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Who Do We Think We Are?

S2 E2 What does British citizenship have to do with Global Social Inequalities?

24 Jun 2022

Michaela Benson 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 understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our times.

Manuela Boatcă What a Western passport does is it grants visa-free access to the vast majority of countries in the world. Basically, it's a ticket to global social mobility. Now, in turn, it is much more difficult for women, for LGBTIQ individuals, and for racial minorities to escape the limitations of the citizenship that they receive at birth, especially when they're born in a poor country. Unlike these investors, they – women and feminised others – have no option to get access to visa-free travel.

Michaela Benson  That was Manuela Boatcă, Professor of Sociology and Head of the Global Studies programme at the University of Freiburg, and my guest on today's episode. She offered us an important reminder that not all passports offer the equal right to movement around the world. Reflecting on the power of different passports, and the rights that they give to people, offers a way into thinking about the global political economy of citizenship and migration. And, very simply, what I mean by this is that migration and citizenship, at a global scale, are shaped by both political and economic forces at their intersections. And the consequences of this are hierarchies that shape who can migrate and move, and on what terms. The global passport power index illustrates this very clearly. So, if you have a passport from Germany, you have visa-free access to 121 countries. Whereas, if your passport is from Afghanistan, you have visa-free access to only 4 countries. But Manuela also indicated that, even among the nationals of a given state, access to mobility might not be equal. And this links to the history of citizenship and the question of who is considered a citizen within a given political community. And, of course, who is not? Gender, race and sexuality may all play roles within this. We'll hear more from Manuela later in the episode about these issues. Now, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you will have noticed that one of our central focuses has been on the way that the development of British citizenship necessarily involved excluding others. And we focus quite extensively on those who were written out of British citizenship over a long period of time, and examined how looking towards their stories and the history through which they were deprived their rights as citizens might tell a different story to that one about British citizenship as being inclusive. We're going to explore this in more detail in this episode, shifting scale to the global. And, in shifting scale in this way, we bring to light in a little bit more detail the role of the development of citizenship in producing global social inequalities. Very simply, what we're going to do today is to look at the relationship between the development of national citizenships and global social inequalities. Now, why I think that this is important is because it presents a challenge to predominant understandings of citizenship as producing equality, that I'll explore in a little more detail in my explainer. But beyond that, we'll hear from George as he goes back in the archive, "travelling" to India in 1981, to uncover how the British Nationality Bill was received there, the concerns raised about what this meant for the Indian diaspora in the UK, and the backlog into processing the work permits of British nationals from India. And I'll be talking with Manuela about how the introduction of national citizenship was a process of exclusion that awarded rights to certain people while denying them to others, and how inequalities are reproduced through the institutionalisation of citizenship. And we consider why this matters in the present day in the discussion of citizenship in the Caribbean, and through a series of examples that include investment citizenship, Brexit, the European Union, and much, much more. 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. But, back to my promise of explaining to you this foundational idea that citizenship equals equality. I'm going to turn to T.H. Marshall and his essay on "Citizenship and Social Class", originally published in 1950. And my reason for this is that, so often, this has been the starting point for thinking about citizenship within social science understandings. Now, the essay isn't quite what a lot of people think. It reflects on the development of citizenship in England and its potential impact on resolving class inequalities. The understanding of citizenship that Marshall puts forward is one that sees it as a common status that awards those holding it equal rights as well as obligations to the state. And from this point of view, citizenship is built on a principle of equality. But, it is only in the coming together of civic, political and social rights, that Marshall sees the prospect for citizenship to overcome social inequalities. He traces the slow progress of the development of citizenship in England from the 19th century onwards, as first civic and then political rights emerged. And he was writing the essay at a time when social rights were being incorporated into citizenship. Now, I think that the important thing to point out here is that he seemed aware of the potential limits of achieving social and economic inequality through citizenship. I also highlight that he was talking about a very specific case, the development of citizenship in England. But this is a case which has so often been generalised to think about citizenship more broadly and beyond England. While Marshall's concerns focused on the extent to which incorporating social rights into citizenship would address class inequalities, there were other notable limitations to his approach. For example, in focusing on those who are citizens and the internal inequalities within this community, those outside or beyond the community, those denied the rights and obligations of citizenship, are given no regard in his account. In other words, his account does not consider how this process of making citizens is also a process of exclusion, tied to the reproduction of gendered and racialized inequalities, among others. And we'll hear more from Manuela later about how this focus on the equalising potential of citizenship is just one side of the story. But for now, it's into the archive with George. Last month, George was in Vietnam, and he seems to have got a little bit of a taste for travel; because, today, he's in India, and he's got a surprising travelling companion.

