Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to Who do we think we are a podcast exploring some of the lesser known stories of British citizenship. I’m Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host, join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken for granted understandings of citizenship, and examine how this changes our understandings of some of the most pressing issues of our times.
Bridget Anderson [BA]: Well, I suppose it’s important for us to always remember that migrants and citizens are made, they’re not born. And that actually, the making of migrants and citizens is a political process. It’s not a neutral process. You know, when we talk about migrants, and we talk about citizens, and citizenship, are we talking about legal status only? I think very often we’re not, we’re also talking about social status, about how migrants are imagined, which is typically as poor and low skilled and how citizens are imagined, you know, the hardworking taxpayer. And I suppose also a kind of connection between those two things between the legal and social making of migrants, and the legal and social making of citizens is also the question of how both are racialized.
MB: That was Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration, Mobilities, and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, and author of ‘Us and Them: the dangerous politics of immigration control’. She was describing how the making of migrants and citizens is always a political process. We’ve spent a lot of time on Who do we think we are? talking about the making of citizenship and citizens. And, in that process, we’ve talked about the significance of immigration controls and borders in defining the contours of the political community. In this episode, we’re going to turn explicitly to the question, who is a migrant, and perhaps more specifically, ask the question of who is migrantized. This is a term used in academic scholarship that is intended to denote the process through which certain individuals and populations come to be defined as migrants, whether they’ve crossed borders or not. And I’ll pop a few links to the relevant academic scholarship discussing this concept into the episode notes. But for me, what this framing makes visible is how the category migrant is unevenly deployed. We might want to ask the question about why not all of those who cross borders are considered as migrants. And we might want to ask, what work it does to name a population or an individual as a migrant? What are the political consequences of that? And what are the impacts of this for those classified as migrants? We’ll be hearing more from George as he goes back in the archives to take a look at the Grunwick disputes. Now we selected this case, to show how labour relations, which have so often been the site for politically orchestrated antagonism between so called citizen and migrant workers, might instead be reconceived as a site through which the distinction between citizen and migrant is actively opposed. In today’s explainer, I consider the post-Brexit immigration system, and in particular, the prominence of talent, skill and potential in how this is framed. I ask what does this make visible about the figure of the good migrant at the heart of this system? How is the distinction between citizen and migrant legally constructed within this? And what roles do class and race play? And we’ll hear more from Bridget about moving beyond social constructions in the question of who is a migrant, to consider the political consequences for those who find themselves migrantized. We’ll also consider why we need to turn our attention to how the distinctions between citizens and migrants are made and to what ends and to consider what conceptual tools might be useful in challenging those distinctions. But first, let’s head back into the archive with George. Today, we’re going back to the 70s and specifically to the Grunwick industrial dispute that took place in a northwest London suburb between 1976 and 78. This was a strike that was led by women of South Asian origin working in the Grunwick film processing laboratories, who at that time, were fighting for their trade union recognition. And George is gonna tell us a lot more about that in just a second. Interestingly, this was a group of women who’d largely arrived in the UK from East African countries. When those countries sought independence, and they were travelling on their British passports. They’d been forced to leave those countries. And once they arrived in the UK, they found themselves taking up unskilled jobs, despite in many cases having quite high levels of previous education. Now, George, do you think you could tell us a little bit more about what they were fighting for and the outcome of the disputes?
