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5 Decolonizing global citizenship • Charles T. Lee
Charles T. Lee
the locus of nation-states. While such political and intellectual efforts of denationalization
critically generate a democratic opening to the enclosed system of citizenship, one troubling
question nonetheless arises. Given Richard Falk’s (2000: 6) warning that the ‘discourse on citizenship, and its changing character, remains an essentially Western experience’, to what extent
has the denationalization of citizenship translated into de-westernization or even decolonization
of citizenship? As I wish to indicate here, to the extent that the concept of citizenship arises
from and is predominantly interpreted through the Western lineage and constellation of democratic political thought (i.e. liberal, civic republican, communitarian, deliberative, and radical
democratic1), and that its material form remains deeply entrenched in Westernized political
institutional structure, neither genre of literatures on denationalizing/globalizing citizenship has
been able to detach itself from the ‘contaminated’ origin of white/Western hegemony that crafts
the normative and institutional character of citizenship.
Specifically, with respect to the first genre, critics have pointed to the ways in which its
discourse of global citizenship fails to interrogate the Western liberal democratic model as the
constitutive paradigm (Bowden 2003, Arneil 2007). In fact, the credibility and legitimacy of this
‘globalized’ thinking on citizenship are subject to question when its intellectual sources and citations are predominantly white/Western and lack substantial cross-cultural dialogue and engagement with non-Western theories and philosophies in envisioning ‘cosmopolitan’ citizenship.2
In respect of the second genre, while it powerfully positions irregular migrants and refugees
as the central architects of extrastatal forms of citizenship, its archived and envisioned political contestations have not been able to decentre the Western liberal institutional structure of
citizenship within which non-status subjects are materially embedded. In particular, for many
global migrants, not only do they still need to assimilate into, and cope with, the Western liberal
model of citizenship for survival in their everyday life (even as they also deflect and subvert it in
complex and subtle ways) (Ong 2003, Manalansan 2005, Lee 2006), but any political demands
engendered by their insurgent democratic campaigns and movements would also be inevitably
compromised and circumscribed when they enter into a process of negotiation with Western
liberal sovereign power in order to translate those demands into realizable institutional concessions or rights (Nyers 2003, Gordon 2005). Thus, even subversive resistance or enactments of
citizenship by non-status migrants and refugees do not necessarily take place outside the normative structure of Western liberal hegemony, and in fact, may ultimately need to tap into it to
deliver (albeit domesticated) entitlements and rights for the disenfranchised.
It is tempting, in the face of this deep and pervasive Western ‘contamination’ of citizenship,
to speak of a counter-project of ‘decolonizing global citizenship’ in an emancipatory manner, to
conceive of a political positioning that is above and beyond complicity in reiterating Western
normativity and colonial power relations. But what if this liberatory posturing, rather than rupturing the Western inscription of citizenship at its core, actually replicates the transcendent aspirations of colonial enlightenment and liberal universalism to which it is opposed? And what if
such complicity and contamination in whiteness/Westernness, owing to the historical, material,
and structural entrenchment of citizenship in the liberal world order, is something that cannot
possibly be superseded but can only be disrupted and negotiated?
In this chapter, I wish to articulate the inevitable limits of any decolonization project to
transcend the white/Western moulding of global citizenship. This, however, does not spell the
doom of futility; rather, it implicates that critical theorists and social activists ought to pursue
the decolonization of global citizenship by recognizing and seizing such limits as the very given
basis and instrumental conduits to generate a circuitous and nonlinear process of disruption
and social change vis-à-vis white/Western hegemony. That is to say, just as Chantal Mouffe
(1992: 14) has observed that ‘radical democracy also means the radical impossibility of a fully
Decolonizing global citizenship
achieved democracy’, I suggest that the political project of decolonizing global citizenship must
take the radical impossibility of a fully achieved decolonization as its precondition. To articulate
this positioning, below I identify and contrast two intellectual-political routes to decolonizing
global citizenship. The first route, which I call exogenous critique (as shown through the works
of Barbara Arneil and Chandra Talpade Mohanty), analyses the Western colonial elements as
external to citizenship that can be quarantined and decontaminated; the second route, which
I call endogenous critique (as shown through the work of Inderpal Grewal and my own formulation), sees such Western colonial elements as deeply entangled with, or immanent in, citizenship
that can never be untangled or transcended. I demonstrate why it might be necessary to shift
from the first to the second route in reconceiving the present–future horizon of decolonization
struggles vis-à-vis global citizenship.
