Tag Archives citizenship

When outright racism triggers migrant precarity: Britain’s Windrush Scandal and the need to move beyond arguments on legality by Anna Cáceres

[Versión en español abajo]

In 2018 Britain once again made news headlines, this time for the Windrush scandal that saw scores of British citizens with migration backgrounds wrongly detained and deported. Almost all were migrants from Commonwealth countries who had migrated to Britain after the Second World War and because of a series of policy changes starting in 2012 were no longer recognized as citizens by 2018. The scandal is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the importance of viewing ‘citizenship’ as a fluid, and indeed socially constructed, category, rather than a binary legal designation. Second, it shows how racism, when coupled with racially exclusive constructions of national identity, can be a more important trigger for migrant precarity than legal status.

The UK’s increasing flirtation over the last decade with right-wing populist discourses on migration has been well-documented and came to a legislative climax with the passing of a migration policy package known as the Hostile Environment (HE) by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012. HE policies ostensibly sought to increase the ‘voluntary return’ rate of undocumented migrants in the UK, but in effect acted to flip the burden of proof in migration cases. Whereas previously it was up to migration enforcement officials to prove the undocumented status of an individual, HE ensured that it was now up to an increasingly random array of non-specialist civil society actors to police the migration status of their fellow residents. Such actors came to include employers, benefit officers, healthcare providers, and landlords.

It was not until 2018, when The Guardian exposed the treatment of legal migrants under HE, that criticism started to gain real traction and several internal investigations were launched. Central to this coverage was a portion of British residents known as Windrush Migrants (WM)—Commonwealth citizens who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973. This group was severely and systematically swept up in the HE despite having the legal right to reside in the UK.

In essence, the HE acted to reintroduce migration-related precarity into the lives of WMs, individuals who had lived in the UK for decades and no longer viewed themselves as ‘migrants’. In the literature on precarity, it is emphasised that migrants experience both traditional socioeconomic precarity—i.e. low-pay, inherently unstable work—and migration-specific forms by virtue of being non-citizens. Problems with legal status, ‘deportability’, and everyday discrimination are all common examples. However, the focus on ‘citizenship’ is limiting, as it is typically defined as a binary legal construct: one either is, or is not, a citizen.

WMs pose a unique example of a group who were citizens and then became non-citizens. Here, the history of Windrush migration is exceedingly important: most WMs had equal citizenship status to British-born residents at the time of their arrival. The passage of the British Nationality Act of 1948 had granted citizenship status, including permanent residency rights, to all subjects of the Commonwealth. These rights were progressively stripped back with the passage of several immigration acts in the 1960s and 1970s, which began differentiating between Brits born on mainland Britain and those born outside of it.  By the time the Immigration Act of 1971 came into force in 1973, individuals from the Commonwealth had been downgraded from ‘British citizens’ to ‘foreign immigrants’. The case of WMs thus shows that citizenship is a fluid category, which can and is reconstructed as suits the needs of the politics of the day.

Even more importantly, citizenship as experienced by WMs was in the eyes of the beholder: white British residents. All of the WMs who were swept up in HE policies had a legal right to reside in the UK, and indeed would have been eligible for full British citizenship, had they even been aware that they didn’t have it already. Many individuals reported feeling stunned by their sudden designation as ‘undocumented migrants’ and indeed even felt betrayed by a country they perceived to be their own. Thus, Paulette Wilson, born in Jamaica but resident in the UK since 1968, had the following to say:

“I don’t feel British. I am British. I’ve been raised here, all I know is Britain. What the hell can I call myself except British […] I’m still angry that I have to prove it. I feel angry that I have to go through this”.[1]

Two things were at play in facilitating the reclassification of WMs as illegal outsiders under the HE. First was a shocking ignorance of the history of migration to Britain and the policies that governed it. Whilst this is not surprising when discussing the myriad members of the public who were being asked to police migration, specialists at the Home Office itself appeared to be blissfully unaware as well.

This collective amnesia about the legal rights and cultural significance of WMs was facilitated by the second factor: structural racism. By asking British residents to trigger immigration checks of their fellow residents, HE opened the floodgates for the harassment of ethnic minorities based entirely on non-specialist judgements of who ‘looks foreign’. That WMs were systematically perceived as ‘foreign’, despite having all the trappings of long-term residents—cultural knowledge, fluency in English, local accents etc.—is a reflection of racially exclusive construction of the British identity in popular memory.