George Kalivis [GK]: So I’m going to skip several details here, and we’ll put some links to the Episode notes if you’d like to look further into these her-stories. But briefly put working conditions at the grunwick factory were horrific. The woman unionised and joined the Association of professional executive, clerical and computer staff, also known as APEX to fight for the rights to better labour treatment. And we are at a stage in British history, where trade unions are predominantly run by white men, widely excluding both women and people of colour. In fact, so far, people of colour had been often seen by trade unionists as, “undesirable competition”. However, to the initial surprise of the striking woman themselves, that Grunwick dispute became a large scale series of demonstrations and protests of 10s of 1000s of people, supported indeed by those same white male trade unionists. In November 1977, the union of postal workers voted to boycott postal services from and to the Grunwick facilities, which were vital to the company. For a while, it seemed that Trade Union victory was close. The then Labour government urged Grunwick to cooperate with ACAS the advisory conciliation and arbitration service to recognise the workers’ trade union and reinstate fired staff. But the employer backed by the right wing National Association for freedom and the conservative party didn’t really collaborate. At that stage things are getting politically tight. The infamous paramilitary special patrol group, the SPG, which is no longer active today in the UK, was deployed for the first time to “control the strikers”. People get arrested in the hundreds, treated violently and getting pushed by the police, some of them harmed severely. Eventually, the Labour government persuades the Trade Union Congress to cease supporting the strikers, the candle is burned. Reflecting back on these events, Jayaben Desai, leading Grunwick worker in the dispute said that not everything was lost, since working conditions eventually did improve for those still working at the laboratories because of the strikes. Now, why does all this matter in troublingthe binary between citizenship and migration? I think the Grunwick disputes events and their aftermath makes several things evident. There’s a notion of how on the one hand, the way in which a given state treats its migrants reflects the ways it also treats its citizens. And on the other hand, the grunwick dispute makes evident how migrants’ fights for equality are also citizens’ fights for human rights. I mean, in other words, migration stands next to citizenship rather than against it. And it’s important to also remember that migrants are citizens. And these may either be on paper, holding a specific passport, for example, or through active practices of citizenship as well. And striking for your trade union rights is an act of citizenship. I mean, what’s your take on all this Michaela?
MB: I think that you’ve really outlined there clearly how people can resist that distinction that the state often uses, particularly around workers rights. And indeed, unfortunately, trade unions have also used on occasion, that pits alleged migrants against citizens and we’re going to talk later in the episode with Bridget Anderson about those problems with those categorizations and what they seek to do. Dwelling on your ideas about the proximity of the citizen to the migrant when you start to talk about workers’ rights is that we have a situation where we’re talking about people who were lawfully in the country as British citizens with British passports, but positioned as migrants. So they were migrantized in that way. And I think that helps us to see that kind of playing out of racialization and migrantization alongside one another. But I wonder, George, have you had any kind of contemporary reflections on this because we’re now 40 plus years on from Grunwick.
GK: I mean, Michela unavoidably, this made me think of my own positioning and experience, you know, which is divided into two places at the moment, the UK and Greece. So I was thinking of how nowadays, people from Eastern and Southeastern Europe often embody these so called unskilled workforces in fields like hospitality in the UK, for example, and how their labour rights are so often not really protected, and they are rarely unionised as well. So protecting those workers’ rights is not a matter of dealing with immigration and people’s geographical movement, but rather an issue of citizenship, and ensuring belonging across race, ethnicity, or migration status. And also, the Grunwick strikes were an example of state violence towards workers, which has a lot of contemporary parallels, I think. For example, in Greece, and maybe I should add a small trigger warning here, police and paramilitary violence, including harassment, rape and physical violence, in some cases leading to death has been in the headlines and tried in the courts. I mean, these are matters of public record and also issues that international organisations have highlighted and documented,
MB: And also new legislation that the UK Government is introducing in order to police protest through the Policing, Crime and Sentencing Act. There are many contemporary parallels, which force us to once again ask that question of how useful that categorical distinction between a citizen and a migrant is, and perhaps, force us to really consider how we might break down that distinction and how we might centre a different politics within how we approach these issues. Thank you very much.
GK: Thank you.
