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The story of how British citizenship developed and why this matters for questions of race, migration and belonging in 'Global Britain'

Hosted and produced by Michaela Benson.

Cover Art: George Kalivis

Production and post-production: Art of Podcast 

Oct 15, 2021

Did you know that the current definition of British citizenship is only 40 years old? Who do we think we are? starts its exploration of British citizenship by looking at the history of British citizenship, and how remembering that the question of who counts as British has changed alongside shifts in Britain’s position in the world might make us think again about these questions and their consequences in the present-day. In this episode, host Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in questions of citizenship and migration, draws on her family history to bring the story of British citizenship in the second half of the twentieth century to life and explores British subjecthood, a precursor to citizenship. Podcast researcher George Kalivis goes back into the archive to explore the 1961 Immigration Bill and the measures that this introduced. They are joined by guest, Gurminder Bhambra, Professor in Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex, to talk about how recognising the back story to the development of British citizenship might change the ways that we think about migration, social justice and inequality in Britain today.

Access the episode transcript 

In this episode we cover …

  • The short history of British citizenship as we know it
  • The introduction of immigration controls for Citizens of the UK and Colonies
  • Why history matters for making sense of the inequalities at the heart of Britain’s contemporary citizenship-migration regime



Citizenship is something that emerges in the mid to late 20th century as a category by way of which to stop people moving. We often think about this idea of passports as if that’s what enables us to move; actually, it was about stopping people moving.

— Gurminder Bhambra


Where can you find out more about the topics in today’s episode?

You can find out more about Gurminder’s research on her website (which includes links to freely-accessible copies of many of her published works) and follow her on Twitter @GKBhambra

You can read Michaela’s full interview with Gurminder in The Sociological Review Magazine

Gurminder also mentioned Radhika Mongia’s 2018 book Indian Migration and Empire. To get a bit more of a flavour of the book and its contents, you can visit The Disorder of Things Blog, who have hosted a symposium on this work.


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