Exogenous critique construes citizenship as an intrinsic public good that has been usurped and
inflected by liberal imperial influences in an undemocratic direction. This exogenous analysis
conceives colonial aspirations and developments as being generated outside, rather than derived
from, citizenship itself; therefore, a decolonized vision of global citizenship can be reclaimed
and realized by cleansing itself of, or quarantining itself from, this external contamination and
infection of Western hegemony. Barbara Arneil’s (2007) article, ‘Global citizenship and empire’,
exemplifies this line of thinking in her critical dissection of US foreign policy. In it, she identifies a shift in US imperial rule from a ‘realpolitik’ vision concerned solely with expanding its
own self-interests and preserving its own national security in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,
to a re-emerging ‘liberal’ form of civilizing empire that seeks to spread the ideal of global citizenship in the American image of free market and electoral democracy to other parts of the
world as the ‘war on terror’ evolved in Iraq since late 2003. This shift came about as the Bush
administration ‘needed a new emphasis in their justification of America’s continued occupation
of Iraq’ in light of the rising death toll of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers (Arneil 2007: 305).
Stressing ‘the higher moral principles of spreading freedom and democracy to the Middle East
rather than simply “securing” American interests or regional stability’, US imperial power ‘seeks
to create a different kind of empire, one governed by a single set of universal laws …, such as
“democracy” and “freedom” to all’ (ibid.).
This new vision of liberal empire is about globalizing a particular version of American citizenship, which, through its universal imposition, would ‘make “citizens” out of non-western
peoples by transcending custom through western political values’ (Arneil 2007: 306). One
quintessential feature of this liberal empire is that it exercises its imperial power not by excluding
non-Western people from citizenship, but through the global promotion of neoliberal citizenship that actively incorporates non-Western people ‘into a global market’, turning them ‘into
consumers within an international marketplace’ (ibid.). Thus defined as the supreme right ‘to
vote and to consume’, citizenship becomes ‘a vehicle that is used in the service of the imperial
ends of both economic neo-liberal and political liberal imperial rule’ (ibid.).
Importantly, given that this shift to liberal empire in American foreign policy ‘does not so
much oppose the principles of modern liberal democratic citizenship as co-opt them (in particular ways) for its own purposes’ (Arneil 2007: 308), Arneil argues for an alternative vision
of global citizenship rooted in two contrasting principles – social rights and shared fate – that
would ‘speak to empire and not simply against it’ (ibid.). These two principles place emphasis
on global poverty and inequality as a matter of international obligation that binds all global
citizens who inhabit the planet and recognize their lives and security as deeply interdependent
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(ibid.: 315–16). By arguing that this competing ideological vision of global citizenship ‘has the
potential to separate the imperial power (the Bush administration or a future administration that
continues down the path of liberal empire) from that which gives it both legitimacy and force
(the American electorate)’ (ibid.: 323), Arneil expresses her belief that the imperialist infiltration
can be quarantined and decontaminated, thus righting global citizenship onto a democratic path.