This is to say that in cultural discourses, the historic presence of, and indeed significant impact made by non-white individuals in Britain has been written out at a systematic level. We see this in the all-white casts of British WWII films. We see it, too, in the violent hostility to Britain’s first black female MP, Dianne Abbott, who in a parliamentary career spanning over 30 years has been on the receiving end of the most abuse received by any female parliamentarian. Finally, we see it in a national History curriculum, which in the limited areas where migration is even mentioned does so in the context of ‘race relations’, effectively glossing over the agency of these individuals in favour of reconstructing the perpetually foreign migrant victim.

Windrush migrants present a uniquely fertile case study for migration scholars of all disciplines because of what it reveals about the interplay between citizenship and racism. More importantly however, the injustices of HE have flourished in a climate of wilful ignorance. The more scrutiny this case receives, the better.

[1] Amelia Gentleman, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019), P.40.

Selected literature:

Gentleman, Amelia, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019).

Olusuga, David, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London: Pan Macmillan, 2016).

Paret, Marcel and Gleeson, Shannon, ‘Precarity and agency through a migration lens’, Citizenship Studies (2016), Vol.20, issues 3-4, pp.277-294. 

Williams, Wendy, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, Independent Review for the House of Commons (March 19, 2020) [online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/windrush-lessons-learned-review [Accessed on, April 1, 2020].

Anna CarceresAbout the author:

Anna Cáceres is currently finishing her ResMA in Migration History at Leiden University. Her research focuses on migration and the British public healthcare system since WWII. She is particularly interested in the historic roots of contemporary migration discourses and the role – or lack thereof – of history in national identity.


Title Image Credit: Steve Eason on Flickr. The image has been cropped.

Cuando el racismo abierto produce la precariedad de inmigrantes: el escándalo de Windrush en el Reino Unido y la necesidad de sobrepasar el enfoque sobre legalidad por Anna Cáceres

En el 2018 el Reino Unido estaba de nuevo en los medios, esta vez por el escándalo de Windrush que vio a cientos de ciudadanos Británicos con antecedentes migratorios incorrectamente detenidos y hasta deportados. Casi todos eran inmigrantes de países de la Mancomunidad[1] que habían inmigrado al Reino Unido en los años siguientes a la segunda guerra mundial, pero que en 2018, bajo nuevas políticas introducidas a partir del 2012, no eran más reconocidos como ciudadanos Británicos. El escándalo es importante por dos razones. Primero, demuestra la importancia de concebir al “ciudadano” como una categoría fluida y construida socialmente, en vez de una designación binaria legal. Segundo, demuestra cómo el racismo, cuando se encuentra mezclado con construcciones de la identidad nacional que son racialmente exclusivas, puede ser un catalizador para la precariedad de inmigrantes más importante que el estatus legal.

En la última década, el creciente alineamiento del Reino Unido (RU) con los discursos populistas de derecha sobre la inmigración ha sido ampliamente documentados, y llegando a su clímax legislativo con la aprobación de políticas sobre la inmigración llamado el Ambiente Hostil (AH) por la coalición Conservadora- Liberal Demócrata en el 2012. Las políticas del AH aparentemente buscaban aumentar la tasa de ‘retorno voluntario’ por los indocumentados, pero en actualidad sirvieron para invertir la carga de prueba en casos de migración. Mientras antes era la responsabilidad del oficial migraciones aprobar el estatus indocumentado de las personas, AH aseguró que ahora una jurado aleatoria y no especialistas de miembros del público,   estaban a cargo de vigilar el estatus migratorio de sus compañeros residentes. Este jurado llegó a incluir empleadores, oficiales a cargo de subsidios estatales, proveedores de servicios médicos, y propietarios.

No fue hasta el 2018, cuando The Guardian expuso el tratamiento de inmigrantes legales bajo el AH que las críticas ganaron verdadero apoyo y varias investigaciones internas fueron iniciadas. Una de las piezas centrales de esta cobertura mediática fue una porción de residentes Británicos conocidos como los Inmigrantes del Windrush (IW) – ciudadanos de la Mancomunidad que llegaron al RU entre el 1948 y el 1973. Este grupo fue severa y sistemáticamente marginalizados por el AH, aunque tenían el derecho legal de permanecer en el RU.

Esencialmente, el AH sirvió para reintroducir una situación de precariedad de inmigrante a las vidas de los IW, personas que llevaban décadas viviendo en el RU y ya no se veían como ‘inmigrantes’. En la literatura sobre la precariedad, se pone énfasis en que los inmigrantes sufren una forma de precariedad atada al estatus de ser inmigrantes, además de la precariedad tradicional, económica – es decir sueldos bajos, y empleo inestable –  a causa de no ser ciudadanos. Dificultades legales, la posibilidad de ser deportados, y la discriminación cotidiana son todos ejemplos comunes de la precariedad de los inmigrantes. Sin embargo, el enfoque sobre la ‘ciudadanía’ es limitante, porque en general la ciudadanía está definida como una designación binaria y legal: uno es, o no es, un ciudadano/a.