MB: In Season One, we heard a lot about the historic conditions through which immigration controls and nationality legislation developed in the UK. This was the background to the Grunwick dispute, where people who were citizens inname and on paper were recast as migrants not only at the borders, becoming aliens for the purposes of immigration control, but also in the political and public imagination. These historical developments make visible the ways in which being labelled and treated as a migrant, went hand in hand with racialization in postcolonial Britain. Even when people were expressly recruited from overseas by the British government and their representatives, a practice which was and remains pretty commonplace when there are labour shortages, they might find themselves presented as a political problem once they had arrived in the UK. As Bridget explains in our conversation, the commonplace presentation of people from certain countries being predisposed to work in particular sectors, or having skills, characteristics or personality traits that are naturalised as deriving from their nationality makes visible how migrantization in the present day remains entangled with processes of racialization. Such caricatures are common place they remain unquestioned and unchallenged for the majority of the time. And you might want to pause to ask yourself, what work these might be doing. But I also want to look back at the legal framing of migration to the UK, and in particular, what the criteria are for those seeking work in the UK today. Now, first, a caveat. There are many different routes through which people can enter the UK for the purposes of work. And I am by no means an expert on all of these. I’m just going to spotlight a couple of things about the framing of these routes that make visible the ways in which class and race are implicated within these. So let’s start by looking at time. There are both short term and long term visas, while long term visas offer routes to settlement, generally short term visas don’t. And in many cases, this means They don’t allow those holding them to extend their stay in the UK beyond the original terms of the visa. Short term visas include those issued to seasonal workers, and these can be just a few months in length. They also include the youth mobility scheme, which allows those aged 18 to 30 from particular countries where the UK has a bilateral agreement to come and live and work in the UK for up to two years. Long term visas include the skilled worker visa, where individuals have to be sponsored by their employer and where specific eligibility depends on the particular job. And there’s also the global talent visa, for those working in academia or research, arts and culture and digital technologies. These longer term visas are extendable and offer routes to settlement. What we can see from this very brief account of the differences between these routes, is that entry to the UK is stratified in ways that signal a class dimension to contemporary immigration controls. Simply migration for the purposes of what we might refer to as white collar labour seems to come with greater securities and access to settlement than blue collar labour. Not only is such work more precarious in nature, the legal status often paired with such blue collar labour is also more fleeting and time limited, without the securities that are offered to those professions which ensure a longer stay in the UK. I think that this is a point that also bears out where we consider other routes to migration to the UK, for example, in the minimum income requirements levied on family visas that we discussed with Ala Sirriyeh in episode four. Work remains the most significant route through which people can migrate to the UK and the relationship between labour and migration has been at the heart of migration research. What we can see in how contemporary immigration controls are framed, is the way that class from the cultural capital offered by education, to the economic capital drawn from salaries and other assets, shapes access to the UK labour market, but also the ways in which these controls might in and of themselves, make and reinforce class inequalities within a population of people who have migrated to the UK. You’re listening to who do we think we are? A podcast all about British citizenship, hosted by me, Michaela Benson. If you like what you’ve heard, and you want to hear more, you can subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. So where does that leave us? How can we talk about migration and migrants without resorting to the same narratives that cast them as problems for the state and its citizens? I started by asking Bridget to reflect on exactly this.
BA: I mean, I do think the question of how we research migrants without making migration and migrants into a problem is quite foundational. I think that in general, it’s certain kinds of movement, count as migration. And I think we need to kind of question that. And I think it’s kind of a difficult balance, because on the one hand, you know, like many social scientists, I think, migration scholars, we want to make a difference. But then we can then become complicit in remaking the categories that are responsible for making the problem. So that’s why I’ve been interested in, in a way, I think it kind of parallels race and racialization. So I’m kind of interested in thinking about, well, how can we turn migrants into a verb? How can we turn migrants into migrantization, which doesn’t sound as good as racialization. But I think it’s trying to capture the same thing, how to reify something which is socially constructed, whilst nevertheless recognising that just because we’re saying it’s socially constructed, doesn’t mean that therefore or we can just imagine it away.
MB: I think that’s really interesting kind of thinking about who is subjected to those processes of being constructed as a migrant and therefore constructed as a problem but I was wondering if I could push you a little bit further on the political significance of that, the politically important part of that?
BA: Yeah, mean, I think that, you know, being imagined as a migrant has consequences for your legal status, has consequences for how you’re treated. And, you know, in the end, it’s not social constructions who are drowning in the Channel, not social constructions who are dying at borders. But I think that the political importance is also to do with once we, once we see that these are socially constructed, we then also I think, need to think about what that means for citizens as well as for migrants, it really is often really bad for citizens as well. I think unless you think about migrants, early on in all political projects, which doesn’t mean that you have to send to them, it means that you need to think about where are you drawing the boundaries of your community? And why are you drawing the boundaries in this place, rather than that place? Are there other options available? So those are the sorts of questions I think that thinking about migration, makes political raises for political projects?