Animated by her antiracist and anti-imperialist feminist commitments, Chandra Talpade
Mohanty (2003: 2) in Feminism without borders further extends the exogenous lens to examine
the development of ‘corporate citizenship’ in the US academy and higher education institutions
in the late modern context of ‘the triumphal rise and recolonization of almost the entire globe
by capitalism’. As universities around the world increasingly turn to the discourse of ‘global
citizenship’ to foster the production and transmission of knowledge across borders and explore
anew transnational research and student markets in the global economy (Rhoads and Szelényi
2011), Mohanty critiques the ways in which the master narrative of neoliberal ideology and corporate culture in the US academy, through ‘discourses of consumerism, ownership, profit, and
privatization’ (Mohanty 2003: 9), ‘situates students as clients and consumers, faculty as service
providers, and administrators as conflict managers and nascent capitalists whose work involves
marketing and generating profit for the university’ (ibid.: 184–5). Thus diluting the academy as
a crucial site of ‘dialogue, disagreement, and controversy’ with the mission of producing democratic citizens (ibid.: 170), this contaminating colonization of university by Western/global
capitalism results in the privatization of citizenship, and ‘global citizenship’ in this context implicates the contracting out of ‘food and janitorial services’ and ‘teaching and curricular projects’, as
well as ‘the commoditization of higher education … through … prepackaged distance learning
programs’ (ibid.: 177).
As Mohanty argues, ‘going “global” has led to U.S. education’s becoming export-oriented
to global markets: redesigning, repackaging, managing, and delivering educational “products”
at offshore sites and for consumers in foreign markets’ (2003: 186), and ‘ideas of the public
good, collective service and responsibility, democratic rights, freedom, and justice are privatized
and crafted into commodities to be exchanged via the market’ (ibid.: 184). She concludes that
this neoliberal version of global citizenship ‘facilitates U.S.- and Eurocentrism’ (ibid.: 9) by
producing ‘unequal relations of labour, exclusionary systems of access, Eurocentric canons and
curricular structures, sexist and racist campus cultures, and the simultaneous marginalization and
cooptation of feminist, race and ethnic, and gay/lesbian/queer studies agendas in the service of
the corporate academy’ (ibid.: 174).
By constructing a series of binary oppositions – ‘pedagogy of accommodation’ vs ‘pedagogy
of dissent and transformation’ (Mohanty 2003: 178), ‘management perspective’ vs ‘social justice
perspective’ (ibid.), and ‘corporate/consumerist citizens’ vs ‘democratic citizens’ (ibid.: 174) –
Mohanty views global academic citizenship as a transformational collective good and argues for
an alternative ideological vision to decolonize and reclaim this citizenship in a democratic and
just manner. Following Fanon’s radical method that envisions decolonization as a transcendent
process that involves a ‘whole social structure being changed from the bottom up’, Mohanty
argues that the decolonization project necessitates ‘active withdrawal of consent and resistance
to structures of psychic and social domination’ (ibid.: 7). She points to the emancipatory politics
of the antiglobalization movements as providing a key site in engendering ‘transborder democratic citizenship’ as they formulate ‘cross-border alliances against corporate injustice’ (ibid.:
While Arneil and Mohanty provide important analyses of the formation of US liberal empire
and corporate citizenship in the academy, respectively, it is nonetheless doubtful that one may
decouple the discourse of global citizenship from liberal imperial configuration and corporate
Decolonizing global citizenship
privatization simply through the appeal to an alternative political ideology. This is because what
they take to be the two contrasting spheres of ‘democratic citizenship’ (rights, equality, justice)
and ‘consumer culture’ (neoliberal, neocolonial, and Western imperial) have been so deeply
interwoven and intertwined with one another in their liberalized global dissemination such
that the former cannot be untangled and detached from the latter simply by way of anticolonial consciousness-raising or counter-hegemonic politics (Grewal 2005). As Inderpal Grewal
(2005: 26) observes, ‘the forms of civil society that enable democratic citizenship are the new
technologies and new media that are controlled by multinational corporations’. To decolonize
global citizenship by way of democratizing civil society and social consciousness (as Arneil and
Mohanty advocate) necessarily entails the use of, and reliance on, global capitalist-consumerist
circuits of media and information technologies to deliver and disseminate its message, which
would enable its critical disruption, but also perpetually delimits the contours of its rupture. It is
no longer possible for critical theorists and social activists to carve out and maintain a ‘purified’
oppositional sphere of democratic citizenship and social movement against the contaminating
infiltration of liberal imperialism and global capitalism, for the former is not strictly juxtaposed
against the latter but may be enabled precisely through the latter.