Los IW son un ejemplo único de ciudadanos que fueron convertidos en no-ciudadanos. Aquí, la historia de la inmigración del Windrush es sumamente importante: El Acto de la Nacionalidad Británica del 1948 dió estatus legal equivalente a los residentes natales del RU, incluyendo derechos de residencia, a todos los sujetos de la Mancomunidad, y entonces también a la mayor parte de los IW. Estos derechos fueron poco a poco revocados con el paso de varias políticas de inmigración en los años 1960s y 1970s, que empezaron a diferenciar entre británicos nacidos en RU y los nacidos afuera. Cuando llegó a promulgarse el Acto de Inmigración del 1971 en el 1973, las personas de la Mancomunidad ya habían sido degradadas de ‘ciudadano Británico’ a ‘inmigrante extranjero’. El caso de los IW demuestra que la ciudadanía es una categoría fluida, que se puede y es reconstruida para servir los intereses políticos del día.

Aún más importante, la ciudadanía experimentada por los IW era condicional y dependía de la aprobación del observador: en este case los residentes blancos del RU. Todos los IW afectados por las políticas del AH tenían un derecho legal a permanecer en el RU, y hasta hubiesen sido aptos para solicitar la ciudadanía británica completa, si se hubieran enterado que ya no la tenían. Muchos de ellos reportaron un shock terrible al darse cuenta que de repente estaban designados como indocumentados, y hasta se sentían traicionados por un país que percibían como el suyo. Así, Paulette Wilson, nacida en Jamaica pero residente en el RU desde el 1968 dijo lo siguiente:

“No me siento británica. Soy británica. Fui criada acá, todo lo que conozco es Gran Bretaña ¿Qué diablos puedo decir que soy sino Británica? […] Todavía estoy enojada que lo tengo que demostrar. Me siento enojada que tengo que pasar por esto” .[2]

Dos factores facilitaron la reclasificación de los IW como extranjeros ilegales bajo el AH. El primero fue una escandalosa ignorancia sobre la historia de la inmigración al RU y las políticas que la rigieron. Mientras esto no es sorprendente cuando consideramos la miríada de miembros del público que fueron reclutados para vigilar la inmigración, miembros del ministerio del interior también aparentaron estar felices con su ignorancia en el tema.

La amnesia colectiva sobre los derechos legales y la significancia cultural de los IW estaba facilitada por un segundo factor: el racismo estructural. En pedir que los residentes Británicos inicien investigaciones migratorias contra sus compañeros residentes, el AH abrió las puertas al acoso de minorías étnicas basado exclusivamente en el juicio de no-especialistas en quien “parecía extranjero”. Que los IW estaban sistemáticamente percibidos como “extranjeros”, aunque tenían todas las características de residentes de largo plazo – conocimiento cultural, fluidez en el inglés, acentos locales etc. – es un reflejo de la construcción popular de una identidad Británica que es racialmente exclusiva.

En los discursos culturales en Gran Bretaña, existe una amnesia colectiva sobre la presencia histórica, y el impacto significante creado por personas no blancas. Esto los vemos en los repartos completamente blancos de las películas Británicas de la segunda guerra mundial.  También lo vemos en la hostilidad violenta dirigida a la primera parlamentaria negra del país, Dianne Abbott, que en una carrera que ha durado más de 30 años ha recibido más abuso que cualquier otra mujer parlamentaria. Finalmente, lo vemos en un currículo nacional de historia, que en los pocos lugares donde se menciona la inmigración, se hace solo en el contexto de las “relaciones raciales”, efectivamente encubriendo la voluntad de estas personas en favor de reconstruir un inmigrante perpetuamente victimizado.

Los IW presentan un caso únicamente fecundo para investigadores de la inmigración de todas disciplinas por lo que demuestran sobre el intercambio entre ciudadanía y racismo. Aún más importante, las injusticias del AH han florecido en un ámbito de ignorancia intencional. La mayor atención que se le dé a este caso, mejor.

[1] La Mancomunidad de Naciones es una asociación de países que formaban la mayor parte del imperio Británico. Se inauguro en el 1926, cuando empezaron las primeras holas de descolonización y ha sido una forma de mantener influencia británica en estos territorios.

[2] Amelia Gentleman, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019), P.40.

Literatura Seleccionada

Gentleman, Amelia, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019).

Olusuga, David, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London: Pan Macmillan, 2016).

Paret, Marcel and Gleeson, Shannon, ‘Precarity and agency through a migration lens’, Citizenship Studies (2016), Vol.20, issues 3-4, pp.277-294. 

