Ong mutations


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Ong mutations

  1. 1. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 499 Mutations in Citizenship Aihwa Ong Abstract Mutations in citizenship are crystallized in an ever-shifting landscape shaped by the flows of markets, technologies, and populations. We are moving beyond the citizenship-versus-statelessness model. First, the elements of citizenship (rights, entitle- ments, etc.) are becoming disarticulated from each other, and becoming re-articulated with universalizing criteria of neoliberalism and human rights. Such ‘global assemblages’ define zones of political entitlements and claims. Second, the space of the ‘assemblage’, rather than the national terrain, becomes the site for political mobilizations by diverse groups in motion. Three contrasting configurations are presented. In the EU zone, un- regulated markets and migrant flows challenge liberal citizenship. In Asian zones, foreigners who display self-enterprising savoire faire gain rights and benefits of citizen- ship. In camps of the disenfranchised or displaced, sheer survival becomes the ground for political claims. Thus, particular constellations shape specific problems and resol- utions to questions of contemporary living, further disarticulating and deterritorializing aspects of citizenship. Keywords contemporary living, global assemblages, mutation in citizenship, political spaces W e can trace mutations in citizenship to global flows and their configuration of new spaces of entangled possibilities. An ever-shifting landscape shaped by the flows of markets, technologies, and populations challenges the notion of citizenship tied to the terrain and imagination of a nation-state (Anderson 1991[1983]). Mobile markets, tech- nologies, and populations interact to shape social spaces in which mutations in citizenship are crystallized. The different elements of citizenship (rights, entitlements, etc.), once assumed to go together, are becoming disarticulated from one another, and re-articulated with univer- salizing forces and standards. So while in theory political rights depend on membership in a nation-state, in practice, new entitlements are being realized through situated mobilizations and claims in milieus of globalized contingency. New connections among citizenship elements and mobile forms suggest that we have moved beyond the idea of citizenship as a protected status in a nation-state, and as a condition opposed to the condition of statelessness (Arendt 1998[1958]). Binary oppositions between citizenship and statelessness, and between national territoriality and its absence, are not useful for thinking about emergent spaces and novel combinations of globalizing and situated variables. For instance, market-driven state practices fragment the national terrain into zones of hyper- growth. These spaces are plugged into transnational networks of markets, technology, and expertise. Meanwhile, strict discriminations between the citizens and foreigners are dropped in favor of the pursuit of human capital. Such modes of governing engender a checkerboard pattern- ing of the national terrain, thus producing an effect of graduated or variegated sovereignty (Ong, 2000). Some sites and zones are invested with more political resources than others. Meanwhile, rights and entitlements once associated with all citizens are becoming linked to Copyright © 2006 Theory, Culture & Society ( (SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Vol. 23(2–3): 499–531. DOI: 10.1177/0263276406064831
  2. 2. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 500 500 Theory, Culture & Society 23(2–3) neoliberal criteria, so that entreprenuerial expatriates come to share in the rights and benefits once exclusively claimed by citizens. The difference between having and not having citizen- ship is becoming blurred as the territorialization of entitlements is increasingly challenged by deterritorialized claims beyond the state. Universalizing market interests, technologies, and NGOs become articulated with citizen- ship orders, creating new sites for the making of new claims for resources from state as well as non-state institutions. We used to think of different dimensions of citizenship – rights, entitlements, a state, terri- toriality, etc. – as more or less tied together. Increasingly, some of these components are becoming disarticulated from each other, and articulated with diverse universalizing norms defined by markets, neoliberal values, or human rights. At the same time, diverse mobile popu- lations (expatriates, refugees, migrant workers) can claim rights and benefits associated with citizenship, even as many citizens come to have limited or contingent protections within their own countries. Thus, the (re)combinations of globalizing forces and situated elements produce distinctive environments in which citizens, foreigners, and asylum-seekers make political claims through pre-existing political membership as well as on the grounds of universalizing criteria. Given this scenario of shifting ‘global assemblages’ (Ong and Collier, 2005), the sites of citizenship mutations are not defined by conventional geography. The space of the assemblage, rather than the territory of the nation-state, is the site for new political mobilizations and claims. In sites of emergence, a spectrum of mobile and excluded populations articulates rights and claims in universalizing terms of neoliberal criteria or human rights. Specific problemati- zations and resolutions to diverse regimes of living cannot be predetermined in advance. For instance, in the EU zone, unregulated markets and migrant flows threaten protections associ- ated with liberal traditions. In emerging Asian sites, the embrace of self-enterprising values has made citizenship rights and benefits contingent