and settle in the United Kingdom. The impact of these changes, which had an incredibly long tail, with consequences that have only really started to the fore in recent years, including the Windrush Deportation Scandal. We’ll be thinking about Hong Kong and how the recent bespoke visa scheme, sits within a longer history which saw the equal rights that Hong Kongers once shared with UK-born citizens eroded over time. Indeed, this neither/nor status is one that is more common than we might think. Citizenship is something that emerges in the mid to late 20th century as a category by way of which to stop people moving. When we think of a typical citizen of a country they usually have certain benefits like I described. And the main one is the right to live there and a BN(O) citizen does not. And they’re not, as I said they’re not on their own there are another four types of British citizenship status that are in a similar category to this and they’ve been described by courts as useless citizenship statuses in the past. So this act which is meant to tidy up the issues of partiality and right of abode, subjecthood, remove all that and create a clearcut ‘This is who a citizen is’, is also responsible for removing the right to birthright citizenship, which makes a lot of children more vulnerable and not having secure legal status. To understand citizenship design as part of the global immigration industry in terms of increasingly a pay for citizenship model, who can pay and who can’t, who earns enough and who doesn’t. We’ve really fully marketed citizenship now. Join us as we explore what British citizenship is and isn’t and how this might change the way we think about some of the major issues relating to citizenship and migration in Britain today.

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