Williams, Wendy, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, Independent Review for the House of Commons (March 19, 2020) [online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/windrush-lessons-learned-review [Accessed on, April 1, 2020].

Anna CarceresBio de la autora:

Anna Cáceres está terminando su  ResMA en Historia de Inmigracion en la Universidad de Leiden. Su investigación se concentra sobre la inmigración y el sistema de salud pública en el Reino Unido a partir de la segunda guerra mundial. Está particularmente interesada en las raíces históricas de los discursos actuales sobre la inmigración y el rol – o no, como sea el caso – de la historia en construir la identidad nacional.


Crédito de la imagen del título: Steve Eason en Flickr. La imagen ha sido recortada.

Creative Development | Sudan protests: artistic acts of citizenship by Azza Ahmed A. Aziz and Katarzyna Grabska

Since December 2018, flashing images of protests in Sudan have appeared in mainstream media. This, however, barely touches upon the ongoing struggles of the changing local and diasporic dynamics of what ‘citizenship’ and belonging in Sudan mean (see ISS research project). Many acts of citizenship (see Isin and Nielsen 2008) have been most visibly associated with artistic creativity that spread across Sudan and  in  diaspora. In this article, we reflect on how art has been one of the key drivers of the revolution and the transformation of local and diasporic citizenship claims pertaining to Sudan.

The December 2018 Sudanese Revolution: A Hub of Artistic Creativity

The revolution was propelled by demonstrations all over Sudan. The demonstrations demanding freedom, peace and justice culminated in a million persons march happened on the 6th of April, 2019. Demonstrators reached the Army headquarters in Khartoum and were joined by people from all over Sudan.  Since that date, large swathes of the Sudanese population had been occupying  a space in front of the Army headquarters (midan al itisam): the sit in space. Almost two months of occupation of this space created a world where  revolutionaries could join  to realize  their objectives of freedom, peace and justice. They demanded that military forces that overthrew Omar El Bashir (representing military junta that came to power through a coup in 1989) on 11th of April hand over power to a civilian led transitional government.

Artistic and creative practice has played a seminal contribution to the development of resistance and the revolution. The genesis of the sit in space had reignited a flurry of creativity ranging from painting, photography, filming, spoken word and whatsapp messaging that conveys information about its  evolution  to diverse audiences:  the Sudanese public , the diaspora and the outside world, through graphic design, slogans, speeches, song lyrics  and live recordings. Prior to the protests, art in public spaces of  Khartoum was rare. Women artists were significantly more absent. During the sit in, the walls of the city became covered with extensive murals or art work.

Within the sit in zone a huge 3 km canvas was being prepared by artists within the premises of a technical training school. This canvas was to be presented to the public. It would encompass artistic symbols as well as the signatures of those who would represent all those who dedicated their lives to staying in place. Another zone, that was a rubbish dump, had been transformed into a space of beautiful art. This creative practice gave a clear sense of belonging and facilitated making political claims for many, regardless of gender, class, age and ethnic origin.

Art is fundamentally linked with revolutionary processes and plays an important role in creating a sense of belonging and citizenship. Through painting the walls of the army headquarters, singing in public, filming and photographing, the demonstrators performed acts of citizenship, expressing their ideals and demands for Sudan and their own understanding of rights as Sudanese people. With the digital access and the instant sharing of messages of hope, despair, and demands for justice, freedom and civil rule, it became possible to disseminate these practices across the globe both for those remaining in Sudan and those   in diaspora.

The sit-in period was characterized by protracted negotiations between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the driving force of public mobilization the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA).  This was a fraught process that included the involvement of the notorious Rapid Security Forces (RSF) militias under the leadership of Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemeti)  the second man within the TMC. On the 3rd of June at the crack of dawn on the last day of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan, the TMC  brutally dispersed the people occupying the sit in space. Live bullets were fired on peaceful civilians and many people were mortally wounded, killed, raped and injured (see dying for the revolution BBC). This massacre was followed by measures aimed at terrorizing  civilians and executed by the RSF that patrolled the streets, randomly harassing, beating and raping. The erasure of most of the creative acts of citizenship by painting over many of  the murals on the walls of the sit in area was set into motion  in order to wipe out the achievements of the revolution and silence its call. Notwithstanding that  Khartoum remained eerily silent for 10 days with the internet quickly disabled and  people fearing to leave their homes , the mobilization rapidly persisted.