upon individual market performance. In camps of the disenfranchised or displaced, bare life becomes the ground for political claims, if not for citizenship, then for the right to survive. In short, instead of all citizens enjoying a unified bundle of citizenship rights, we have a shifting political landscape in which hetero- geneous populations claim diverse rights and benefits associated with citizenship, as well as universalizing criteria of neoliberal norms or human rights. Market Bloc and Political Liberalism In the West, the European Union has been one of the most ambitious attempts to form a market zone by assembling various polities and cultures. With the rapid expansion of the bloc, the articulation of market interests with political rights has crystallized long-standing ambiv- alence over the erosion of cultural traditions and liberal norms associated with postwar European citizenship. In the region, global market forces and neoliberal criteria have come to articulate entrenched political norms and entitlements. For instance, opening markets to migrant labor – guest workers and illegal aliens – has ignited fierce debates about the integra- tion of diverse foreign communities. On the one hand, there is talk about the need to balance diverse immigrant populations of non-European origins with an imaginary of European civiliz- ation. On the other, pro-human rights movements talk about ‘disaggregating’ citizenship into different bundles of rights and benefits, so that European states can differently incorporate migrants and non-citizens. Such bundles of limited benefits and civil rights thus constitute a form of partial citizenship, or ‘postnational’ political membership for migrant workers (Soysal, 1994). This political resolution, it is argued, can accommodate cultural diversity without undermining European liberal democracy and the universals of individual civil rights. But ambivalence remains, as a strong groundswell against the possible inclusion of Muslim Turkey in the bloc has fueled resistance to EU expansion. Another dimension of the articulation between citizenship and deregulated markets is widely viewed as a threat to what Jürgen Habermas has called the ‘democratic achievements of European societies’ – inclusive systems of social security, social norms regarding class and gender, investment in public social services, rejection of the death penalty, and so on. To
  3. 3. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 501 Problematizing Global Knowledge – Citizenship/The Political/Global Sovereignty 501 counter the market-generated ‘democratic deficit’ in public life, Habermas calls for the creation of a Europe-wide public sphere and constitution that can give symbolic weight to the shared political culture underpinned by the cluster of European welfare features (Habermas, 2001). The spring 2005 French and Dutch votes against the ratification of the existing European constitution delivered powerful statements about the primacy of national interests over the unity to be wrought through neoliberal policies. The rejection of the constitution by major members reflects popular sentiments against the widespread adoption of market-based criteria, as well as a positive affirmation of national regimes that preserve elements of social citizenship and protection for their people. There is now profound doubt about the feasibil- ity of a Europe-wide solidarity built primarily on principles of market efficiency and compet- itiveness. Zones of Entitlement In contrast to the Euro zone, emergent sites of growth in Asia currently display less ambiv- alence over the adoption of neoliberal values in policies shaping citizenship. These sites recog- nize that articulation with transnational networks and global professionals is crucial for their emergence as centers of global capitalism. Transnational itineraries and practices enhance the capacity of professionals and investors to negotiate national spaces, while the desire for talented actors has induced changes in immigration laws. Complex affiliations by elite mobile actors allow for temporary, multiple, and partial ascription, thus creating conditions for expatriate populations to claim citizenship-like entitlements. The concept of ‘flexible citizenship’ describes maneuvers of mobile subjects who respond fluidly and opportunistically to dynamic borderless market conditions. Global markets induce such activities, so that ‘flexibility, migration, and relocations, instead of being coerced or resisted, have become practices to strive for rather than stability’ (Ong, 1999: 19). Further- more, nation-states seeking wealth-bearing and talented foreigners adjust immigration laws to favor elite migrant subjects. Thus a new synergy between global capitalism and commercial- ized citizenship creates milieus where market-based norms articulate the norms of citizenship. This premium on flexible, self-enterprising subjects originated in advanced democracies that had steadily adopted market-driven rationality in politics. Such neoliberal ideas stem from Frederic von Hayek’s theory of the homo economicus as an instrumentalist figure forged in the effervescent conditions of market competition. The ideas of individual economic agency as the most efficient form for distributing public resources were embraced under the ‘neo-conserva- tive’ policies of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. This shift toward a neoliberal technology of governing holds that the security of citizens, their well-being and quality of life, are increasingly dependent on their own capacities as free individuals to confront globalized insecurities by making calculations and investments in their lives. For instance, in Tony Blair’s New Britannica, citizens are generally governed ‘through freedom’, or an inducement for formally free subjects to make