In fact, what has not been openly acknowledged in the exogenous critique is that democratic
citizens are also producers and consumers within global capitalism, implicating their inevitable
complicity in the perpetuation of the Western liberal imperial configuration of citizenship life.
A democratic citizen may avow or share Arneil’s ideological vision of social rights and shared
fate even as his or her daily work activities and consumerist practices may continue to refuel and
shore up the cycle of the neoliberal way of life.This observation unsettles the binary oppositions
in the exogenous critique that emphatically separates the public good of democratic citizenship
from capitalist and colonial infiltrations.
Minoo Moallem’s (2006: 345) comment on Mohanty is thus suggestive: given that her
‘antiglobalization feminist emancipatory project’ is itself ‘located within the political economy
of an unequal exchange’, when this emancipatory politics positions ‘“avant-garde” intellectuals, scholars, and activists as the bearers of truth’, it may well end up ‘stabilizing the meaning
of capitalism’ by stopping ‘taking the risk of looking at its own limits or complicities with the
very system to which it is opposed’. How then may we reconceive a decolonization project that
would take capitalism and colonialism to their limits not by disavowing its complicity with the
existing power structures (Moallem 2006: 345), but by recognizing, seizing, and negotiating its
own complicit contamination in white/Western hegemony as the very given basis to generate a
complex and nonlinear process of fissuring disruption and social change? It is to the endogenous
critique that I now turn.
Endogenous critique aims to decolonize global citizenship through a different route: it views
colonial and capitalist relations of power as being tangled with, or embedded within, citizenship
itself; therefore, the discourse of global citizenship is already implicated in the hegemonic system
and cannot be disentangled or transcended from such power configurations. Hence, reconceiving citizenship as a deeply contaminated product in its origin, endogenous critique does not
approach the decolonization of global citizenship as the search for an impossible purity. Rather,
here the decolonization project is repositioned as mobilizing the shifting and protean circuits
of disruption in the midst of colonial contamination, which would collusively recapitulate the
structure of global capitalism but would also reconfigure the terrain of white/Western hegemony by rupturing its embedded power relations.
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Grewal’s (2005) Transnational America exemplifies this endogenous approach, analysing
‘global citizenship’ as a technology of discourse – taking hold via the transnational diffusion of
the notion of ‘America’ beyond the US national boundaries – that entangles with other assemblages of power in producing neoliberal citizen-subjects in different regions and in recuperating
historical forms of colonial inequalities and subjectivities in new ways. As Grewal observes,
this neoliberal version of the American dream and way of life, crafted simultaneously by the
ascendancy of middle-class whiteness and the discourse of multicultural diversity since the late
twentieth century, is circulated to other parts of the world through imperialist geopolitics, capitalist marketization, and transnational consumer culture. In the process, formations of democratic rights culture (‘freedom’) and consumer citizenship (‘choice’) are sutured together in their
transnational transmission. ‘Becoming American’ comes to signify global citizenship, which is
imagined through ‘the marketing of “global” brands and the creation of “global” consumers’,
undergirded by the discourse of ‘America as a sign of freedom … [that connotes] asymmetrical
internationalism, corporate power, and white nationalism’ (Grewal 2005: 9). Examining the
traffic of this discursive construction of global citizenship-cum-the American dream through
South Asians in India and the Indian diaspora community in the United States, Grewal argues
that the American way of life is ‘conveyed through transnational media advertising as a dominant white lifestyle of power and plenty as well as a multicultural and “global” one’ (ibid.),
creating and enabling the formation of ‘new American subjects in diverse sites’ (ibid.: 7).