Art, erasure and making of citizenship

The erasure of art orchestrated by the  TMC,  in the aftermath of the massacre, points to the power of art and artists to create a political space for expression of citizenship. Yet, the massacre and the erasure led to other creative practices  in music and visual art that frames  new contours of belonging and political rights. During the six months of protests and especially during the massacre, many lost their lives. They were framed as martyrs. They became a motivation for the youth who started proclaiming their right not to be forgotten: ‘we will not forget and we will not forgive, blood for blood we will not accept monetary compensation’. This expresses their intent to persevere in creating a better Sudan worthy of their sacrifice. This particular narrative of how martyrs are  predominantly represented is visible in the music of Ahmed Amin.

In visual art, the work of Assil Diab, a Sudanese artist living in Qatar, illustrates the significance of remembering and documenting the sacrifices of those who died during the peaceful protests. Alongside a group of artists, she paints wall murals depicting the faces of the fallen on the walls of  their family homes. She seeks  permission  from  their families to bear testimony to the fact   that Sudan has not forgotten their sons and daughters (graffiti art).

Through art, young musicians and visual artists are constructing a new model of a deserving citizen, a martyr. The calls for freedom, peace, and justice, sit alongside other claims to citizenship depicted here through these ‘good deaths’. This medium instills that martyrs are occupying a worthy place in the hierarchy of citizens in Sudan.  This is just one aspect of how art plays into some  key imaginaries of belonging and provides a reading of diverse ways of participating in the revolution as an evolving nation-making Sudanese project  that emanates from the local and from afar.

This article is part of a series on Creative Development. A second part to this article dealing with women and music during the Sudan protests can be read here.

Image Credit: Jakob Reimann on Flickr

PHOTO-2019-08-08-11-57-49Azza Ahmed Abdel Aziz lives between Khartoum and London.  She holds a Ph.D in Social Anthropology, with a special focus on Medical Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her research focuses on cultural understandings of health and well-being. She has been following the unfolding upraising in Khartoum since December 2018 and has been documenting the everyday protest practices, focusing specifically on the artistic expressions. She is also a co-researcher with Kasia Grabska in the ISS-funded project on creative practice, mobilities and in development in Sudan. 

Kasia Grabska_

Katarzyna (Kasia) Grabska is a lecturer/researcher at the ISS and a filmmaker.











Creative Development | Migration and musical mobilities in Sudan and Laos by Roy Huijsmans, Katarzyna Grabska and Cathy Wilcock

How are belonging, citizenship, and rights contested through creative practices such as music and dance? What role do the creative industry, international cultural institutions, and the mobilities of performing artists play in this? And what is the significance of all this for rethinking development in post-conflict settings such as Sudan and Laos? This article briefly reflects on these questions that are driving a new ISS-funded research project.

Researching development through creative practice

A new research project led by ISS researchers Katarzyna Grabska, Roy Huijsmans, and Cathy Wilcock called Creative Development: Migration and musical mobilities in Sudan and Laos seeks to investigate the intersection of migration and creative practice. The project commences in 2019 and involves qualitative, arts-based and ethnographic field research in France, Laos, Sudan, and the UK. This research will contribute to an emerging body of work studying the relations between arts, popular culture, migration, and development.

In development studies, there is some recognition of the role of popular culture in development practice, perhaps most noticeable in research on the phenomenon of ‘celebrities’ as goodwill ambassadors (e.g. David Beckham, Shakira, Angelina Jolie). In migration and refugee studies, the engagement with the arts has been more profound and has gone beyond a focus on the rich and famous, also breaking with a western-centric view of development.

A good example is the collaborative project led by Dave Lumenta at Universitas Indonesia. The project is entitled ‘Performing out of Limbo’. It is a musical/research collaboration between Oromo refugee youth from Ethiopia and musicians, students and academics from Indonesia (see a short YouTube clip here, and a write up here).

Music and dance as acts of citizenship

The project’s conceptualisation of citizenship and belonging draws on the work of Engin Isin. In the social sciences, citizenship is mostly treated as a ‘status’. In their 2008, book ‘Acts of Citizenship, Isin and Neilsen depart from such a view and approach citizenship as an act. Such a conceptualisation of citizenship enables us to rethink ‘who’ can be a citizen based on ‘collective and individual deeds that rupture socio-historical patterns’ (p13).

This approach enables viewing music and dance performances as acts of citizenship, as explored by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú in her article ‘Unfamiliar Acts of Citizenship’. Here she engages with the experiences of young migrants in Ireland and their engagement with hip hop and vernacular languages. Their practices do not fit into conventional categories of belonging based on language use, ethnicity, or nationality, and are better described as processes facilitating ‘creative hybrid refashioning of self’ (p163) through which political identities and relations of belonging are renegotiated. Although these songs, like much hip hop, come with a message, the focus on processes and effects lead us to go beyond a discursive analysis of the lyrics to ask what senses of belonging those involved in these musical practices realised through them.