George Kalivis  Yes, Margaret Thatcher is my travelling companion now. So in 1981, she visits India, and she discusses several issues with Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, such as the Afghanistan crisis, the relations between India and Pakistan, as well as the United States increasing involvement in the area. But, I would like to bring our attention to the discussions that unfolded in light of the controversial British Nationality Bill, which at that point was still before the British Parliament, not having yet become an Act.

Michaela Benson  So, I'm just going to intervene here and just give people a little bit of a recap. For those of you who are new to us, we've talked about this before. We've had a series of episodes – in Season #1 of Who Do We Think We Are? – where we explored the British Nationality Act in quite a lot of detail. And, in a nutshell, the story is that from the immigration Acts of the 1960s, to the Nationality Act of 1981, we see this process by which those of Britain's dependent territories and overseas possessions – mostly people of colour – had their right to live and work in the UK removed; and, so, they became "aliens for the purposes of immigration control" ... is the kind of technical language that gets used there. But now, I'll hand back over to George to come back to those talks between Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi.

George Kalivis  So, in one of their meetings, Indira Gandhi urged Margaret Thatcher to view the problems of the Indian immigrants in Britain in the context of the implications of the Nationality Bill, to see them from a human angle and resolve them in the same spirit. She told her that the discriminatory elements in the bill have shaken the confidence of the immigrants and made them apprehensive of their future. Britain's intake of Indians was very slow. And there was a long list of people holding British passports waiting to go to the UK. Then, Thatcher responded – as a politician I would say – saying that this concerns will be taken into account when considering amendments into the bill. And she insisted that there is nothing in the bill which discriminates against any racial or national group. She said that control of immigration into Britain is essential to maintain good race relations.

Michaela Benson  Now, you might be wondering why people who had British passports we're having to wait to be issued with permits to come to the UK to work? And that goes back to the point that I raised before, about how nationality statuses is in British law do not necessarily award people the same sets of rights. And I think it's a really good reminder that a passport does not equal full citizenship rights. A passport is essentially a document that attests to somebody's right to travel, but not necessarily their right to live in a particular place. So, I think that this is a really important reminder of how as British citizenship evolved, over the course of the second half of the 20th century, inequalities start to be introduced into and among those people who formerly shared a status as British subjects. So, we start to see a substantial differentiation; so that process of developing citizenship, which has so often been argued as a "great equaliser", also involves excluding some people. So, it can also produce inequalities. But let's head back to George to talk a little bit more about how this kind of news about British nationality legislation was received on the ground in India.

George Kalivis  So, in the aftermath of the Thatcher-Gandhi meeting, numerous voices – and a lot of them in the Indian media – criticised Thatcher's stand on the matter. It was already clear in these reports, and after a relevant press conference in New Delhi, that Margaret Thatcher offered no assurance, that the controversial bill would be further amended to mitigate the hardship of immigrants. And let me just conclude my part here by reading out a part of one of these media comments that I think encapsulates this criticism, but also regarding issues of racial discrimination and nationality policy in Britain in general. So, this is a commentary by G.D. Singh from The Times of India, from the 21st of April 1981. And it reads: "The immigration policies of the successive British governments since the early sixties have been marked by discrimination on the basis of colour and race. Britain is a small island and the desire of its rulers to keep down the number of fresh immigrants is not questioned; what is just is that admission to the country should not be determined by the colour of a man's skin. Britain's immigration control, tightened over the years, has this primary objective. Even the Nationality Bill now before the British Parliament is aimed at preventing the influx of black, brown and yellow people. In that sense, it is not a Bill on citizenship so much as a Bill on immigration control." Now, I think this brings us back to this notion of how British citizenship was historically constructed in iteration with immigration controls and, even at the time, it was widely interpreted as discriminatory on the grounds of race.

