Citizenship for Sale and the Neoliberal Political Economy of Belonging

Recent research views the proliferation of citizenship-by-investment schemes primarily as a manifestation of the commodification of citizenship by states succumbing to the logic of the market. I argue that these schemes exceed mere processes of commodification. They are part of a neoliberal political economy of belonging. This political economy prompts states to include and exclude migrants according to their endowment of human, financial, economic, and emotional capital. I show how the growing opportunities for wealthy and talented migrants to move across borders, the opening of humanitarian corridors for particularly vulnerable refugees, and the hardening of borders for “ordinary” refugees and undocumented migrants all stem from the same neoliberal rationality of government. In doing so, I challenge mainstream understandings of neoliberalism as a process of commodification characterized by the “retreat of the state” and “domination of the market.” I approach neoliberalism as a process of economization, which disseminates the model of the market to all spheres of human activity, even where money is not at stake. Neoliberal economization turns states and individuals into entrepreneurial actors that attempt to maximize their value, not just in economic and financial but also in moral and emotional terms. This process, I conclude, undermines political notions of citizenship grounded in reciprocity, equality, and solidarity, not by replacing these principles with economic ones but by rewriting these principles in economic terms.

Publication details and link to source: Luca Mavelli, Citizenship for Sale and the Neoliberal Political Economy of Belonging, International Studies Quarterly, 2018