Creative development and contested acts of national belonging in Laos and Sudan

This research project will build on the work of Ní Mhurchú and others through examining music and dance as acts of citizenship in post-conflict settings. With recent histories of violent internal conflict, followed by regime change Laos and Sudan offer fertile terrain for studying acts of citizenship in and through (re)emerging creative practices.

In both Laos and Sudan, questions of national belonging are delicate matters. Expressions of citizenship are not only regulated through legal practices, but also actively promoted through national education curricula and state-censored media. This indicates that citizenship in these contexts is much more than a matter of status, but also a matter of conduct, and one that comes with a strong national(ist) morality. From such a perspective, it is not difficult to see why a music video by the popular Thai national country singer Lumyai shot in the Lao tourist site of Vang Vieng stirred debate in Laos. Although the lyrics hardly refer to national belonging, other elements of the clip do. The music video is shot in a famous rural Lao location, and in her dance moves Lumyai weaves together elements from the traditional Lam Fong dance with sexually provocative moves. As such, Lumyai transgressed norms about proper (gendered) conduct on Lao soil.

Emplacement and movement in creative development

Due to recent histories of violent conflict, there are significant Lao and Sudanese diaspora, and the diaspora play an active role in the creative scene. Migration, like popular culture, is a transnational phenomenon. Moreover, culture is also transnationalised through international cultural institutions. This is evident from the work of the Institut Français in Laos and in Sudan and the Goethe Institute in Sudan. Culture has always flown, but this is particularly true in the present-day social media landscape. In addition, diaspora networks and international cultural institutions also facilitate the movement of artists and creative development. At the same time, dance and citizenship become acts of citizenship when they are emplaced—that is, when these creative expressions become meaningful in relation to more territorialised relations of belonging. Hence, the research project will pay close attention to the dynamics of mobilities and placemaking in the manifestations of creative development under study. Stay tuned!

On 5 February 2019, the ISS will host a workshop on ‘Moving methods: creative approaches to experiences of displacement, migration, social justice and belonging’.

Color 2 Roy HuijsmansRoy Huijsmans is a teacher/researcher at the ISS.






Kasia Grabska_

Katarzyna (Kasia) Grabska is a lecturer/researcher at the ISS and a filmmaker.’




CW bw


Cathy Wilcock is a postdoctoral researcher at the ISS, with a background in critical development studies. In her role at ISS, she is continuing her work on political belonging in the context of forced migration. 










Public spaces as a battleground by Katerina Mojanchevska

Public spaces are important in the Macedonian context because they’re one of the few places where people from diverse ethnic backgrounds can interact. But these spaces are undergoing fundamental changes. Public spaces are becoming sites for symbolic wars between the ethno-nationalists of the two major ethnic groups in the country. Diversity is seen as a threat, and a type of “staged multiculturalism” is visible.

The importance of public spaces

In a country divided along ethnic lines, public spaces seem to be the only meeting place left for ethnic groups that are growing more divided. Moreover, contact is the only way to surpass ethnic fragmentation that has been accelerated in recent years in Macedonia.

Macedonia is one of successor countries of ex-Yugoslavia. In 1991, the country proclaimed independence and initiated a process of building a nation-state with a majoritarian political design in a general liberal democratic framework. The Macedonians constituting 64.2 percent of the population were the majority and the legitimate political community while the Albanians, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, Serbs, and Bosnians, which represented 25.2 percent of the population, enjoyed equal rights and obligations as the majority group. Yet in practice, the minorities were stranded by difficulties in equal access to political life, the labour market, education, social and cultural life.

In the Macedonian context of recognising diversity, the popular belief of politicians, academics or citizens is that the dominant group has the right to decide how accommodation of cultural diversity should be installed in public space. Symbols of a group’s ethnic history and cultural memory facilitate recognition and identification with space; public spaces thereby essentially become ethnic spaces.

The subjective valuation of public spaces: a research topic

For my PhD research, I explored how people felt and understood the practices through which language, ethnicity, religion and collective cultural symbols are legitimised in the physical form and the political, social and symbolic (cultural) value of public spaces in their neighbourhoods. The research concludes that the political, social and symbolic values of public spaces in Skopje can be understood in terms of a “diversity paradox”. Why?

Public spaces in Skopje are not natural and spontaneous sites of positive intercultural contact. Residents in mixed neighbourhoods more often than those in ethnic neighbourhoods opt for co-ethnic cultural events in co-ethnic public spaces where people from their ethnic group go. Self-segregation of ethnic groups is prevalent. The colliding ethnocratic accommodation of diversity in public space, especially in mixed neighbourhoods, generates a sense of symbolic threat and forges people to compartmentalise within their own ethnic group.