Michaela Benson  I think that's a really good point, George. I think so often we forget that, even at the time, people were making their thoughts heard about how racist some of these policies were. And it reminds me of some of that earlier work that emerged on the British Nationality Act. So, I'm thinking here of the book by Kathleen Paul called "Whitewashing Britain", and the work by Rieko Karatani called "Defining British Citizenship". And I'll put those into the show notes for today's episode for people to consult at their leisure. But thank you very much.

George Kalivis  Thank you.

Manuela Boatcă  Basically, we could say that the history and discourse of modernity in Western Europe were premised on enforcing and reinforcing colonial relations in the overseas possessions, and citizenship as an institution was increasingly instrumental to both the history and the discourse of modernity. And, if that doesn't go too far, maybe tie it to an example of how this kind of continued in Latin America. So, not just the Caribbean, but especially South America, where the definition of national citizenship after Latin American countries became independent went hand in hand with the invention of an "other" within. So, somebody who is parts of the nation but lesser, a lesser part. And for that the criteria were European categories of citizenship and of civilization. So, basically, subject of rights was conceived by the leaders of South American independence movement in the European tradition and in contrast to the native population – especially in the case of continental Spanish America – and in contrast with blacks in Brazil and the Caribbean. Basically, when we see citizenship through the lens of those excluded and racialized through such colonial prisms or such colonial relations, we understand that the emergence of citizenship rights is not just the result of modernity, industrialization, the French and the US-American Revolution, but basically, it's premised on colonialism, on the institution of chattel slavery, and of the reconceptualization of freedom and equality; especially in such a revolution as the Haitian one, not the French one. And I refer to this as "Coloniality of Citizenship" to point to the fact that all of these exclusions are not random, they don't have to be reinvented time and again, but they hark back to very entrenched colonial structures that just have to be, sort of say, activated or revived when such exclusion processes "need" to take place, again, "need" from the point of view, of course, of the coloniser or the oppressor or the dominant group.

Michaela Benson  I think that's really fascinating; a very kind of wide-ranging set of definitions that were imposed through colonialism. So, I think the first one that you talk about is gender, and how gender distinctions were imposed through colonialism, the ones that we, you know, are familiar with today, get superimposed. They're modern inventions. They're not there. There's nothing natural about them. They get put in place in that way. And then these kind of, you know ... these naturalising tendencies towards saying, well, you know, "some people are better than others", "some people should have more rights than others", are also imposed to that process of colonialism with the result that citizenship always has exclusions built into it. It's about, not only defining who is the kind of subject of the political community – whether that's a colonial community or an imperial community or a national community – but it's also about saying, who shouldn't have the rights, who we'd like to keep out. And so, looking at those exclusions is a necessary counterpart to looking at, okay, well, you know: "Who is this good for?" I think we also need to ask the question: "Well, actually, who is this not so good for?" or "Who is this really detrimental to?", and these are questions that I think have so much salience for today. So, I mean, I think that that you've really described there well the kind of production of inequality through the institutionalisation of citizenship. But I just wondered if I could ask you to kind of draw out in a little bit more detail ... how this actually changes our understandings?

Manuela Boatcă  Right. So, the story we get told about citizenship through textbooks, or what I learned in school and sometimes it's still kind of reproduced at university level, is that citizenship emerged as a mechanism of inclusion, one that would equalise kind of socio-economic disparities and, especially, it would even out particularities of birth; it would no longer count what ethnicity you were born in, or with your status, and even gender – although the gender was discussed only later with regard to citizenship. But the idea was that, with the emergence of citizenship and the distribution of rights that are possible through this modern institution, these particularities – your ethnicity, your race, your gender – would play an ever smaller part in deciding about your life chances, about your social mobility. Why? Because "all citizens are equal before the law". And it sounds like a great story. And I'm not even trying to say it's wrong. It's just only half of the story. Exclusion mechanism is just as present as the inclusion mechanism. Citizenship in the national context did very much provide rights, did very much make citizens more or less equal before the law in a gradual process as we've seen. However, in a global perspective, citizenship functions as a mechanism of exclusion along race, class, gender rights from the moment it emerged. That's what it was designed to do. Both parts of the picture are there, it depends on what we focus; and we have tended to only focus on the equalising part. But, if we look at citizenship that was supposed to be one of the most modern institutions granting rights, we only realised that it does the same thing in terms of restricting access to rights, if we take a global perspective, where it appears just as exclusionary as, kind of, "bequeathing the Manor to the first-born son".