This global dissemination of liberal democratic consumerist citizenship is instantiated in the
cultural object of ‘travelling Barbie’ produced by the Mattel Corporation and exported to India,
made possible by the Indian government’s adoption of neoliberal policies (structural adjustment
programmes) in the 1980s that opened up its domestic economy to foreign investment and
competition. Rather than a simple narrative of Americanization or cultural imperialism, Grewal
(2005: 23) foregrounds the transnational circulation of the Barbie product (and its embodied
association with free trade, entrepreneurship, choice/freedom, and liberal consumer feminism)
in an ensemble of power relations mobilized by multiple vectors of social forces and ‘new technologies and rationalities’ that she calls transnational connectivities. These connectivities include
the Indian government’s creation of Non-Resident Indian (NRI) as a financial category to
induce the inflows of foreign capital, investment, and expertise from the South Asian diasporas;
the transnationalization of the beauty and fashion industry in India aided by fashion magazines,
advertisement of ‘global’ brands, Hollywood and Bollywood cinemas, and international beauty
pageants that target Indian urban women (both in India and in its diasporas) of the middle and
upper classes who aspire to be elite professionals; and Mattel’s marketing strategy that actively
incorporates the Indian child-consumer into the transnational ‘youth’ consumer market for
its toy product lines. As Grewal (ibid.: 96) observes, the resulting transnational production of
Barbie in a sari (in both white/blonde and dark-skinned/black-haired forms) at once ‘retained
its connections to white supremacy and power’ and demonstrated a corporate multicultural sensibility ‘as a valued aspect of cosmopolitan consumer culture’. As she writes (ibid.: 27), ‘gender,
race, class, and nationalism are produced by contemporary cultures in a transnational framework
that is linked to earlier histories of colonization’ as the travelling Barbie becomes ‘Indian’ in its
dissemination and Indian citizen-subjects become ‘American’ in their lifestyle of consumption.
Grewal critically notes that while Mattel seeks to ‘encourage young schoolgirls to become
fashion designers and to incorporate girls into a transnational garment industry’ by going to
urban schools in India to sponsor fashion design competitions and hiring fashion models dressed
in Barbie clothes to promote the event among the middle classes (Grewal 2005: 110), the production of Barbies is dependent on the manual labour of ‘Asian women paid low wages for
assembly line work’ in multiple locations such as China, Malaysia, and Indonesia (ibid.: 97).
Decolonizing global citizenship
The global diffusion of democratic citizenship through consumer practices that embodies ideals
of individual choice and autonomy, entrepreneurship and economic mobility, and freedom
to trade and exchange thus intimately tangles with and reproduces anew global inequalities
in racialized, gendered, and classed forms. As Grewal suggests, one cannot simply expect to
transcend the collusive circuits of transnational connectivities that produce and disseminate
the neoliberal discourse of global citizenship through ‘vanguardist resistance’ (ibid.: 24), an
emancipatory politics that seeks to restore ‘the pure, uncommodified self or … the uncontaminated other’ (ibid.: 19) as seen in exogenous critique. Rather, she approaches resistance/
decolonization in a Foucauldian way that recognizes ‘the myriad and multiple ways in which
neoliberal technologies produce all kinds of agency … that … moved in all kinds of directions and mechanisms that did not remain pure of their conditions of possibility, but created
contradictions, tensions, and struggles’ (ibid.). New social movements occupy a key role in the
decolonizing struggle against neo-liberalism as they ‘both used its programs and opposed them’
in their ‘critical responses and interventions’, thus staging constant fracturing and interruption
to its discursive figuration (ibid.).
Although Grewal illustrates persuasively the labyrinthine intertwinement between global
citizenship and colonial-capitalist power relations by analysing the circulation of cultural objects
and discourses (e.g. travelling Barbie, human rights) as transnational conduits of the Western
ideal of democratic citizenship, I wish to go further than her analysis to investigate and extract
even more deeply the endogenous root of Western colonial contamination that configures
global citizenship. Specifically, while Grewal traces the entangled production of global citizenship within the ensemble of transnational connectivities underlined by white/Western hegemony, what has not been brought to the fore is that white/Western hegemony is always already
immanent in the liberal democratic script of citizenship as a standardizing and universalizing way
of life (even without the transnational circulation of cultural objects and discourses). The historical inception of liberal citizenship life with the expansion of European capitalist modernity
that coheres in the modern liberal world order and international system of states forever marks
its contamination in white/Western hegemony in its cyclical reproduction and global dissemination that engulfs almost all human subjects. What Grewal insightfully captures as the informational–technological–commercial circulation of cultural objects and discourses that enables
the transmission of global citizenship can be considered as emanating from this core liberal life
cycle, configuring, moulding, and shaping liberal citizenship life as its critical auxiliary instruments in diverse sites.
