Costica Dumbrava. Nationality, Citizenship and Ethno-Cultural Belonging: Preferential Membership Policies in Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 196 pp. $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-38207-8.
Reviewed by Elke Winter (University of Ottawa)
Published on H-Nationalism (July, 2016)
Commissioned by Cristian Cercel
Legally speaking, one is either a citizen or one is not, right? Sure, sociologists have long claimed that rights exist only if they can also be found in practice. Following T. H. Marshall, who famously noted that the presence of social rights is necessary in order to enable individuals to actually enjoy civic and political rights, there is a now a rich literature on the production of second-class citizenship and noncitizenship in the sociological sense. This being granted, legally speaking, there can’t be ambiguity, right? One either holds citizenship of a particular state or one does not. In his book Nationality, Citizenship and Ethnocultural Belonging. Preferential Membership Policies in Europe, Costica Dumbrava denies precisely this.
Dumbrava shows that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century in Europe and in the Western world more generally, certain categories of foreigners are granted preferential access to citizenship, while certain categories of citizens have fewer rights than others, and this not only de facto as sociologists claim but formal, legally. He tears down the accepted wisdom that each and every citizen is equal before the law, and that this equality is precisely what differentiates the citizen from the noncitizen, alien, or foreigner. Indeed, contrary to what myriads of textbooks in political theory want to make us believe, “states do not strictly divide people into foreigners and citizens, but use citizenship regulations to establish complex hierarchies of membership” (p. 3).
Furthermore, just as we have come to think that we have finally overcome ethno-cultural definitions of nationality and citizenship, Dumbrava convincingly shows that states still rely on ethno-cultural belonging to legitimize rules of preferential membership. His work helps to nuance the important thesis of the liberalization and de-ethnicization of citizenship policies. While this thesis may correctly describe a general trend in Western immigrant-receiving societies, there are important exceptions, which are not loopholes, oversights, or vestiges from premodern times. Rather, these ethno-cultural rules of preferential membership are purposeful and deliberate; they respond to important political needs and visions of “good citizenship.”
Dumbrava’s book pursues three objectives: one is empirical, the other two are normative. In the first part of his book, Dumbrava identifies legal rules of citizenship acquisition and loss, specifically those that differentiate among individuals on ethno-cultural grounds. Conducting an impressive comparative analysis of contemporary citizenship laws (2013) of thirty-eight European countries, he distinguishes between seven categories of citizenship rules driven by ethno-cultural conceptions of membership: “(1) unrestricted rules of ius sanguinis abroad, (2) unequal birthright citizenship, (3) discretionary and prohibitive rules of naturalization, (4) asymmetric rules on dual citizenship, (5) rules of referential naturalization for ethno-cultural relatives, (6) rules of external dual citizenship for ethno-cultural relatives, and (7) discriminatory rules of loss of citizenship” (p. 159). These rules have complex implications with respect to regional stability, individual protection, and democratic integrity. They also raise important normative questions.
These questions are at the core of the second part of the book. Concentrating on citizenship rules, which grant preferential admission to individuals who are regarded as ethno-culturally related to the state, Dumbrava normatively assesses the existing justifications of the rules in light of legal norms and current scholarship on membership in the polity. He concludes that rules of preferential ethno-cultural citizenship are problematic for at least two reasons. First, they establish citizenship on arbitrary grounds, such as ethnicity and ancestry. In the Western world, we have come to agree on legal-rational criteria, individual merit, and adult choice as the only legitimate reasons to determine a person’s status and life chances. Ethno-cultural citizenship rules, by contrast, involve a number of “irrational” discriminations that seem to be more akin to the conceptions of membership in illiberal political orders. Second, ethno-cultural citizenship are problematic because they disregard the normative significance of legal and political membership. Dumbrava argues in favor of automatic legal inclusion of all those subjected to law (residents) in order to satisfy the state’s obligation to justify legal coercion. While residents can be granted limited participatory rights, political membership should ultimately be based on consent and commitment to (long-term) membership in a political community.
In the third part of his book, Dumbrava takes the political theory dimension of his work one step further by proposing a normative framework of membership in a liberal democratic state. In today’s world where the system of nation-states has become virtually unchallenged, states have the power to regulate membership while individuals are compelled to seek admission in at least one nation-state. Statelessness would leave them extremely vulnerable. States therefore have an obligation for inclusion. Inclusion, however, is rendered extremely restrictive if legal membership (nationality), political membership (citizenship), and identity-related membership (belonging) are required to coincide, as it is currently the case in the unitary model of national citizenship. If full membership is open only to those who have a case for legal inclusion (e.g., residency), demonstrate political preparedness (e.g., consent), and share cultural and ethno-national features (often mistakenly attributed to blood ties) with the community, many individuals will be left vulnerable. Dumbrava proposes a model where legal, political, and identity-related forms of membership become untangled. He argues that legal and political membership should become denationalized. Moderate (i.e., liberal norms respecting) nationalizing and ethno-culturally inspired policies, however, may still be pursued domestically and exceptionally in cases where states have strong obligations of remedial justice towards individuals who were previously discriminated against.
The systematic and purposeful maintenance (or reinstitution) of ethno-cultural citizenship rules in contemporary Western states is indeed sociologically intriguing. In a globalized world with increasing migration, both states and national majority populations seem to take comfort in granting co-ethnics preferred admission to membership in the policy. Ethno-cultural similarities and (presumed) biological ties serve as proxies for conformity, commitment, and societal cohesion. Political leaders either buy into this logic themselves or feel that they have to appease large sections of their constituency who feel threated by the (real or perceived) influx of those who do not look, talk, or act like them. Dumbrava’s monograph provides both factual (part 1) and normative (parts 2 and 3) guidance on these issues. It is a welcome contribution to heated debates on the alleged liberalization of citizenship rules, the rights and duties of dual nationals, and the justification of naturalization requirements. It is also a highly instructive read against the backdrop of revitalizing nationalisms across Europe, where non-ethnic “others” serve as scapegoats for all kinds of societal ills.
[1.] T. H. Marshall, "Citizenship and Social Class," in Class, Citizenship and Social Development (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 71-134 (Original edition, 1949); Daiva Stasiulis and Abigail B. Bakan, Negotiating Citizenship: Migrant Women in Canada and the Global System (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005); Luin Goldring and Patricia Landolt, eds., Producing and Negotiating Non-Citizenship: Precarious Legal Status in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).
[2.] Christian Joppke, Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).
[3.] For critical views see Jacqueline Stevens, Reproducing the State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); and Ayelet Shachar, The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
[4.] For Canada, see Lois Harder, "'In Canada of all places': national belonging and the lost Canadians," Citizenship Studies 14 (2010): 203-220; and Elke Winter, "(Im)possible citizens: Canada's 'citizenship bonanza' and its boundaries," Citizenship Studies 18 (2014): 46-62.
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