Michaela Benson  I think that that's a really helpful way of thinking about the institution of citizenship in global perspective and what that helps to open up. And it's something that I've been thinking with a lot in terms of thinking about the invention of British citizenship, and the kind of mythologisation around that, particularly in respect to decolonization and the fact that we had a situation where people who previously would have been considered as citizens of the UK and colonies found themselves subject to immigration controls in the UK and eventually were remade as other types of nationals who didn't have the rights of citizens. I mean, I was wondering about how these kind of exclusions ... you've been looking at this, I think, on a kind of a global scale, as you said, and you've also been thinking about the kind of making of Europe – which I think is quite an interesting turn in your work. And in doing this, you've turned again to the Caribbean. What is it about colonial citizenship – which is the way that you describe some of these continuing statuses of people in the Caribbean – what does that help us to make visible, do you think?

Manuela Boatcă  Right. Yeah, you've pinpointed it really well. I think the Caribbean, for me, is a very good lens at looking to some of the ... or at looking at some of the global relations that we've had for a very long time. So, if you want to look at an institution such as citizenship, which I consider a colonial institution, it is crucial to look at the Caribbean. Not only was it, as a region, the main site of the genocide of indigenous peoples, of the arrival of enslaved Africans, it provided resources and labour to Europe through the plantation economy and later through rate labour migrants who rebuilt the postwar economies in Western Europe and the US. All of these waves of labour migration and exclusions had to do with negotiations for citizenship. Now, today, we have a dialectics of citizenship in the Caribbean. On the one hand, there is the commodification of citizenship rights in those Caribbean states that used to be colonised. And on the other hand, we have the colonial citizenship – the one you asked about – that persists in those Caribbean territories that are still under European and US occupation. So, I think that's how the region captures the dialectics of modernity and coloniality today. To make it more concrete, there are still dependent, or I prefer to call them colonised Caribbean areas today, such as Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe or Martinique, as well as the British Virgin Islands, and so on and so forth. Now, in these dependent Caribbean territories, nationals use their United States or European Union citizenship for mobility, basically, to migrate from the colony to the metropole. And for global mobility more generally, because these are the better passports. And that's obviously a colonial loophole, which at the same time, undermines independence efforts, because people would not willingly renounce the advantages awarded by a strong passport in exchange for, what Caribbean scholars have called, "flag independence" – you just have a flag and a national day to celebrate but you no longer have mobility. In contrast, or in turn, we have independent Caribbean territories such as St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Lucia, all of which have used their Commonwealth citizenship as a development strategy, because investors with weaker passports like the opportunity to acquire the citizenship of these territories and, therefore, acquire mobility in return for investment in the island economy; and, thus, it's a win-win situation, so to say. It's a development strategy for the islands. It's a, basically, gain in mobility for wealthy, again, overwhelmingly male, but non-Western investors who otherwise would struggle to be globally mobile. And, so, a lot of such programmes of investment citizenships were initiated in the Caribbean, immediately after gaining independence from Britain in the case of St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as Dominica. And the programmes were revamped in other countries in the Caribbean after the 2008 financial crisis because their development strategies became more important or they were strategically important. And also, after the hurricanes in 2017, selling citizenship to investors was a strategy pursued by more independent states. So, we have both. We have the independent states that use their colonial remnants of citizenship. And we have colonial citizenships in those still colonised territories that prevent independence, or that actually diminish effort for independence in return for mobility advantages.