I have examined elsewhere this different conceptualization of liberal citizenship as a global
cultural script – a domineering life cycle that is static, routine, and circuitous brought into being
by European capitalist modernity (Lee 2010). This liberal cultural script is articulated by a wide
array of shifting subscripts that mould subjects into ‘proper citizens’ in different social fields of
human life – major examples include politics, economics, gender, and life itself. The political script
divides human subjects into citizens of different national territories, and mediates and regulates
their political participation via bureaucratic representative institutions (i.e. voting, deliberating,
legislating, campaigning) with limited political ideological options. The economic script assigns
citizen-workers the unending rituals of working, consuming, saving, investing, and increasingly
in the neoliberal economy, enterprising, as law-abiding contributors to the cycle of capitalism. The gender script interpellates citizens through gender binary (as either M or F) and places
them on a lifelong trajectory of respective masculine or feminine order towards heteronormative monogamous relationships and conjugal arrangements. With the onset of neoliberalism,
homonormative monogamy (e.g. same-sex marriage, gays-in-the-military) and its mainstream
constituents of middle-class gays and lesbians have also been increasingly incorporated into the
Charles T. Lee
normative economy of gender–sexual citizenship in liberal social life (Duggan 2002, Puar 2007).
Lastly, the life script predisposes citizen-subjects to a possessive, proprietary, and depoliticized
pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. While they are not the only examples, these major subscripts craft and shape a mundane and stagnant ‘life cycle’ of liberal citizenship in formulating a
relatively fixed social, political, and moral order. This all-encompassing cultural script of liberal
citizenship life pervades and penetrates essentially all terrains of human social spheres such that
there can be no ‘outside’ to this unstoppable, domineering cycle.
As a cultural-material product of European capitalist modernity, the political life, economic
life, gender life, and life itself embodied in the liberal citizenship script are inescapably racialized
and thoroughly contaminated by the civilizing engineering of whiteness/Westernness. In the
words of Ien Ang, this
white/Western hegemony is … the systemic consequence of a global historical development over the last 500 years – the expansion of European capitalist modernity throughout
the world, resulting in the subsumption of all “other” peoples to its economic, political and
ideological logic and mode of operation… In other words, whether we like it or not, the
contemporary world system is a product of white/Western hegemony, and we are all, in our
differential subjectivities and positionings, implicated in it.
(Ang 1995: 65, emphasis in original)
The historical and structural entrenchment of the contemporary world system – and its
embodied global citizenship life – in the modern liberal world order suggests the inevitable collusion of the overwhelming number of global citizen-subjects in reproducing white/Western
hegemony as they go about their daily routines and live through the liberal democratic script in
their everyday life. As Ang (1995: 67–8, emphasis in original) argues:
Any resistance to this overwhelming hegemony can therefore only ever take place from a
position always-already “contaminated” by white/Western practices, and can therefore
only hope to carve out spaces of relative autonomy and freedom within the interstices of
This alternative observation of liberal citizenship as a cultural script and the impossibility of transcending this global liberal citizenship life cycle underscores even more thoroughly and intensely
the binding complicity in decolonization struggles than Grewal’s formulation, bringing to the
forefront the tormenting dilemma that decolonizing agents must accept their complicity in reinscribing white/Western hegemony as an inevitable part of their acts of anticolonial disruption.
In other words, any efforts to decolonize global citizenship cannot expect their being shaped
into absolute forms of negation or refusal, but must ineluctably traffic and negotiate through the
messy webs of complicity to produce contingent and transactional effects of social change. Yet,
it is also precisely through this binding complicity and inescapable contamination that marginal
subjects abjected by the global liberal citizenship life may improvise disruption and appropriation of the script to regain liminal spaces of rights, inclusion, and belonging.
