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Re-founding justice amid national violence and disparities: Towards a Declaration of Citizenship


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Picture by Oliver Cole on Unsplash.

In this short text, we want to introduce the ‘Declaration of Citizenship’ project, a global initiative of scholars and activists to reformulate the relationships that bind people and communities. Arising from the critique of inequalities that perpetuate disparities in terms of longevity, resources, and political prerogatives, the Declaration of Citizenship offers a space for re-imagining connections, communities, and freedoms that benefit the 99%. Instead of the abstract language of ‘rights’ or top-down visions of a ‘global government’, our project mobilises radical intuitions to reshape the rule of law towards this end. We envision the Declaration of Citizenship as promoting self-governance consistent with the best of which our collective understandings and narratives are capable. Instead of compromises induced by nativism, militarism and greed, we declare five principles for a citizenship that recognises our embeddedness in overlapping webs of communities (Principle #1), that implements freedoms to move and to associate and disassociate with sovereign powers (#2 and #3), and where laws and polities are decided by those affected by them (#4) and are subject to permanent negotiations (#5).


The initial impetus of the Declaration arose from work we have each been conducting separately, on birthright citizenship (Jackie) and borders and refugees (Olga). These two lines of research converge on the understanding that a root problem lies with how citizenship is globally understood and operationalised so that it creates not only exclusions in the present but perpetuates these through legacies of conflict and opposition.


A key point here is the observation that informs Jackie’s research, that since Greek antiquity, the vast majority of the planet’s problems can be traced back to the rules creating and institutionalising intergenerational communities and the legal families on which societies premise political membership. Insofar as laws create communities we access by and at birth, these communities seem natural. One problem with intergenerational communities is that they are grounds for mass systemic killing, such as, but not exclusive to, war, as well as other less extreme uses of violence against those who are in other groups.


Yet none of these groups is natural. They require numerous laws and administrative operations. Laws for citizenship, naturalisation, immigration, deportation, not to mention marriage and inheritance, create the existential identities behind the mass violence and inequality, including by how they are conducive to payouts tied to patronage associated with a range of what we can think of as clan loyalties that destroy commitments to good government and the rule of law. In short, in the name of preserving intergenerational groups, governments are creating factions and then dividing land and peoples in ways that materialise harmful fantasies.


Drawing from this premise, in 2012, Jackie founded the Deportation Research Clinic at Northwestern University. The Clinic uses a public health approach to focus on two types of government misconduct: the US government detaining and deporting US citizens and the unlawful dollar-per-day wages paid to people in custody under immigration laws. Both of these topics highlight the hypocrisies of deportation. In the name of protecting US citizens, the government is detaining and deporting US citizens. In the name of protecting US jobs, the government is making contracts with US prison firms that are violating US labour and employment laws. The lesson from that work was not only about the inconsistencies of law, but also about the possibilities of intervention through class action. This provided the initial impulse for proposing a radical alternative to national attachment through the Declaration of Citizenship.


A second impetus was an exemplar initiative we had discussed when we first met in Cyprus in 2013 with Doguş Derya, who at that point was a newly-elected Cypriot MP. In the summer of that year, she had delivered a self-authored oath in her inaugural presentation in the Turkish-Cypriot parliament, describing the country to which she was committed not as one of national borders, as the script she had been given described, but as a peace-seeking, re-united, equality- and fairness-oriented, discrimination-free polity of the future. Through this, she inspired a politics of performative action that went beyond her parliament. Recalling Doguş’s declaration, we have tried to imagine what a Declaration of Citizenship writ global might entail.


Fanning out from Cyprus, Olga’s research considers the walls and fences being put up and increasingly fortified to map the differentials of inequality across the Mediterranean: Ceuta and Melilla, Italy and Malta, Greece and Turkey, and most recently, through the refortified Green Line between north and south Cyprus. All these barriers work in tandem with the privilege of buying one’s mobility. At the (off)shores of Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar, mobility is bought through investment, residence, and citizenship; exactly because those other borders place a premium on such mobility. It is the call for transparency over the harms of this scheme to Cypriot shores (as passports were sold in exchange for luxury investments often on the coasts) and to the sense of what it means to be a national of a state, that sanctions corruption with impunity, and brings together anti-governmental movements today.


Regimes of mobility entail careful calibrations of people, things, and money, against global hierarchies of sovereign states along democratic continuums. These calibrations hinge on citizenship as birthright. Olga’s recent work on refugee recognitions showed that peripheral states, such as in the Mediterranean, are valuable locations for exacting just the right amount of force, oppression and death, both on their citizens and on non-citizens, yet differentially so; just enough for northern regimes to appear liberal and southern ones worse – and thus the premium on mobility can be maintained. In these spaces, past legacies of violence are intrinsic to the citizenship regimes because they provide the contours through which exclusions can be perpetuated at the same time as they are re-invented anew. This was clearly seen in Cyprus, where a binary citizenship maintains ethnic priorities and with it privilege that can in turn decide whether to care about keeping others out as proxy enemies or not to mind inviting them into a corruption-breeding sharing of wealth.


The Declaration has drawn on these and other insights, from colleagues working on Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, South Asia, and China, to document citizenship harms and propose alternatives. It is an ongoing project (, into which people are welcome, to both endorse ( and help shape further (writing in to




Demetriou, Olga. 2019. ‘Complementary protection and the recognition rate as tools of governance: ordering Europe, fragmenting rights’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1-22.


Demetriou, Olga. 2018. Refugeehood and the postconflict subject: Reconsidering minor losses. New York: SUNY Press.


Lawrance, Benjamin N., and Stevens, Jacqueline (eds.). 2017. Citizenship in question: Evidentiary birthright and statelessness. North Carolina, US: Duke University Press.


Stevens, Jacqueline. 1999. Reproducing the State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Stevens, Jacqueline. 2009. States without Nations: Citizenship for mortals. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Olga Demetriou

Olga Demetriou is a social anthropologist and associate professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University. She has worked on issues of citizenship as they relate to minorities, refugees, and IDPs in Greece and Cyprus. She has published Capricious Borders (Berghahn, 2013) and Refugeehood and the Postconflict Subject (SUNY, 2018) as well as articles in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Global Society, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and Ethnic and Racial Studies among others. She is currently working on a project on activism in Mediterranean refugee reception sites.


Jacqueline Stevens

Jackie Stevens is a political science professor at Northwestern University and Guggenheim recipient. Her work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, Political Theory, and Third World Politics. She is the founding director of the Deportation Research Clinic at the Buffett Institute of Global Affairs. The Clinic’s research has been covered in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR. The Clinic works with a global network of lawyers, journalists, and those in removal proceedings to document government misconduct. Stevens’ law review article analysing the illegality of work by US residents held under immigration laws led to nine class-action lawsuits against private prisons in recent years. She lives in Chicago and New York City.

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