Michaela Benson  I think that's really fascinating, and it kind of draws out very clearly that sense of what the trade-offs are in the current day for these countries that still have some dependence and trade relations, I guess, probably with their original colonisers, and the kind of the challenges that they are facing in thinking about how they would be repositioned on the world stage if they sever those ties. But at the same time, that kind of discussion around investment citizenship, it's one that I've been thinking about a lot with the work that I've done with North Americans in Panama and thinking about how governments lever international investments as a way of, like, as you say, as boosting their development finance that really points to, I think, the kind of global political economy in citizenship and migration, which I think often can slip from view when you just take a close-in focus and go "Okay, we're going to look at this country". So, if you stop seeing it within the world system, you miss part of the picture.

Manuela Boatcă  Yeah, that's exactly what's happening also with people who look at the mobility or, also, the place of origin of these investors globally. Mostly they come from semi-peripheries: the Chinese and Russian first, then Lebanese and Brazil, have been at the forefront of investments citizenship, also because, for some people, getting a Caribbean passport is just a stop on to getting a US green card. So, it tidies them over to the better goal. It's a complicated strategy of ensuring global mobility in the absence of a proper strong citizenship. But you can get at it while ... yeah, if some citizenship rights are commodified so you can issue a check, if you can afford one.

Michaela Benson  I think that you've also expanded that work on the continuation of citizenship statuses in the Caribbean to think about how what's happened in the Caribbean interplays with European state formation. But, I think, that one of the things that really caught me, you know, captured my attention about this work was actually not just thinking about it on the scale of the level of an individual state, but also thinking about the kind of production of Europe as an idea, and the "Forgotten Europe", which really, I mean, like, this phrase just always sticks out to me from that work. So, I'd really like to hear a little bit more about your entry points into this idea of Forgotten Europe.

Manuela Boatcă  Yeah, thank you so much for asking that question, because it's really dear to me and it really illuminates how some ideas even become possible. This one – the idea of Forgotten Europe – is really closely related to my own epistemic positioning, one could say, but also intellectual trajectory. I'm a Romanian citizen, now also a German citizen, but I migrated to Germany to study sociology some 25 years ago. And in Romania, you know, growing up in the capital city of a, well, low-middle-class family, I had been raised to consider myself European. And I had been raised with the obvious privilege of not having to consider whether or not I was white, it was just not a question that, especially under state socialism, one would even ask; it was just under the rug. But, migrating to Germany in the years preceding the so-called "Eastern Enlargement" of the European Union, I was witness to how Europeanness was gradually being narrowed down to European Union citizenship, and the whiteness of Europe's eastern and southern citizens was being increasingly questioned. So, all of a sudden, it was no longer so clear that, without even having changed anything about my location in Europe, I was still a European or I was still white. So, from that position, for a long time, I was interested in the location that the discourse about the European Union is assigned to Eastern Europe. So, the European Union, as a community of values, it created and still creates, I think, hierarchies between what I called multiple and unequal Europes, and these inequalities in Europe and the types of unequal Europes they generated were resulted from the shifts in hegemony between different European colonial powers, but they still have effects today.

Michaela Benson  I think it's really useful in terms of thinking about how, you know, how Europe is not homogenous, even in the minds of the Europeans or the people who think they're Europeans, and how some people are more European than others, or at least classed in that way. And I think that that's quite often forgotten, the kind of the inequalities, the unequal Europes that you talk about

Manuela Boatcă  The basic limitation that I understood about myself while reflecting on this for some time – because I thought, that's the critical edge that I need, looking at the construct in the discourse of the European Union from one of its unequal Europes, from the excluded East or the denigrated East, was the critical edge that would make ... that would shed a different light on Europe. And I realised that by focusing on that critical edge, I was myself being complicit in invisibilising that is actively forgetting other parts of Europe, namely, Europe's remaining colonial possessions. Because I realised that by placing them on a map, but at the same time not including them in the discussion of what it means to be European, they were being actively forgotten in terms of EU policy as well.

Michaela Benson  I think that's really ... I mean, obviously, that has a lot of resonance for the British case, as well, where Britain has shrunk itself to the British Isles, the two islands. And so often those other parts of Britain, which are still parts of Britain – its remaining overseas territories, its dependencies – don't even come into the picture. And I think, obviously, Brexit made that incredibly visible. And it really stood out to me your description of this in your work as how forgetting was an act of European policy. And I wondered if you wanted to reflect on that a little more.

