Gated citizenship

In The Birthright Lottery, I explored how birthright access to citizenship operates as a distributor (or denier) of opportunity on a global scale. Today, 97 percent of the global population gains access to citizenship solely by virtue of where or to whom they are born. This article shifts the gaze from the automatic transmission of citizenship (which I call the initial allocation), to deciphering the code, or underlying logic, that governs the secondary allocation: the process of naturalization. Counter to predictions of waning sovereignty, tremendous investment is placed on regulating mobility, migration, and access to membership. I identify three core sorting mechanisms that produce overt and covert inequalities in the acquisition of citizenship, which I call the trinity of the territorial, the cultural, and the economic. These intersecting yet analytically distinct dimensions allow governments to develop sophisticated ways to ‘filter’ admission of different populations, placing a heavy burden on those seeking it. The discussion lays bare the mistaken assumption that we live in a world wherein mobility is purely chosen and easily available—irrespective of race, gender, class, power, and legal regulation. It further suggests ways of reinvigorating the political imagination for rewriting the rules governing access to membership.

Ayelet Shachar, Gated citizenship, Citizenship Studies, 2022.