In recent years border walls have been built in different parts of the world in order to stop irregular migration. However, barriers for migrants are not only constructed physically but also discursively in political discourses. It is known that restrictive policies in Europe are accompanied by exclusionary discourses on national citizenship for immigrants, depicting them as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that the representation of immigrants and their citizenship in policies plays an important role in how these policies are received and acted upon, both by the host community and the immigrants themselves (da Lomba 2010; Stewart and Mulvey 2014). As such, studying political discourses might contribute to the understanding of the socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants into the host community.
In the study presented in the Identities article, 'The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies', my co-author and I aimed to fully grasp how immigrants were framed in immigration policies in Belgium. Although previous studies have treated immigration and integration policies as distinct fields, we argue that a combined analysis of these two policy domains is needed in order to comprehend the full complexity of immigration policy. By mapping the different representations of immigrants in the wider policy field, we found that this is much more complex than the generally adopted contrast between deserving and undeserving suggest.
This map of discursive policy representations does not reflect a linear route towards citizenship, but instead a labyrinth filled with turns and barriers, as exemplified by the discursive categorisations and contradictions with which migrants are confronted. More concretely, within policy discourses a difference is made between various categories of newly arrived migrants, with the path for ‘criminal’ and ‘profiteer’ migrants proving to be a dead end (i.e. return). Immigrants who are initially labelled as ‘victims’ can later turn into ‘criminals’ or ‘profiteers’. If these immigrants do not subsequently return to their home countries, they are labelled as ‘unauthorised’ immigrants or ‘illegals’.
In the integration-policy discourse, this places them within a grey area, in which they are not recognised as citizens, even though they participate in society. Immigrants who are recognised as refugees arrive in the ‘probationary-citizenship’ stage, which can ultimately lead to formal citizenship when proving to be ‘good’ citizens through cultural assimilation and socioeconomic participation. Accordingly, it is theoretically possible for them to reach the exit of the labyrinth. However, it seems almost impossible for them to reach the status of ‘full citizen’, given the manner in which the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is constantly questioned (i.e. the ‘virtual-citizenship’ stage) and the participation of undocumented immigrants is not recognised. Only white Belgians are regarded as ‘full citizens’.
In addition, we unravel four contradictions characteristic of this labyrinth. First, human rights are used as an instrument of both inclusion and exclusion in the hands of national governments. Second, the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is persistently virtualised, thus serving as a reference for problematising the prospective citizenship of newly arriving immigrants. Third, the combined analysis of the policy domains of immigration and integration reveals how immigrants must be simultaneously powerless and active agents, in addition to being able to use both conditions strategically. Finally, unauthorised immigrants are also discursively positioned within a grey zone between formal exclusion and informal inclusion, with the latter remaining unrecognised by the state. These discursive contradictions have the potential to become actual barriers in the labyrinth towards citizenship.
The discursive labyrinth legitimises a wide range of policies and measures of inclusion and exclusion of immigrants. Given the persistent problematisation of the citizenship status of people of colour, we claim that this labyrinth might have no end.
da Lomba, S. 2010. Legal status and refugee integration: a UK perspective. Journal of Refugee Studies 23: 415-436.
Stewart, E. & G. Mulvey. 2014. Seeking safety beyond refuge: the impact of immigration and citizenship policy upon refugees in the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40: 1023-1039.
Blog post by Rachel Waerniers, Ghent University, Belgium
Read the full article: Waerniers, Rachel & Hustinx, Lesley. The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1590025
In times of rising nationalism, expressed through growing support for anti-migration and anti-globalisation political parties, the nation seems under question in its unifying thrust.
Historically, the nation has emerged in association with a given ‘people’, defined in terms of common myths, language and ethnicity (Smith 1986), who claims sole entitlement to a given territory (Gellner 1983). With the ongoing demographic transformation, spurred in great part by international migration, the question is whether and how the nation might change because its ‘people’ is changing.
In normative terms, civic, liberal and multicultural nationalism have tackled this issue, offering various ways of reconciling nation and diversity. Yet, the recent upsurge in the Western world of what can be called ‘white nationalism’, i.e. the (re)claiming of the nation as the privileged property of the white dominant group, openly challenges these normative projects.
In our Identities article, 'Ethno-cultural diversity and the limits of the inclusive nation', we explore specifically how nation and ethno-cultural and religious diversity are jointly mobilised in political discourses and policies in order to assess the possibilities and limits of the idea of an inclusive, plural nation.
We focus on the case of Italy, a country which since the 1980s has experienced a fast demographic change and which has remained till March 2017 a main destination of migratory flows from Sub-Saharian and Northern Africa.
Our content and discursive analysis of parliamentary debates and policies related to migration from 1986 until 2014, complemented with individual interviews with relevant civic officers and politicians, reveals a clear divide between an inclusive rhetoric and an exclusive legal framework.
By looking more closely at the Turco-Napolitano Law (1998), possibly the most progressive legislative attempt at incorporating migrants into the Italian nation, this divide is also clearly apparent.
On the one hand, the political left, which authored the Turco-Napolitano law, talked of remaking the Italian nation in civic terms, centred on citizenship’s universal rights.
On the other hand, the same political left decided to pass a law which framed immigration first and foremost as a security problem, thus casting an original doubt on the would-be ‘new Italians’, whose social status and moral standing would never be the same as the one of the Italians by descent.
The reasons for this short-circuit between rhetoric and legal provision are related to the international and domestic contexts. Internationally, Italy’s room for manoeuvring was and remains constrained by the EU legal framework, whose Schengen agreement prevents to make the national borders more permeable.
Domestically, as the political right successfully capitalizes on citizens’ fears towards migrants, the political left finds itself cornered and has to follow suit for electoral gains. In both cases, the end result is the reaffirmation of an ethno-cultural nation which makes conditional any national incorporation of migrants and their children.
As much as this is what happens at the national level, in our article we also suggest that in order to fully explore the possibilities for generating an inclusive nation is also important to look beyond the national scale (Jones and Fowler 2007). In other words, the possibilities for generating an inclusive nation should also be considered away from a centralised, normative discourse which aspires to evenly spread across the national space.
By adopting a multiscalar understanding of nation is for instance possible to attend to local initiatives where evidence of more inclusive and plural forms of nationhood has been highlighted (Rossetto 2015, Downing 2014).
This approach returns a more articulated and fragmented picture, but also a more realistic one which dispels the idea that a progressive, inclusive nation can homogenously apply across the national space.
Downing, J. 2014. Contesting and re-negotiating the national in French cities: examining policies of governance, Europeanisation and co-option in Marseille and Lyon. Fennia-International Journal of Geography 193: 185-197.
Gellner, E. 1983. Nations and nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Jones, R. & C. Fowler. 2007. Placing and scaling the nation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25: 332-354.
Rossetto, T. 2015. Performing the nation between us: urban photographic sets with young migrants. Fennia-International Journal of Geography 193: 165-184.
Smith, A. D. 1986. The ethnic origins of nations. Oxford: Blackwell.
Blog post by Marco Antonsich, Loughborough University, UK; and Enza Roberta Petrillo, University of Rome 'La Sapienza', Italy
Read the full article: Antonsich, Marco & Petrillo, Enza Roberta. Ethno-cultural diversity and the limits of the inclusive nation. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1494968