Manuela Boatcă  Right. It was really a thinking process, because I had to struggle through the notion of forgetting as an overarching kind of carry on the one hand, and at the same time, pay attention to not claim or not be understood as claiming that the inhabitants of colonised territories of Europe out there have forgotten that they are colonised; because people very much know that they have a special status and many even refer to it as a colonial status. So, they are not the ones forgetting, but the act of forgetting does take place at the level of EU policy, basically from the naming of these territories, which officially is Overseas Countries and Territories and Outermost Regions. And so, we have a range of labels, from "countries" to "territories" and "regions", but also sometimes "protectorates" and so on and so forth, all of which are used as placeholders for the appropriate term "colonies", which is something that you no longer can say. And the European Central Bank refers to the fact that these territories, or some of them, are depicted on Euro banknotes by saying: "Well, this reflects special relations of these territories with the European Union." "Special relations" is also a euphemism for colonialism. So, basically, there is formal acknowledgement and EU officials, when I talk about this, point me to the fact that "well, this is not new, we know that these territories are part of the EU" – "Oh really, who really talks about it when it's about what it means to be European?" So, there is formal acknowledgement, but official EU discourse foregrounds continental Europe to the detriment of all other territories, most of which are colonially acquired. And, in that process, the EU discourse links Europeanness to a narrowly defined physical location, but what that does is that it excludes both the memory and the presence of Europe's colonial ties to other regions. So, basically, that's why I insisted that the EU's overseas territories are in a way Forgotten Europe, because they're literally off the chart in terms of how Europe self-represents itself. On the other hand, they're on the map in terms of the claims led to them by continental European states. For instance, French presidential elections and campaigns very much take place in France's overseas territories and outermost regions – there is a specific kind of political agenda for making a presidential campaign there, which costs taxpayers' money and is very much a part of France; not something that you tend to hear when negotiations of who gets to be the next European Union member candidates are being held. So, there's a double standard there. So, when we hear about – in public discourse – references to Europe's Caribbean possessions, they tend to be linked to the history of individual states. So, we hear about the Dutch Caribbean, the French Antilles, the British West Indies, but we don't hear about how these places are part of Europe. And that means that they also, not only not point to the administrative status as European – well, Brexit changed that for 14 territories, but for the others – it would still be kind of part of EU history. So, it's not only today's history, is also the part that these territories have played in consolidating European economic and geopolitical power, which is what led to the establishment of the EU.

Michaela Benson  I think that's really, really clear. But I wondered if you wanted to reflect on some of the consequences of that forgetting on the ground, in those places that continental Europe has decided to forget.

Manuela Boatcă  Right. I think the question of rights and also the currency is a good place to start, because forgetting also takes place where it could make a difference in alleviating inequalities. So, the kinds of differences in status, independent of the length of colonial occupation, is also fascinating in terms of understanding how remote controlled territories still are – very much the colonial fashion, right? Because the rights of the overseas territories vary widely and the statuses of these territories vary widely between British, French, Danish and Dutch territories, but also among them, with the same colonial power but among the territories. So, it's very hard to tell what rights are there and that's also shifting, not always as a result of the nationals' decision to change them. So, citizens of British overseas territories, as you said, they hold British passports, they have consular assistance, protection from UK diplomatic posts, but don't have the right to live or work in the UK, right? And they're not ... they were not even considered a UK nationals by the European Union before Brexit. But the citizens of all French overseas territories are French and EU citizens. They have the right to work and reside in the EU but, because they're not part of the Schengen zone, different visa policies apply to them. That is very important at the time where you decide about education, about mobility, about family reunification, and, of course, it is very important when it comes to voting. Because, during Brexit negotiations, we've heard a lot about how Gibraltar and Northern Ireland that voted remain had to negotiate different solutions for them – and this was very prominent in the media – but if we think of British overseas territories, they didn't even get to vote in the referendum and they will be very highly impacted by the consequences.