MB: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point about what happens when we don’t question who’s included in the community? And what assumptions might be underpinning that. And I think that really helps to kind of draw me round to this question of, you know, the importance of questioning, an approach to migration that sees it as a social problem, where the problem is already defined by the state. And, and they know that this is like it’s a perennial issue in migration research, isn’t it to talk about this, how we deal with this? So I’m wondering how for you, you know, going back, this is a historical question. And obviously, you’re you’re one among many people who’ve talked about this, but talking about methodological nationalism, what is this problem of methodological nationalism? And what’s the shift that migration research has sought to make in that arena?
BA: Yeah, so the problem of methodological nationalism is that basically, it naturalises the nation state and sees it as a container of social processes. That then predetermines certain objects of inquiry, and it means that you don’t look at the nation state form itself. And in a way, it’s a problem across the social sciences, as has been identified, but perhaps a particular problem for migration, for the study of migration, because it’s a model that means that, you know, migrants are then always coming in from the inside, affecting a society, usually negatively, but sometimes positively. But certainly disrupting what Lisa Malkki called this the national order of things. And I think you can see this not, you know, you can also see it with things like, you know, national labour markets, you know, these are imagined as somehow unchanging until migrants are brought in and sort of disrupted but of course, labour markets are always changing in any way, what is a national labour market once you start thinking about it? But I’ve also been thinking recently about the methodological, that is in front of nationalism, and wondering, you know, so it’s the methodological nationalism, that makes it a problem for social scientists. And it’s not just a question of our own methodology, the fact is that data is collected nationally, you know, there’s all a lot of tools were given, there’s not very much we can do with them. But I think also connecting the problem of methodological nationalism to the broader challenge of nationalism itself. So nationalism, not in the sense of, you know, the far right, but in, you know, that everyday normal, you know, this is the country I live in, the ways in which that’s just completely taken for granted. So I think, understanding that methodological nationalism is indeed a reflection of lots of other processes, including daily, every day nationalism, that shapes the way that we we think, and we feel and we react and the tools that we all have not just academics or tools we all have for understanding the world and our place in it.
MB: Yeah, so I suppose it’s that assumption, that naturalised assumption that the nation is a particular thing, and it contains particular people who happen to be citizens. And I remember, when we were discussing this in our pre chat, you said something that I read scribbled down frantically on my piece of paper, which is that you don’t believe in citizenship. And I thought that that was a really, really useful hook for saying, Okay, well, you know, who are we assuming we’re talking about when we talk about the nation? And I think that that’s something that we can all hold on to whether we’re social scientists or otherwise, but I think that was really powerful actually, in terms of in terms of drawing that out. But I suppose first of all, there’s identifying the problem. So there’s identifying methodological nationalism, there’s identifying how methodological nationalism articulates with nationalism in the day to day, whether that’s through the statistics that are produced, whether it’s through the way that people talk about the society that they live in, and what we do about it. And I know that you’ve been, in your work recently, been exploring this possibility of methodological denationalism. And I wondered if you could just introduce us a little bit to what you were, what you’re thinking about there, what a brief definition of this is, and, and how we might use it.
