Immigrant meanings of citizenship: mobility, stability, and recognition

Based on interviews with 21 immigrants in Norway, including both naturalised citizens and ‘denizens’, this article addresses immigrant meanings of citizenship and naturalisation. The findings show that the interviewees attributed three meanings to citizenship. First, Norwegian citizenship served as a powerful means of spatial mobility, thereby facilitating transnational connections. Second, citizenship signified a legal stability that may guard precarious immigrants against ‘liminal legality’, i.e. enduring legal uncertainty. Third, citizenship was conceptualised as a formal recognition of equality and belonging, although ‘race’ and ethnicity persisted as salient markers of inequality and alienage. The article contributes empirically to the growing literature on the experiencing side of citizenship and naturalisation by delineating what citizenship means to different groups, and to whom it matters the most. Theoretically, it contributes by demonstrating that citizenship acquisition may not only be strategic, but also rooted in needs of symbolic sanctioning of equality and belonging, particularly important to individuals debarred from naturalisation.

Simon Roland Birkvad, Immigrant meanings of citizenship: mobility, stability, and recognition, Citizenship Studies, 2019.