Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Visiting Scholar, Jason Tucker: "Introducing myself and my research"

I have been asked to use this blog as an opportunity to introduce myself, my background and my current research.  My area of interest lies particularly within the field of migration studies. In the past I have worked on human trafficking in the Indonesian and US contexts and with informal civil society organisations for Sudanese refugees in Cairo. For several years now though I have focused specifically on statelessness. I began my PhD at the University of Bath, in the U.K, in 2010 and have just entered my final year.  My thesis looks at the concepts of global citizenship and how they are being used to address statelessness.

Exploring the magnitude of the literature and theoretical debate surrounding global citizenship would pose an unrealistic challenge due to the restrictions of the size of this post. Several key areas though can be highlighted to reflect the breadth of this debate and its relevance to the statelessness discourse. When the concept of global citizenship (sometimes referred to as cosmopolitanism) is introduced it is often the case that the audience, if not versed on the topic, will either conceptualise it as future ‘world citizenship’ with various manifestations such as a world passport and/or a world government, or on the other hand think of it as a vacuous buzz word, thrown around by activists, politicians, businesses and anyone who wants to jump on the global citizenship band wagon. In both cases it is easy to dismiss it as either overly idealistic or so vaguely defined as to be insignificant. 

While these two conceptualisations are not totally without merit they by no means even begin to scratch the surface of the depth and nuances of the debate on global citizenship. To mention but a few ways that this expanded moral obligation has been theorised we can see Nussbaum’s (1996) ‘cosmopolitan education’, Buchanan’s (2004) focus on legal cosmopolitanism, Held’s (1999) argument that international institutions should internalise cosmopolitan principles and enforce them through international laws, Linklater’s (1999) claim it should be realized through trans-state dialogue in international institutions and the idea of ‘deliberative democracy’ put forward by such scholars as Habermas.

So then how do these concepts relate to the statelessness discourse? Examples of this are few and far between. But they do exist. For example, Byers (2005:2 my emphasis) noted:

“There are tens of millions of stateless persons in the world today. They have no right to reside, vote, express opinions, associate or travel anywhere at all. Their lack of national citizenship, and their consequential, desperate need for governmental assistance and accountability, makes them the most obvious candidates for global citizenship”.

My thesis aims to begin to explore the relationship between global citizenship and the addressing of statelessness, with a specific focus on Lebanon. My research arose due to the assumptions made by several scholars that the stateless, having none of the normal channels through which to participate in the nation-state system, could benefit from global citizenship, as Byers’ quote reflects. This however was the limit of his theoretical reflection, and more generally the assumed relationship has not been based on empirical foundations but remains abstract and normative. Finding this a highly interesting, though as of yet a greatly under-researched and theorized idea, I decided to contextualise this assumption in a country with multiple, vast, protracted and varying stateless communities and persons, namely Lebanon. This highly complex national environment allowed me to draw on comparisons between the actors addressing the statelessness of the different stateless groups in the country, with the aim of reaching a more grounded understanding of the use of global citizenship upon which to base future debate. To do this I spent three months in Lebanon at the beginning of the year interviewing those working with the stateless in the country, based out of the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

I am currently working through and analyzing all the data that I collected from my time in Lebanon and am unable to provide a conclusive set of findings at this moment. I can, however, reflect on a few broad topics that have arisen so far.  The data highlights how the various stateless groups reflect on the concepts of citizenship and nationality, how the government use the concept of the suspension of judicial order in certain spaces inhabited by the stateless, with these ‘stateless spaces’ being the subject of multiple and partial sovereignties as developed by Giorgio Agamben (1993,1998, 2005), and finally the claim of the ‘natural’ statelessness of the Bedouin.  Following a detailed analysis of the conceptualisations of the nation-state and citizenship and relating this statelessness focused assessment to the state-nation-territory trinity in the first two analytical chapters of my thesis, the final chapter focuses specifically on global citizenship, trying to draw out a relatively inclusive understanding of what form of it is being used to address statelessness in Lebanon. One line of thinking that I am developing at the moment is the concept of the paradox of defining the Palestinians NGOs and activists as global citizens, since their moral obligation only extends to fellow Palestinians and they are using it for reductionist ends, namely to regain citizenship within a Palestinian state. To reconcile this theoretical concern, I argue that we need to shift our understanding of global citizenship away from the claim that it can only manifest itself as the actions of an individual with an expanded sense of moral obligations to that of global citizenship as a means to create a space for dialogue.

Following my time in Lebanon earlier this year I transferred to the Statelessness Programme for six months at the beginning of October, which is where I am currently working through my data, as well participating in other projects taking place here. During my time in Tilburg I have developed my understanding of statelessness under international law and how to situate this legal understanding back within more sociological debates.  By drawing on the internationally recognised legal definition of statelessness in sociological research we open an under utilised avenue to understanding the phenomenon with the view to more effectively addressing it. Further to this, my time here has allowed me to better understand the development of the stateless discourse within the UNHCR, the problems they face, and how some of these hurdles have been overcome.

Jason Tucker, Visiting scholar with the Statelessness Programme


References / further reading

Agamben, 1993, Beyond Human Rights [online], Available from: http://www.skor.nl/_files/Files/OPEN15_P90-95(1).pdf, [Accessed 9/11/2011]

Agamben, G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. D. Heller-Roazen, Trans. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Agamben, G., 2005, State of Exception, Kevin Attell Trans, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Byers, M., 2005, Are You a Global Citizen? [online], The Tyee, Available from: http://thetyee.ca/Views/2005/10/05/globalcitizen/, [Accessed 14/2/2011]

Held, D., 1999, Transformation of Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization, In: I, Shapiro and C, Hacker-Cordón (eds), Democracy's Edges, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Linklater, A., 1999, Cosmopolitan Citizenship, In Kimberly Hutchings and Roland Dannreuter (eds), Cosmopolitan Citizenship, Houndsmill: Macmillan, pp.35-59

Nussbaum, M., 1996, Reply, In Cohen, J., (ed) For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, Boston: Beacon Press

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