The citizen as mere human: Litigating denationalization in post-9/11 UK

Since the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, Hannah Arendt’s phrase the ‘right to have rights’ and her claim that having rights depends on belonging to and being recognized by ‘some kind of organized community’ have become key provocations on citizenship, statelessness and human rights. Arendt, however, has been criticized as perpetuating a state-centric framework that scholars and activists alike have sought to reimagine. In particular, the French political theorist Jacques Rancière argues that Arendt’s ‘right to have rights’ formula is based on an artificial distinction between the social and the political, which creates an overly narrow definition of the political subject. This article contends that in the post-9/11 era, the distinction, often attributed to Arendt, between ‘Man’ and ‘Citizen’ is increasingly blurred; yet it suggests that this blurring does not necessarily offer any emancipatory potential. It argues that while national citizenship is still meaningful, being a citizen may not be so different from being a mere human in certain contexts. The article examines three sets of cases shaping the United Kingdom’s ‘regime of nationality deprivation’ in which people are stripped of their UK citizenship for terrorism-related offences: Al-Jedda (2013), Pham (2015, 2018) and K2 (2015). First, it explores the tensions in the regime’s attempt to reconcile a fundamental inconsistency between the recognition of the human right to nationality and the sovereignty of the state to define the citizen; and second, it considers the regime’s spatial control of the denationalization process whereby denationalization orders are commonly issued and thus also contested when the targeted citizen is outside the UK’s jurisdiction.

Caylee Hong, The citizen as mere human: Litigating denationalization in post-9/11 UK, Anthropological Theory, 2020.