calculative choices on their own behalf. Government is no longer interested in taking care of every citizen, but wants him/her to act as a free subject who self-actualizes and relies on autonomous action to confront globalized insecurities. There is thus a fundamental shift in the ethics of subject formation, or the ethics of citizenship, as governing becomes concerned less with the social management of the population (biopolitics) than with individual self-governing (ethico- politics) (Rose, 1999). Such ethics are framed as an animation of various capacities of individ- ual freedom, expressed both in the citizen’s freedom from state protection and guidance, as well as freedom to make choices as a self-maximizing individual. In the USA, administrative practices that govern through the aspirations of subjects especially target the urban poor, immi- grants, and refugees who are viewed as less capable of self-improvement. But as neoliberal values of flexibility, mobility, and entrepreneurialism become ideal qualities of citizenship, they also undermine the democratic achievements of American liberalism based on ideals of equal rights (Ong, 2003). Tensions between neoliberal values of citizens as economic agents, and
  4. 4. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 502 502 Theory, Culture & Society 23(2–3) liberal ideals of citizens as defenders of political freedom continue to roil American political life. Neoliberal ideas and practices migrate and are taken up in new zones of hyper-growth. In democratic, socialist, and authoritarian Asian settings, citizens are urged to be self- enterprising, not only to cope with uncertainties and risks, but also to raise the overall ‘human quality’ of their societies. Thus, in East and South Asian environments, neoliberal ethics of self-responsible citizenship are linked to social obligations to build the nation. In India and Malaysia, discourses about ‘knowledge workers’ and ‘knowledge society’ urge citizens to self- improve in order to develop high-tech industries. In Singapore, the accumulation of intellec- tual capital as an obligation of citizenship is most extreme. Ordinary citizens are expected to develop new mindsets and build digital capabilities, while professionals are urged to achieve norms of ‘techno-preneurial citizenship’ or lose out to more skilled and entrepreneurial foreign- ers and be reduced to a second-class citizenry. In short, neoliberal values of self-management and self-enterprise have different impli- cations for citizenship, depending on interactions with particular political environments. While the tendency in Britain and the USA is to focus on the self-governing and technologically savvy citizen as a participant in civil society, in Asian growth zones, the discourse of the self-improv- ing and entrepreneurial citizen is linked to ‘civic society’, or the building of national solidarity. The common feature is that across these diverse milieus, the stakes of citizenship are raised for the majority. Especially in hyper-capitalist zones, those who cannot scale the skills ladder or measure up to the norms of self-governing are increasingly marginalized as deviant or subjects who threaten the security of the globalized milieu. Thus, the articulation of neoliberal criteria and situated citizenship regimes undercuts the protection of citizenship entitlements and blurs political distinctions between citizens and talented foreigners. Arenas of Political Claims But the mix of market-opportunism and citizenship has also engendered conditions for greater political activism. In non-democratic countries embracing market-driven policies, new arenas are opening up for ordinary people to claim justice, accountability, and democratic freedoms. The confluence of market forces and digital technologies have pried open cracks in the inter- stices of highly controlled societies, thus creating conditions for exciting outbursts of popular demands for democracy by ordinary people. In the Streets In Southeast Asia, the combined forces of the Asian financial crisis and political instability in the 1990s created an opportunity for the flowering of ‘pro-reformasi’ movements and nongovernmental organizations in shaping a space of civil society. In Indonesia, a diversity of humanitarian, non-violent, and women’s groups came together to protest state brutality and demand an end to corruption, nepotism, and autocratic rule. In particular, the army-instigated rapes of hundreds of ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia, and the prison beatings of the deputy prime minister in Malaysia, focused public attention on state violence against the human body. In street protests, the cries for reforms are couched less in the language of human rights than articulated in the ethics of culture and religion. Human rights discourses have not been directly useful in negotiations with the state because the human rights regime is viewed as originating in the West, and biased towards Asian countries. Women’s groups and religious NGOs frame problems of state violence as violations of humanity, as understood in local religious terms of compassion, reciprocity, and forgiveness. In Malaysia, the NGO Sisters-in-Islam has gained international fame for their capacity to articulate women’s rights in terms of Muslim precepts. Various NGOs and social movements in South- east Asia not only enact in the streets and media the rights of free citizens to protest state action, but they also challenge entrenched habits of state authoritarianism through the discourse of situated ethics. In Latin America and India, social movements in the streets have developed at the