BA: So methodological denationalism, as I kind of currently try and work it is saying, firstly, that we, we recognise, as I say that we can’t imagine away borders. Borders make certain kinds of people, they make certain kinds of workers, they tie spouses to partners, they, they do all sorts of work. So looking at the work, that that kind of legal work that they do, but also looking at the imaginative work because nationalism, as it says, it’s about nation as well as state. A bit earlier, I was talking about how you can have citizenship as a legal status and citizenship as a kind of social imaginary. And I think citizenship as a legal status is about the state as a social imaginary it can often become much more aligned with the nation with the idea of what I’ve called a community of value and national community, which is kind of, again, a fantasy national community, that is also sort of indicates certain kind of social status is and is often racialized. So methodological nationalism tries to say, well, when does being a migrant matter? When is it actually and whether that’s legally or socially? And when actually is it a distraction? When should we really be looking at something else? So I always remember talking to a trade unionist, who was talking about Polish workers, Polish agency workers who were had basically now we’re being deployed so that the white British people that he’d been working with and organising, no longer had overtime, the possibility of overtime, and how his challenge was that the unionised workers, were seeing Polish workers, they weren’t seeing agency workers. And that that was sort of a fundamental kind of divisive, quite powerful divide. So I think that it’s, I see methodological denationalism, is really about excavating the connections between migrants and citizens, not starting from a place where we imagine a naturalised difference between the migrant and the citizen, whether it’s the migrant is more oppressed or whatever. It’s like, well, what happens if we, we see how those differences are made, rather than assuming them?
MB: I think that’s a really fruitful example for showing how we could take a different starting point. So I suppose a different starting point that your trade unionist colleague was advocating for was the perspective of the worker, irrespective of what their legal status might be through immigration law. And I think that this is, you know, it’s one of those long standing issues around the way in which power is operated, which is to say, Okay, well, if we put these people into these different categories, they won’t see their common circumstances, and they won’t see how they might bandy together to produce a better outcome for themselves or produce a better future for themselves. And I think that that kind of really divisive logic is something that we see time and time again. And it’s, it’s kind of it’s sad in a way that we have to keep reminding people that that’s what those categories can do politically, and they can do socially as well as the impact that they have on people’s lives. So how might we approach our research differently if we adopted an approach that was a priori, methodologically denationalised,
BA: I’m interested in ‘migrantizing the citizen’. And there are many ways in which actually, I would say citizens are becoming increasingly migrantized, so can be made into migrants and sometimes quite literally, so like so I can think of two examples off the top of my head. One is second generation, when people talk about second generation migrants meaning BME people, even if they’ve never crossed a border in their lives. So somehow, so that shows you well, so you can be a citizen and a migrant at the same time, then why don’t you know, let’s actually take this clue seriously. But I came across another really interesting example of it when I was looking at social housing allocation policies. Every local authority has a social housing allocation policy, and many of them are concerned about migrants, migrants is often defined as anyone who crosses a local authority border. You read the policy saying, you know, migrants, you know, the problem with migrants coming, taking housing, being on benefits. In one case, just wanting to come and live by the sea. And actually, this term migrant is being deployed against presumably many British citizens, because it’s any person who crosses a local authority boundary. So all of the negativity that is carried in the word migrant, is now being deployed against those very citizens, that actually immigration policy professes itself to be so concerned to protect the low waged, the marginalised, people who need access to welfare services and employment. So I think picking up on these clues of how citizens are turned into migrants, I suppose those are examples of where I think we can start developing a methodologically denationalist approach. So I think, thinking in those sorts of terms, and trying to not position people, migrants and citizens as competitors for the privileges of membership, because actually, a lot of times for the people that most need it, those privileges of membership can end up being pretty poor anyway.
MB: I think that’s a really, really useful way of highlighting what damage that narrative around citizenship can have, but also how, in the way that we even shape things, we may find ourselves reproducing some of the problems that we’re trying to break down in lots of respects. I think that one of the things that’s come up time and again in our conversation today has been this relationship between racialization and migrantization. And I wondered if you wanted to reflect a little bit on the political urgency of recognising those connections at this point in time and within the current political context in the UK?
