Migration seminar

Beyond Typologizing (or Idealizing) Citizenship: What does it do, what does it mean?

Presenter: Irene Bloemraad, founding director of Berkeley’s Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI) and the Class of 1951 Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley


Theorists often care about citizenship as an equality-advancing status. Indeed, a key moral principle of liberal democracies is a presumption of citizens’ basic political and legal equality. But how much does the status of citizenship truly matter to people’s life chances and activities? The case of immigrants provides an intriguing lens into the question of what citizenship actually does, empirically. Perhaps surprisingly, we have very little solid evidence to evaluate the heft of citizenship status net of the multiple advantages or vulnerabilities people experience based on their social class, economic wealth, racial minority status, gender and so forth. A survey of existing studies indicates modest – and differentiated – benefits from holding citizenship. The fact that benefits are differentiated opens an under-theorized questions: why does citizenship matter? Prior scholarship has typologized citizenship as a being constituted from legal status, rights, participation and identity.

I advance an alternative conceptual approach to citizenship as membership through claims-making. Thus conceived, citizenship is a relational process of making membership claims on polities, people and institutions, claims recognized or rejected within particular normative understandings of citizenship. I illustrate these benefits by considering the ways that Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican-origin parents and their U.S. citizen teenagers talked about being a good citizen and an American. In discussing good citizenship, respondents underscored legal, moral, civic, and economic actions over ascriptive characteristics or political values. Their emphasis on citizenship acts illuminates how noncitizens, including undocumented residents, can claim membership through behaviours, even as inclusion may be contingent on being law-abiding, hard-working, or a good person. The term “American” is more ambiguous legally, but also more racially and economically fraught, including for citizens, as racialised tropes of illegality or cultural otherness affect those of Mexican or Asian origins, respectively. Rather than a categorical placement inside or outside a boundary of ‘citizen’ or ‘American,’ national membership can be felt as partial and gradient, positioned closer or further from multiple ideals.


Irene Bloemraad is the founding director of Berkeley’s Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI) and the Class of 1951 Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Bloemraad studies how migrants become incorporated into the political communities where they live, and the consequences of migration for politics and understandings of membership.

She has investigated why immigrants become citizens, whether immigrant communities face inequities in building and accessing community-based organizations, and how non-immigrants’ attitudes about immigration policy shifts depending on whether we talk about human rights, citizenship, family unity, or appeals to national values. Her research has been published in academic journals spanning sociology, political science, history, and ethnic/ migration studies, and she has authored or co-edited five books, including The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship (2017), Rallying for Immigrant Rights (2011) and Becoming a Citizen (2006). The International Migration Review, the top North American migration journal, named Bloemraad its “Featured Scholar of 2018.” In 2014-15, she served as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel reporting on the integration of immigrants into U.S. society.

Please note the time 17.00-19.00
The seminar will be held via zoom


Meeting ID: 617 0761 5809
Passcode: 281027