  5. 5. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 503 Problematizing Global Knowledge – Citizenship/The Political/Global Sovereignty 503 confluence of urban development and migrant communities. Street demonstrations by the disenfranchised – poor migrants, shantytown dwellers, refugees – articulate an array of civil, political, and social rights. The streets form an arena for the political mobilization of the poor to claim public resources such as urban housing, water, and electricity as a kind of substantive citizenship (Holston, 1993). There is the perception that citizenship encoded in law is no guarantee of protection for the marginalized. In many cases, market intrusions and displace- ment have created arenas for the activation of citizenship in demanding state delivery of resources and justice. Democratic values are becoming performed in public spaces to challenge authoritarian rule, corruption, and the lack of access to rights and benefits for excluded popu- lations. In Cyber Space Markets and electronic technology have also opened up other venues of political performance and claims. For a socialist market-economy society like China, the internet is emerging as a space of citizenship formation, but also as a space of government surveillance. Online commen- taries, criticisms, and mockery of state policies have flourished in the relatively democratic and elusive cyberspace. A cyberpublic made up of millions of online Chinese uses the internet for accessing foreign news, spreading stories of injustice, and promoting alterative cultural forms. A college student called ‘the Stainless Steel Mouse’ has written articles spoofing the pomposity of the Chinese Communist Party. Other cyber rebels include ‘Reporters without Borders’ who seek to expose hidden abuses of peasants by local authorities and the new rich, protest against injustices and corruption, and demand accountability from the government. In response, state anti-cyber interventions have closed down certain dissident websites, blocked access to some foreign news websites, and tracked down and punished dissidents where possible. But the surveillance of the cyberpublic space is very chancy, and ‘netizens’ has become a term to index this new style of democracy in action. The cyber space is a new site for mapping out a war of positions, and for playing a cat- and-mouse game over the freedom of information essential to democratic citizenship. The Chinese nexus between market reforms, web technology, and dissidents has enabled criticisms more focused on the lack of freedom of political expression under authoritarian rule than on attacking neoliberal values. In contrast to the assemblage of factors in Europe that induce ordinary citizens to resist unregulated market forces, in China, the confluence of markets, technology and activism is a space that enables people to perform the kind of democratic citizenship that is denied in society at large. The cyber space, however, can also be the site for the articulation of overweening ethnic power that exceeds the nation-state. In diaspora, transnational groups such as overseas Chinese or ethnic Indians have increasingly turned to the internet to construct a web-based ‘global citizenship’. One such internet-based group is ‘Global Huaren’ (Global Chinese), which acts as a cyber-watchdog, condemning government actions anywhere in the world that are construed to be against co-ethnics. There are, however, dangers when such ethnic networks seek to leverage their cyberpower vis-à-vis a specific state. The outcome is a kind of border- less citizenship based on claims of global ethnicity that is not answerable to any overarching authority. Sheer Survival Another arena of political mobilization is the space of endangerment and neglect. Here the question is whether political resolutions to the plight of imperiled or abject bodies are framed in terms of the binary opposition between citizenship and statelessness. Giorgio Agamben draws a stark distinction between citizens who enjoy juridical-legal rights and excluded groups who dwell in ‘a zone of indistinction’. Only the erasure of the division between People (politi- cal body) and people (excluded bodies), he maintains, can restore humanity to the globally excluded who have been denied citizenship (Agamben 1998: 177, 180). Such views are reflected in claims that the human rights regime is capable of transforming millions of people
  6. 6. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 504 504 Theory, Culture & Society 23(2–3) enduring a bare existence in Africa, Latin America, and Asia into citizens, thus actualizing their humanity. But the rhetoric of ethical globalization operates at too vast a scale to deal with specific milieus of exclusion and endangerment. Furthermore, the focus on citizenship and human rights gives short shrift to other modes of ethical reflection and argumentation. It is by no means clear that the right to survival will everywhere be translated into citizenship or merely legitimized on the grounds of common humanity, or relevance to labor markets. Let me briefly cite three situations of interventions on behalf of the injured or threatened body, and their different resolutions in relation to citizenship. In recent decades, health-based claims have become an important part of citizenship rights in the West. In the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine, sufferers claimed biomedical resources and social equity, thus giving rise to a notion of ‘biological citizenship’ (Petryna, 2002). In France, migrants have recently made health the ground for claiming asylum. Didier Fassin argues that the suffering body of the HIV-infected migrant reverses public perception of his biopolitical otherness rooted in race and alien status. Increasingly, some form of legal recognition is awarded in the name of humanity, i.e. the right to a healthy body, regard- less of the citizenship of the patient (Fassin, 2001). The explosive growth of NGOs is an index of the humanitarian industry that seeks