Diversity as threat to national unity

The research found that diversity is seen as a threat to national unity. My most compelling discovery is that is the case of Skopje and Macedonia we are talking about “staged multiculturalism”—it is not lived or experienced, but designed and created. The effects of such ethnocratic politics are obvious. A high level of ethnic distance in particular among Macedonians and Albanians is evident in personal networking and socialisation in public spaces. Seventeen years after the conflict and systemic investment in multicultural policies, diversity is seen as a threat to national unity,

Relevance of the research

This reading is important to the cities in the Balkans that struggle with ethnic fragmentation as it is to the cities considering themselves as ethnically homogeneous, but which do face claims for the accommodation of diversity, in particular after the explosive waves of immigration that we have witnessed since 2015. Habermas[1] (2016) contends that states and cities have no other option than to open the stage for those different from the “norm”, facilitate the deliberative process of interpretation, and recognize needs and forge active urban citizenship. This leads me to recommend ways in which to plan for diversity in public spaces:

  • The interpretation and recognition of difference through deliberation should follow the political acts of planning of public spaces;
  • The habitual engagement and interdependence of goals and actions between social groups and places should be organised and allow more structural contact, flexibility, contestation, transgression between identity(ies), group(s) and associational belonging(s);
  • The social planning of public spaces as places of conflict and negotiation and a process of “city-making” should couple the technocratic production of “city being made”. Urban and social planning of cities should support each other, rather than professional planning dominating over citizens` involvement in city making.

I conclude with Leonie Sandercock[2] (1998: 30), who critically observes that:

 “The multicultural city cannot be imagined without a belief in inclusive democracy and the diversity of social justice claims of the disempowered communities in existing cities. If we want to work toward a policy of inclusion, then we had better have a good understanding of the exclusionary effects of planning’s past practices and ideologies. And if we want to plan in the future for heterogeneous publics (rather than a unitary public interest), acknowledging and nurturing the full diversity of all of the different social groups in the multicultural city, then we need to develop a new kind of multicultural literacy. An essential part of that literacy is familiarity with the multiple histories of urban communities, especially as those histories intersect with struggles over space and place claiming, with planning policies and resistances to them, with traditions of indigenous planning, and with questions of belonging and identity and acceptance of difference.”

[1]Habermas, J. (2016) ‘For a democratic polarization’. Interview with Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 22 November.
[2] Sandercock, L. (1998) ‘Introduction: Framing Insurgent Historiographies for Planning’, in Sandercock, L. (ed.) Making the invisible Visible: A Multicultural Planning History. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 1–33.

Picture credit: Paul Goyette

Katerina Mojanchevska_PhD defence2018About the author:

Katerina Mojanchevska is a recent doctoral graduate from the ISS (May 2018). She has been working in the civil society sector in Macedonia on research projects, trainings and seminars in the field of cultural policy, and urban and social development. Her research and professional interests encompass intersection among identity, public space, inter-culturality and innovation in urban governance.

IHSA Conference 2018 | A failing UN and the prospects of world citizenship by Antonio Donini

The UN in its current form does not serve the citizens it promises to protect. Is it time for a UN 2.0 that puts citizens at the centre? This article explains why the current international system is becoming irrelevant. A world citizenship approach must urgently be explored. This blog is based on a presentation delivered at the International Humanitarian Studies Association Conference held in August 2018 at the ISS.

When the founding fathers—and the single founding mother—were assembling the building blocks of the United Nations in the waning months of WWII, they were spurred by narrative of ‘never again’. Jettisoning the lofty Wilsonian ideals of the League of Nations, they expressed their notions of peace and security through a mix of functionalist ideas (strongly influenced by David Mitrany) and the victors’ can-do capitalist spirit—a sort of Fordism applied to international relations: the right mix of money and technical expertise would set the scene for peace and development ‘in larger freedom.’ The notion that collective action problems (i.e. politics) could be solved or at least defused by depoliticising them through technique is one of the great contributions of the UN to international cooperation. This approach worked more (decolonisation) or less (superpower crossed vetoes) for some 50 years. Then something broke.

Despite the heart-warming rhetoric of ‘we the peoples’, the unit of measure in the international system was definitely the state. Sovereignty was worshipped in the UN. It became the Temple of States. But while states were busy honouring and polishing the Temple’s tabernacle, the world had moved on. The post-WWII order built on sovereignty, triumphant capitalism and superpower rivalry collapsed with the Wall, but the institutions established to ‘manage’ this order hardly noticed. It became progressively clear that the ‘system’ was constitutionally unfit to deal with transnationality and that ‘sovereign’ states were unable to rein in unregulated transnational capitalism and globalisation, not to mention radicalised non-geographical armed groups and movements, the havoc they and the GWOT wreaked, population flows (forced and voluntary), and climate change. Trump and the demise of multilateralism are but an epiphenomenon in the collapse of the so-called rule-based world order.

