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A Genealogy of Citizenship

Lecturer: Irene Dal Poz

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

On 28th March 2020, in the midst of Covid-19 outbreak, the Portuguese government decided to temporarily grant citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers with pending residency applications. This choice is in sharp contrast with the strict immigration policies adopted by most Western states and was justified by Claudia Veloso, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, by saying that “people should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not yet been processed".  Why is granting citizenship rights such an important but controversial political choice? What does being a citizen precisely mean? Is citizenship, as Hannah Arendt claims, a meta-right that entitles to other rights and political recognition? And does this juridical conception of citizenship live up to its promises of political participation and inclusion? This module addresses citizenship as a crucial yet often unexplored notion in the contemporary political discourse. To problematise its current conceptualisation and use, the module proposes a genealogy of citizenship. It reconstructs when this juridical definition of citizenship has emerged in Western political theory and how it impacts individuals’ agency and political participation.


The module aims at participants gaining a critical understanding of the notion of citizenship via a close reading and discussion of some key texts in political theory. It also provides learners with theoretical tools to problematise the connection between citizenship and other crucial political categories, for example rights, resistance, state, and security.

The course is aimed at an undergraduate level and no prior knowledge of the texts that we will examine is required. Each session will be organised around a lecture, which will be followed by a Q&A or a guided discussion.

For each lecture, some recommended and some additional readings will be indicated.

Readings might be subject to changes.


Week 1: Historical Overview and the Citizen in the Polis

The first week will introduce the module and offer an overview of the concept of citizenship in Ancient Greek. It will include a guest lecture by Dr Valentina Moro (Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies of South-Eastern Europe, University of Rijeka, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

By relying on the work of contemporary philosophers and political theorists (Christian Meier, Nicole Loraux, and Josine Blok), Dr Moro will talk about the emergence of the concept of citizenship in the Athenian democratic system. She will also mobilise the Ancient Greek tragedy to investigate how the citizens’ political identity is discursively constructed.

We will then focus on the Cynics and their provocative behaviours. Through an analysis of some secondary sources (Michel Foucault and Pierre Hadot), we will question if and how the bios kynikos successfully challenges the above-mentioned model of citizenship based on civic membership.

Recommended reading:

  •  Isin, Engin. “Who is the New Citizen? Towards a Genealogy”, in Citizenship Studies 11 (2007), 115-132.

Additional readings:

  • Foucault, Michel. The Courage of Truth: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1983-1984, trans. by G. Burchell. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 
  • — . The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982-1983, trans. by G. Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 
  • Goulet-Cazé, Marie-Odile. Le cynisme, une philosophie antique, Paris: Vrin, 2017.  
  • Hadot, Pierre. What is Ancient Philosophy? trans. by M. Chase. Cambridge: London: Belknap Press, 2004. 
  • Meier, Christian. The Greek Discovery of Politics, trans. by D. McLintock, Cambirdge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Sellars, John. “Stoic Cosmopolitism and Zeno’s Republic” in History of Political Thought 28: 1 (2007).  

If you are interested in the notion of genealogy, see also:

  • Lorenzini, Daniele. “On Possibilising Genealogy”, Inquiry (2020) - online first.
  • Lorenzini, Daniele, and Martina Tazzioli. “Critique without Ontology: Genealogy, Collective Subjects and the Deadlocks of Evidence”. Radical Philosophy 207 (2020), 27-39.

Week 2: The Birth of the Modern Concept of Citizenship

The second week will explore the birth of the modern concept of citizenship, with a focus on Thomas Hobbes and John Locke’s theories of social contract. By discussing some passages from the Leviathan and the Second Treatise of Government, this lecture will introduce some key concepts to understand the modern notion of citizenship: political representation, the juridical subject and the right to political resistance. In particular, we will reconstruct why and how citizenship has been conceptualised in juridical terms. We will also unpack the two main characteristics of the legal sovereign subject: equality and freedom.

Recommended reading:

  • Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, ed. by R. Tuck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, Chapters XIV, XVI and XXI.