to repre- sent the varied interests of the politically dispossessed. Increasingly, such voluntary groups are shaped by specific interests, affiliations, and ethics, forming themselves into socio-political groups in order to make particular claims on states and corporations. Thus, the language of universal human rights is often superseded by more specific categories finely tuned to the criteria of state or philanthropic organizations. In the non-state administration of excluded humanity, groups and individuals are sorted into various categories, in relation to particular needs, prioritized interests, and potential affiliations with powers-that-be. These are ‘counter- politics of sheer life’ – a situated form of political mobilization that involves ethical claims to resources articulated in terms of needs as living beings (Collier and Lakoff, 2005: 29). The politics of sheer life is emerging in Southeast Asia, where a vast female migrant popu- lation – working as maids, factory workers, or prostitutes – is regularly exposed to slave-like conditions. Feminist NGOs invoke not the human rights of female migrants but something more minimal and attainable, i.e. biological survival, or ‘biowelfare’. The claims of a healthy and unharmed migrant body are articulated not in terms of a common humanity, but of the dependency of the host society on foreign workers to sustain a high standard of living. NGOs invoke the ethics of reciprocity or at least recognition of economic symbiosis between migrant workers and the affluent employers who feel entitled to their cheap foreign labor. Where citizenship does not provide protection for the migrant worker, the joining of a healthy body and dependency on foreign workers produces a kind of bio-legitimacy that is perhaps a first step toward the recognition of their moral status, but short of human rights. A simple opposition between territorialized citizenship and deterritorialized human rights is not able to capture the varied assemblages that are the sites of contemporary political claims by a range of residential, expatriate, and migrant actors. The confluence of territorialized and deterritorialized forces forms milieus in which problems of the human are crystallized and problems posed and resolved. Diverse actors invoke not territorialized notions of citizenship, but new claims – postnational, flexible, technological, cyber-based, and biological – as grounds for resources, entitlements, and protection. These various sites and claims attest to the contin- gent nature of what is at stake in being human today. Such political mobilizations engage but also go beyond human rights in resolution to situated problems of contemporary life. In addition to the nation-state, entities such as corporations and NGOs have become practitioners of humanity, defining and representing varied categories of human beings according to degrees of economic, biopolitical, and moral worthiness. Diverse regimes of living are in play. In short, global assemblages crystallize specific problems and resolutions to questions of contemporary living, thus further disarticulating and deterritorializing aspects of citizenship.
  7. 7. 27_mutns-in-citizenship_064831 10/5/06 10:26 am Page 505 Problematizing Global Knowledge – Citizenship/The Political/Global Sovereignty 505 References Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Anderson, B. (1991[1983]) Imagined Communities, 2nd edition. London: Verso. Arendt, H. (1998[1958]) The Human Condition, with an Introduction by Margaret Canovaan, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Collier, S.J. and A. Lakoff (2005) ‘Regimes of Living’, in A. Ong and S.J. Collier (eds) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Fassin, D. (2001) ‘The Biopolitics of Otherness’, Anthropology Today 17(1): 3–23. Habermas, J. (2001) ‘Why Europe Needs a Constitution’, New Left Review 11 (Sept–Oct): 5–26. Holston, J. (1993) ‘Introduction’, in J. Holston (ed.) Cities and Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Ong, A. (1999) Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Ong, A. (2000) ‘Graduated Sovereignty in Southeast Asia’, Theory, Culture & Society 17(4): 55–75. Ong, A. (2003) Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Ong, A. and S.J. Collier (eds) (2005) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Petryna, A. (2002) Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Rose, N. (1999) Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Soysal, Y. (1994) The Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Aihwa Ong is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Recent books include Flexible Citizenship (1999, Duke University Press), Buddha is Hiding (2003, University of California Press), Global Assemblages (2005, Blackwell), and Neoliberalism as Exception (forthcoming, Duke University Press). The Political Jeremy Valentine Abstract This article looks at the problems of the co-determination of the political within western metaphysics and political reflection, and considers solutions that are figured in terms of failure and incompletion. The focus is on the relation of the politi- cal to political modernity, its defenders and attackers, and those who seek to overcome the opposition. Keywords failure, incompletion, political modernity, post-foundationalism I t is worth remarking that in the English language the notion of the political is an awkward grammatical formulation. The transformation of an adjective into a noun suggests that the notion is detached from its proper enunciation, as if to prompt the question ‘the politi- cal what?’ in order to complete it. The awkwardness has arisen from the translation of a distinction commonly found in Germanic and Romance languages for which precise equivalents are not available in English. Thus the distinctions between die Politik and das