Michaela Benson  I found my conversation with Manuela very thought-provoking. And you'll have heard, it gave me a lot to think about in relation to that question of how British citizenship is caught up in global social inequalities. And this goes beyond the question of how many countries your passport gives you access to. The examples that we discussed in our conversation show how citizenship, and indeed nation states, were forged to the expense of other peoples and places, reinforcing, exacerbating and institutionalising global inequalities in the process. It also showed how those effects are still being felt in the present. In the context where constructing a national political community necessarily requires the process of others, the construction of nation states, their borders and symbolic boundaries of belonging play a significant role in sustaining global asymmetries of power. I recommend that you head over to the Episode Notes for links to Manuela's excellent work and other resources that we've consulted in this episode. Before we close, it just wants to reflect on that central question of the role of British citizenship within the production of global social inequalities. Now, to my mind, looking at British citizenship from the perspective of the global offers new ways of thinking about many of the cases that we explored in Season #1 of Who Do We Think We Are? From the status of the Hong Kongers in British nationality and immigration legislation over time, to those on the receiving end of the Windrush deportation scandal, as well as those taking their first steps towards citizenship through language and "Life in the UK" tests. Throughout Season #1, we showed how the development of British citizenship was anything but an equalising process. And if you've not had time to listen yet, now's a great opportunity to dip into our back catalogue. And I want to return to the words of our first guest on the podcast, Professor Gurminder Bhambra, and her paper "Citizens and Others" published in the journal Alternatives. This is what she has to say about the idea of equal citizenship: "The exclusions and modes of subjugation that provided the context for the emergence of particular ideas of equal citizenship, need to be recognised as integral to those forms today. Citizenship itself needs to be rethought in the context of its wider history, its connected histories in sociology, and new conceptual forms developed from those re-constructed accounts. In other words, this shifts our perspective, if we don't take that starting point around equality, and it might offer us a new ways of thinking about what citizenship could be." And with that challenge in mind, this is me signing off for today. Until next time. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who Do We Think We Are? – a podcast series produced and hosted by me, Michaela Benson, as part of my British Academy mid-career fellowship "Britain and its overseas citizens". If you like what you've heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. Special thanks to Emma Houlton and Andy Proctor at Art of Podcast for their production and post-production support, and to George Kalivis for the cover art and archival research. Finally, to find out more about me and my research, you can follow me on Twitter @michaelacbenson. See you again next time.

Commonplace understandings of citizenship equate it with equality – at least among those holding the same citizenship. But looking the processes by which national citizenships develop shows that gaining equality for some was achieved at the expense of others, who might never be considered as equal. 

How might shifting scale to the global transform how we think about the development of British citizenship? Join us as we explore the relationship between the development of national citizenships and global social inequalities. Presenter Michaela Benson reflects on what is overlooked in the focus on the equalising potential of citizenship. George Kalivis dusts off reports relating to Margaret Thatcher’s visit to India in 1981, and how proposed changes in British nationality legislation were received there. And Michaela’s joined by Manuela Boatcă, Professor in Sociology and Head of the Global Studies Programme at the University of Freiburg to discuss how the formation of nation-states and the development of citizenship was caught up in the production of global social inequalities that persist in the present-day. And we discuss a range of examples that include investment citizenship, Brexit, the European Union and much, much more. 

You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website


In this episode we cover … 

1 Citizenship and the production of global inequalities past and present

2 Gender, race and citizenship

3 Brexit and the European Union



What a Western passport does is it grants visa free access to the vast majority of countries in the world. Basically, it's a ticket to global social mobility. Now in turn, it is much more difficult for women for LGBTQ individuals and for racial minorities to escape. The limitations are of the citizenship that they receive at birth, especially when they're born in a poor country. Unlike these investors, they women and feminised others have no option or to get access to visa free travel

— Manuela Boatcă


Find out more

Find out more about Manuela on her website and on Twitter 

Read her paper Thinking Europe Otherwise and her work on the coloniality of citizenship with co-author Julia Roth

Rieko Karatani, Defining British Citizenship

Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain

Gurminder Bhambra, Citizens and Others

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Active listening questions

  • What example of an inequality caused by citizenship was the most impactful and why?
  • After listening to the podcast how would you define the concept of Forgotten Europe?
  • Has this changed how you view your own citizenship, how/how not?

View all active listening questions