BA: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, at a time of real economic crisis and instability and increasing impoverishment, understanding how racism works is really urgent. And I think that racism works very much in hand in hand now with immigration and immigration controls. Again, sort of important to say, this is not kind of positioning it as Oh, it’s just as bad for migrants as it is for black people. You know, it’s not about a competition, it’s about recognising these interconnections. As we saw with actually, migration from eastern central Europe, those people even before Brexit were racialized via migration, you know, so you say ‘the Polish migrant’, that already conjures a certain kind of image. And I think what you can earn a certain kind of whiteness that isn’t like, above all, is not a middle-class whiteness. So that can help us see oh, there’s something here about class, how class works with race, that’s really important. So I think, thinking about connections between migration, how racism can be made respectable when it’s turned against migrants, I remember it being an issue with Brexit, when, or with now we’re free to be hostile to migrants, because we’re not going to be accused of being racist, because you know, these people are white, and therefore, you know, if you don’t like them, then that does that means that you’re not racist. It’s just that you don’t like migrants. So I think but it’s actually a way in which race works. And it’s a way in which dehumanisation and hierarchisation work. So yeah, so I think that it is politically urgent. And I think it is important to, like I say, recognise the many different ways in which race functions, and that it’s not enough to have brown and black faces in high places. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to be producing anti-racist immigration or any other kind of policies. The key to unlocking the contemporary relation between race and migration, I think is nationality. So I think that nationality is very productively ambiguous, because it can mean nationality as in simple you know, citizenship, British national, but it can also mean belonging to the nation, which is racialized and ethnicized. And you can actually see this deployed when you talk to employers, and they will say, ‘Oh, you know, Filipinos are such marvellous domestic workers, you know, they’re really clean and docile and love children and Chinese fish filleters are brilliant, they’ve just so dexterous and they can do this and that any other.’ Now, it would not be acceptable to say, black people or Asian people, or you know, you couldn’t use race in those terms, but you can use nationality, nationality, kind of allows race allows race to slip in and become respectable through immigration controls. But then not to forget the question of class, because I think that is also important, both because it works with race, but also because it’s important in its own right. And I think the way that that works with immigration controls is actually through skill. And actually, what does skill mean despite the fact that it’s really important in both employment and immigration controls, is really it’s not at all clear. And it always slips always always slips definition. And I was thinking, Oh, actually, I think really, this is about class. So it’s like, no, we’ll keep out or we’ll make we’ll make life difficult for low skilled people. That is, I would say, working class people. And we want to facilitate the movement of high skilled people otherwise known as high wage, so. So you have race slipping in via nationality, and you have class slipping in via skill. You don’t have to say the word race or class in your immigration policy. But I think they’re not just sorting. They’re actively making these relations, they’re actively making these categories.
MB: My conversation with Bridget left me thinking about the ways in which immigration controls produce class and race relations, and how these play out through those distinctions between citizens and migrants that are so commonplace publicly and politically, and which don’t necessarily map onto legal status. This has been a preoccupation for me through my ongoing work with British citizens living abroad. Now, I’ve probably mentioned this before, but this is a population who are rarely considered as migrants. And in my work, I’ve been thinking about what this makes visible about how structural privilege and migration intersect, but also what this hides about the stratification of this population and the impacts of this for the lives of individual migrants. And talking to Bridget I was reminded of how Brexit and the loss of EU citizenship and the legal status that this permitted, made visible the inequalities among the British citizens that I was working with in France. What became clear to me was how this was fractured along lines of class, race, gender, and disability. The struggles that people faced in securing their post Brexit status brought their centre stage in ways that have previously been hidden from view by their status as EU citizens. It was a reminder that this population, just as any other, was not monolithic. And as such, there are those within the population who are unevenly positioned in respect to securing their futures after Brexit. But my conversation with Bridget also brought me back to one of the other themes we’ve returned to time and again on Who do we think we are? Solidarity. Our conversation made me wonder what avenues for solidarity are being shut down in the perpetual distinction between migrants and citizens? And what might it mean to foreground common causes to pursue the project of methodological denationalism? What might this make visible? As always, you can consult the episode notes for references and links to work on these topics, including work by me. And we’ll be back in a few weeks with another episode of Beyond the headlines. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are? A podcast series produced and presented by me Michaela Benson. Special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Audio for her production and post production support. And to George Kalivis as a cover art, social media assets and archival research. You can check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts and links to all our socials. If you like what you’ve heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. And you can also find us at whodowethinkweare.org That’s all for now, but we’ll be back with another episode very soon.
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