This abject transaction is witnessed in the everyday work rituals of global sex workers who
can be read as using intimate labour in the capitalist circuits of transnational prostitution and sex
tourism to subtly and illicitly appropriate the economic script of liberal citizenship in procuring
a living wage and spaces of economic inclusion and belonging in the shadow of capital. For
instance, Afro-Caribbean migrant sex workers have deliberately sought to depict themselves
in racialized misogynistic terms, such as ‘mulatto babe’ or ‘chocolate brown’, thus deviously
Decolonizing global citizenship
marketing their ‘exotic’ sexuality to garner more clients/profits and expand their spaces of
economic livelihood (Spanger 2002: 130–2). Consider also the case of sex workers in Vietnam
who serve Western clients by engaging in forms of ‘expressive emotional labour’, by which
they emphasize their victimized poor condition and ‘use their emotions as a form of currency,
to induce feelings of sympathy and love through a series of lies designed to sustain and advance
their standard of living’ (Hoang 2010: 166). Thus, in their long-distance contact via emails
with Western tourists who have engaged in sexual exchange with them and expressed interest in maintaining their relationships, they may improvise stories of personal or family crisis to
implore their clients for large sums of financial gifts and assistance (ibid.: 174). Here, sex workers
in Vietnam make use of the colonial fantasy/imagery of the victimized Third World woman to
evoke love, sympathy, and saviour-like masculinity from their Western clients ‘to obtain multiple remittances, advance their standard of living, and migrate abroad’ (ibid.: 175).
These quotidian sex work practices that use racialized/colonialized abjection to appropriate
spaces of economic citizenship at once recapitulate the white/Western structure of global capitalism and disrupt and reconfigure the embedded power relations between the Western client
and the non-Western sex worker in relation to the global distribution of rights, dignity, inclusion and belonging. As Ang indicated earlier, it is only through the ‘spaces of relative autonomy
and freedom within the interstices of white/Western hegemony’ that the decolonization of
global citizenship can be staged, with its inescapable limits and complicities. This observation
generates a different horizon in viewing the democratizing/decolonizing mobilization of the
global sex workers’ rights movement: the counter-hegemonic potential of such radical democratic activism is inevitably delimited and circumscribed by sex workers’ reliance on capitalist
marketization, sexual objectification, and colonial racialization as instrumental conduits to turn
sex work into just not a legitimate, but profitable, enterprise that would sustain and regenerate their living and earning. No matter how progressive sex workers’ rights claims – i.e. life,
liberty, health, freedom from violence, fair and just working conditions, freedom of movement
(Andrijasevic et al. 2012) – they are enabled into existence by these very oppressive forces
(i.e. capitalism, misogyny, colonial racialization) upon which global sex work predicates. As
such, the global sex workers’ rights movement cannot transcend these cyclical forces of oppression; however, it can work to ‘humanize’ and ameliorate the abjection of intimate labour within
the given inhuman economy, which it is itself complicit in reproducing.
Ultimately, as instantiated in global sex work, this formulation of endogenous critique that
reconceives liberal citizenship as a global cultural script illuminates far-reaching lessons for social
justice movements and decolonization struggles elsewhere: such movements and struggles need
to be rethought not as simply representing pure and uncontaminated ideals to be set on a pedestal, but rather as protean instruments that must traffic in these racialized, gendered, sexualized,
and neocolonial relations in order to bargain for abject people’s citizenship rights in the age
of global capitalism. Such is the disabling dilemma and enabling potentiality. The democratic
futurity of the intellectual and political efforts to decolonize the Western liberal configuration
of global citizenship life will hinge on these unceasing and imperfect politicized struggles to
contest, negotiate, and expand the appropriable spaces of rights, inclusion, and belonging for
marginal subjects with the premise of the radical impossibility of a fully achieved decolonization.