Additional readings:

  • Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980.
  • Skinner, Quentin, “Hobbes on Representation”, in The European Journal of Philosophy, 13:2, (2005), 155–184.  
  • “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person of the State”, in The Journal of Political Philosophy, 7:1 (1990), 1-29.
  • Hobbes and Republican Liberty, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Tuck, Richard. Hobbes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Week 3: The Rights of the Citizen and Rights of Man

Are national rights outdated? Do human rights outweigh the rights of the citizen? Or can human rights exist independently of civil rights? In the third lecture, I will try to answer these questions by addressing Hannah Arendt’s famous critique of human rights and looking at some appropriations and radicalisation of Arendt’s position (e.g. Jacques Rancière and Giorgio Agamben). In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt in fact takes issue with the abstractedness of human rights and suggests that citizenship is a fundamental “right to have right (…) and a right to belong to some kind of organised community” (296-297). The third week will unpack the implications of Arendt’s equation between being stateless and being rightless.

Recommended reading:

  • Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, 1973, 267-302.

Additional readings:

  • Agamben, Giorgio. “Beyond Human rights” in P. Virno and M. Hardt, eds. Radical Politics in Italy: A Potential Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, 159-164.
  • Gündoğdu, Ayten. Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Lechte, John and Saul Newman. Agamben and the Politics of Human Rights: Statelessness, Images, Violence, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.
  • Rancière, Jacques. “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” South Atlantic Quarterly 103:2–3 (2004).

Week 4: Citizenship, Security and Individual Responsibility

In the fourth week, we will analyse citizenship through the lens of the notion of security. This investigative line has become particularly important in the wake of the War on Terror. Most scholars, however, tend to stress the exceptionalist (e.g. Agamben and Judith Butler) or de-politicised (Copenhaghen School) nature of securitarian measures. In this lecture, I suggest that security is a way of governing the population that requires responsibilised citizens. We will discuss what kind of political subject emerges out of this securitarian paradigm by focusing on the category of vigilant and resilient citizen. We will also question whether these security measures affect all citizens in the same way.

Recommended readings:

  • Aradau, Claudia. “Forget Equality? Security and Liberty in the "War on Terror"”, in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 33:3 (2008), 293-314.
  • Hagmann, Jonas,  Hendrik Hegemann and Andrew W. Neal. “The Politicisation of Security: Controversy, Mobilisation, Arena Shifting. Introduction by the Guest Editors” in ERIS – European Review of International Studies, 3 (2018), 3-29.

Additional readings:

  • Aradau, Claudia and Rens van Munster. “Poststructuralist Approaches to Security”, in Routledge Handbook of Security Studies, ed. by M. D. Cavelty and T. Balzacq, London: Routledge, 2017, 75-84.
  • Isin, Engin. “The neurotic citizen”, in Citizenship Studies, 8:3 (2004), 217-235.
  • Neal, Andrew W.Top of Form Security as Politics. Beyond the State of Exception, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

Bottom of Form

If you are interested in an analysis of monitoring and security measures during the Covid-19 outbreak, see Tazzioli, Martina. “Covid’s Borders: Peer-to-peer Surveillance and “Common Good””, in Political Economy Research Centre, Goldsmith University of London (2020) - online

Week 5: Citizenship and the Promise of Inclusion

The contemporary model of citizenship depends on the fiction of a sovereign subject of rights and on its freedom to act without constraints (Hobbes). Nonetheless, even if all citizens enjoy the same abstract legal status, do they all have the same capacity to freely act and negotiate social norms? Security studies offered us some insights regarding the inequalities hidden behind the legalistic and abstract notion of citizenship. The feminist scholarship will expand this critique. Specifically, we will mobilise Saba Mahmood’s sociological and anthropological studies on women’s piety movement in Egypt. Mahmood’s research on the inhabitation of social norms will allow us to problematise the notions of agency and resistance.

Recommended reading:

  • Mahmood, Saba. “Feminist Theory, Agency, and the Liberatory Subject: Some Reflections on the Islamic Revival in Egypt”. Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 42: 1 (2006), 31-71. 

Additional readings:

  • Cremonesi Laura, Orazio Irrera, Daniele Lorenzini and Martina Tazzioli. “Introduction: Foucault and the Making of Subjects: Rethinking Autonomy between Subjection and Subjectivation”, in Foucault and the Making of Subjects, ed. by L. Cremonesi, O. Irrera, D. Lorenzini and M. Tazzioli, London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016, 1-10.
  • Mahmood, Saba. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. 
  • McNay, Lois. “Agency”, in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory, ed. L. Disch and M. Hawkesworth by New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, 39-60.