What did the UN ever do for us?

A system of global order based on the idealised notion of sovereign states, and their power configurations as they stood 70 years ago, are poorly equipped to deal with collective action problems that are transnational at their core. Moreover, citizens have no say whatsoever in how these institutions are run and for whose benefit. All attempts to reform the UN have failed. Yet it rambles on with its tiny brain and huge dyslexic body to which additional appendages are added as soon as a ‘new’ problem hits the headlines. Conventional wisdom has it that only a WWIII might provide enough motivation and vision to equip the UN for the future. Let’s not go there. Instead, let’s think outside the box.

If UN reform is pointless, then DRUNSA is the answer: Don’t Reform the UN, Start Again.[i] Build something in parallel; if it works, it will move centre stage. There is a research agenda here on how to make transnational citizen participation the cornerstone of any institutional reform.

The argument goes like this: the Temple of States was not conceived as a tool to deal with transnationality. It sacralises sovereignty and demonises the individual with or without citizenship. Yet in transnational times, states are unable to cope with crises, and citizens have no say on the consequences of transnational forces that affect them directly. Citizenship, for now, is inherently linked to the nation-state. But if the nation-state is no longer able to respond to citizens’ needs and is downright hostile to those seeking refuge or lack citizenship, perhaps the time has come to redefine citizenship by de-linking it from territory.

For now, this is little more than a pipe dream. But shouldn’t the question of the participation of human beings on matters that affect them directly be put on the agenda? And if this agenda cannot be handled by the UN because it goes against the grain of the outdated power dynamics of a sclerotic organisation, shouldn’t citizens and civil society start thinking of a UN 2.0—or better still a UCO (United Citizens Organisation)? This UCO would be based on the principle that “as a citizen of the world, I should have a say on anything that affects me”. In an extreme example, “if democracy is supposed to give voters some control over their own conditions … should a US election not involve most people on earth?” [ii] This is actually not such a revolutionary idea. It has been around for a while.[iii]

The point here is that mainstream international institutions are increasingly less relevant to the nature and scale of the conflicts and crises of the early 21st century. The toll on civilians caught up or trying to flee vicious wars is particularly high. Armed conflict itself is changing and so is its cortège of humanitarian consequences. We are in a pre-Solferino moment where the old laws no longer work and new ones adapted to the current dispensation have yet to emerge.

The humanitarian internationale suffers from similar ills as the state-based international “system”. Its very makeup is consubstantial with the state system as it is based on the triad of western donors, UN agencies, and prevalently western NGOs (in ethos if not in terms of nationality). It may have reached its structural limits. Humanitarian principles have stood the test of time but it is unlikely that they will survive the current wave of transnational crises and conflicts.

 A good place to start DRUNSA is by bringing the citizen into the decision making around humanitarian action. Rhetoric around participation and accountability to affected communities abounds, but the stubborn reality is that the humanitarian enterprise is anything but accountable or participatory. It continues to be an establishment—some say a club—in which the rules have been set, so to speak, by absentee feudal landlords who have no clue about how the land is tilled.

To sum up, it is dubious that nation states can have durable success in combating transnational forces (of capital, finance, ethno-religious millenarism and the like). These movements are better countered transnationally through an UCO or coalitions of civil society groups or similar citizen-driven initiatives.

United Against Inhumanity: citizens at the centre

And this brings us to United Against Inhumanity (UAI), an emerging global movement of citizens and civil society who are outraged by the inability and unwillingness of the formal international system to address the causes and consequences of armed conflict. One of the goals of UAI is to work with citizen and civil society organisations and to put the citizen at the centre of efforts to combat the inhumanity of warfare and the abomination of measures that deny those in need of refuge the right to seek asylum. It aims to increase the political and reputational damage to perpetrators and to support civil society mobilisation actions on the inhumanity of war and the erosion of asylum.

[i] Kudos to Martin Barber for having coined the acronym and set up the DRUNSA organisation of which as far as I know he and I were the only two members.
[iii] R.Dasgupta, “The demise of the nation state”, The Guardian, 5 April 2018.

hqdefaultAbout the author: 

Antonio Donini is a humanitarian researcher and one of the initiators of the emerging United Against InHumanity movement. This blog is based on a presentation he gave at the 2018 IHSA Conference. He can be reached at: antonio.donini@tufts.edu.