If I have so far gestured to the need to shift from exogenous critique to endogenous critique in
thinking about the project of decolonizing global citizenship, I wish to nonetheless conclude by
underscoring both of their contributions and limits, as well as their mutually constitutive roles in
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the ongoing decolonization struggles. For its part, exogenous critique awakens a political aspiration for the purity of citizenship that advances our vision beyond the status quo and shifts our
horizon from what ‘is’ to what it ‘can be’ or ‘should be’; however, such aspiration is precisely
delimited by the impossibility of transcending the global liberal citizenship life cycle that continually infiltrates and makes inroads into any presence and opening of democratic purity. On
the other hand, endogenous critique shrewdly takes the contamination of citizenship as a given
and seeks to create and expand spaces of livable life within the existing global liberal economy;
however, its imagination of ‘another world’ or ‘alternative political possibility’ is affixed to, and
constrained by, its conceived structural reality. We may, in the end, need to live with both:
any political contestation/resistance to decolonizing global citizenship cannot happen without
the vision for purity, but to move things forward and advance its vision, it has no other way
but to negotiate with the contamination of white/Western hegemony. One should thus always
have exogenous vision at heart, but know that such vision can only be realized endogenously
in democratic politics, and can never be fully completed. It is, however, through this perpetual
tension and struggle between purity and contamination, and between being exogenous and
endogenous, that critical scholars and activists may help create the most potent transformation of
global citizenship that is yet to be seen – in ways that are complex, nonlinear, and unexpected.
Preliminary ideas in this essay were conceived during my participation in the transnational feminist research cluster, ‘Local and global feminisms and the politics of knowledge’, at the Arizona
State University, and I would like to thank the cluster participants, especially Karen Leong, Ann
Hibner Koblitz, Karen Kuo, Heather Switzer, and Roberta Chevrette, for the many critical
readings and discussions that stimulate my thinking on this piece. Special thanks also to Engin
Isin and Peter Nyers for inviting me to contribute this chapter and for their comments on this
essay – their scholarship has been pivotal to my thinking on citizenship.
1 For an overview of the liberal, civic republican, communitarian, and radical democratic conceptions of
citizenship, see the chapters by Peter H. Schuck, Richard Dagger, Gerard Delanty, and Claire Rasmussen and Michael Brown, respectively, in Isin and Turner (2002). For an overview of the deliberative
democratic model of citizenship, see Habermas (1996).
2 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (1995) makes a similar point in the arena of international human rights,
questioning the legitimacy of the ‘universal’ standards of human rights instruments when their value
orientations are predominantly Western and lack the engagement of cross-cultural dialogue to define
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Practising citizenship from the
ordinary to the activist
In the literature on citizenship, both classical and contemporary, it is usually considered that
the notion necessarily implies that citizens as political subjects are ‘active’. While such ‘activity’
is differently envisioned according to the academic, theoretical, or contextual backgrounds of
authors, its connections with what is usually called ‘the ordinary’ largely remains to be explored
and empirically renewed. This chapter thus has as its main aim to offer some guidelines about
the complex and intricate connections between citizenship ‘activity’ and ordinariness. The discussion relies on an approach of citizenship that affirms it has no essence which is immutable
across time and space; indeed
if citizenship is now increasingly recognized as a contested idea, this diversity is not a mere
multiplicity of views but entails disputes between distinct, divergent or even antagonistic
meanings. Specific contexts typically contain such conflicting conceptions of citizenship –
and the associated attempts to install them as the recognized, legitimated and institutionalized form. Such conflicts continue, even after one conception of citizenship has been
institutionalized – it remains the focus of further efforts to challenge, inflect or translate it.
(Clarke et al. 2014)
After a brief overview of different approaches to ‘active citizenship’ and an exploration of its
relationships with research advocating a deeper involvement with ‘ordinariness’, some proposals
are made about the methodological implications of such an approach. The inclusion in citizenship studies of sensitive dimensions, of vigilance and care, as well as the need to reflect more in
depth on figures of continuity or ruptures between daily activities and political subjectification
are the provisional conclusions suggested.
Who is the ‘active citizen’?
Active citizens tend to come in many different shapes, both in the literature and in public policies. No doubt its ancient differentiation from the passive one1 has played an important part in
the common representation according to which the active citizen is the one who votes, actively
takes part in public life, and manifests interest in politics. But let us first consider a more recent