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citizens and other human kinds

spring 2022 classes

Week 4

  • Writeup

In doing this week’s readings, I thought to myself how we should curse Fukuyama not for writing “The End of History?”, but causing the deluge of writings that came after, talking about how hypocracy is built into the liberal system. Like an endless parade, papers like Hansen and Stepputat go around presenting the modern state’s actions as some sort of gotcha, as if the prior work hadn’t made that already clear. The reconquest of the Iberian pennusla began the the illiberal state, a place where only one “type” of people were deemed allowed to reside (type being religious, racial, class, etc). Centuries of religious wars followed, then the rise of the modern liberal state, where groups not fitting into the predominant type were allowed under fiat, then the rise of the modern democratic liberal state, a system that califies the majority/minority relation at inception while simultanously causing the majority to agitate over the potential of losing their majority position. Thus states perform soverignity, using acts of violence as spectacle or chilling effect, in the colonies (Arendt) or rebounding to home (Fanon) or as “a weapon of reason and preservation of freedom…from outsiders” (Hansen & Stepputat 8), because states are fundalmentally unstable systems, and must consistently affirm their status. States are not like religious institutions, they do not have people who perform to them, and therefore must occasionally make themselves felt, or else states are at risk of fading away.

The post-colonial narrative arc is almost as dull, with the “local soverienty” becomes “hybrid empire/local soverignty” which then gets taken over by the empires, who impose their own forms of governance that both reflects the local existing power structures and (often racialized) structures from home. This then morphs into raw capital with the retreat of empires, which then local elites parlay into political capital, and convulsions then follow between those who take this post-colonial system as fact or challenge it.

The problem with both of these narratives, in attempting to write against the canonized discourse around states, find themselves becoming pale reflections. Early orientalists certainly used the Orient as a stage, but their lack of understanding also meant that they unquestioningly reproduced local, dominant discourse as well. We are at the same risk if we can only conceptualize the state and citizenship in the same manners.

To that end, most of the readings bring up the role of capital and resources, but do not attempt to link it to the political schema. I think this is an oversight when considering the (post)modern state. The Hadramis of last week parlayed their consistent culture into creating a unified plane to conduct commerce, their culture became a sort of arbitrage, overlaying on top of the trading differences between the Islamic and Chinese empires. Neoliberalism has done the same for a generation of global elites by creating a consistent plane to conduct commerce. The Goldman Sachs bankers were the first to capitalize on this, but plutocrats and criminals alike have utilized this abstract plane to build global commerical empires. I believe the linkages between citizenship and commerce are undervalued in this regard.

Week 5

This week’s readings focused on the usage and production of gendered differences by states as a marker of citizenship. Lebanon seems to be the most well-documented case of this, with Mikdashi looking at how the Lebanese state bureaucracy sets up different distinctions between sect and citizenship and gender and citizenship. The Surkis reading examines gender and citizenship through the lens of the French colonial imagination, and the implementation of different rights via gendered fantasies about the colonizer and the colonized. The Miller reading steps into discussing abortion and the transference of legal codes between the French and Italians to the Ottoman and Turkish systems.

What all of these readings this week have in common is the discussion of gender-based on life’s conception. Discussions of abortion and jus soli/sanguinis are all contracts between the state and its subjects on the regulation of life. Building on top of Foucault’s work, this area of biopolitics is fertile ground for writing because it is so easily refracted through state practices, nearly every practice of the state can be examined through this lens. Whether it is Mikadashi’s Lebanese subjects who claim freedom via a common, secular Lebanese identity or French colonial administrators of Algeria canonizing polygamy into administrative law. In large part, we see a state that is intent on the production of differences, even when those differences may not be salient.

Referring back to week two, the story of citizenship is also a story of mobility and arbitrage. I am reminded of the recent legalization of Colombia, where the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled to legalize the procedure, following the legalization of abortion in Mexico and Argentina. The domino narrative commonly presented in media about Colombia’s legalization asks the question of where do states first conceive of gendered differences between their citizens, and how do they respond to changing social conditions? In the Surkis reading, the fact is very clear, the imposition of French codes, refracted through a prism of orientalist assumptions served to create gendered differences. The Miller reading spends less time on this, but still discusses the transplantation of already gendered legal codes. Beyond just a jurisprudential history, I think it is useful to think about where states draw their conceptions of gender from because it reveals cracks in bureaucracy and legal procedures that people are exploiting or suffering from. The Mikdashi reading shows us that record corrections are the primary way the Lebanese state views its citizens because the Lebanese state depended on a similar process to render the sectarian tensions legible.

If every state draws upon gendered narratives in the creation of the system of citizenship, does that mean that gendered narratives spread more easily across state lines? The abortion domino story in Latin America seems ascendant, but I’m not sure if a similar pattern has occurred in MENA. However, I do think it is possible to push beyond thinking about Locke’s anthropological minimum when thinking about gender, rather than framing the discussion around birth, it would useful to consider how states reach equilibrium on the production of gendered differences.

Week 6

The construction of the passport in this week’s readings is largely focused on how passports are develop into a mediating tool from states to subjects. Crucially, we see in Torpy that subjects often invite and desire structures such as the passport in, rather than just the state mandating the passport. Racism plays a central part in McKeown’s reading, where economic and medical differences are exploited to prevent or allow specific types of migration. Gutman, by focusing on internal mobility, complicates Torpy’s deterministic linkage of illberal regimes and internal mobility. Mongia focuses on how the production of nationality occurs via the mechanisms of passports.

The medical question felt ironically underaddressed by this week’s Focualdian type studies. McKeown was the only one that attempted to address this beyond a throwaway line about inspections, but his analysis relegates the medicial dimension to another form of standardization. In my view, this is a misunderstanding of medicine, because medicine is one where subjects invite the state most clearly in. Medicine is intensely private to the individual, and presenting vaccination records is very different than presenting a passport. Oftentimes, these medical restrictions take the form of blood tetss. Blood tests are self-attesting, one can present themselves at a border and take a blood test to attest that they do not have specific transmittable diseases. The assumption is that blood tests prevent transmittable diseases

What is interesting is the question of use: do blood tests at borders actually prevent transmittable diseases? The last time I attempted to renew my KRI visa, I had to take a blood test (after suffering through the classic MENA visa offices). However, the blood test was only necessary on renewal after I had already been there for 30 days. Assuming I had a transmittable disease, it seems statistically unlikely that the 30 day mark would matter for transmission. It seems clear that the KRI attempts to straddle the line between convienance and public health: they cannot reasonably test every traveler, and therefore only test the ones that are staying for longer, potentially opening up risks of infection, seemingly defeating the point of blood tests.

Contrast this to the refugee testing policy of the KRI [1]: Syrian refugees must take a blood test upon conversion from “visitor” to “asylum seeker”. While this distinction may seem bureaucratic in nature, the “visitor” category inherently limits internal migration due to being limited at 30 days (one cannot pass a checkpoint with an expired “visitor” identification). This marks a difference between historical medical checks: rather than attempting to use medical checks to limit who comes in, the goal has shifted to limiting who gets to move around internally.

[1]: https://help.unhcr.org/iraq/en/rights-and-obligations/civil-documentation-and-residency/, fustratingly, this is the only English document that talks about the location of the Duhok residency office. Also interesting to note that Syrian refugees and native Kurds have freedom of movement, not necessarily freedom of work location. Arabs from federal Iraq have neither: their internal visa (without a work sponsor) is valid only for a month and controls both movement and work.