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Religion and Society

Citizenship: an Idea to be Constructed


Author: Laura Zanfrini


Title: Cittadinanze. Appartenenza e diritti nella società dell’immigrazione


Publisher: Laterza, Rome-Bari, 2007, pp. XXIII - 111




Immigration is disturbing because it compels an unmasking of how a State thinks about citizenship’ (p. 8). This is where the accurate inquiry of Laura Zanfini begins – entering the complex discussion of the principle itself of co-existence, that principle which establishes who is outside and who is inside. This is why it seems in reality more correct to speak about ‘citizenships’ in the plural, given that the contemporary dilemmas about inclusion no longer appear to be soluble in an univocal way. Beginning with the question, ‘is one born a citizen or does one become one’ (p. 3), the analysis carefully explores the way in which the laws that govern citizenship change according to the operation of ius soli and ius sanguinis. And it is interesting, validating the initial thesis, that it is often the experience of generations born of immigration which stimulates the reform of legislation. Is one dealing with foreigners or citizens in the full sense? With the institution of citizenship an attempt is made to avoid the creation of a permanent underclass of marginal members of society without their being asked to adhere to the political community. However in the long run this becomes problematic: the disjunction between social rights, which are in general assured to all residents, and the right-duty to political participation, ends up by ‘giving impetus to the claim to a right of first choice that should be bestowed on those who belong to the nation’ (p. 28).



Thus the discussion about citizenship proceeds by other paths, exploring the juridical resources of so-called ‘dual citizenship’. This concept of ‘transnational membership’ seems to function well, for example, in the case of mixed couples and their children, given that ‘it allows a conciliation of the principle of the family unit (guaranteed by shared nationality) with the right of both the spouses (in particular the woman) to maintain their own nationality, although they have contracted a marriage with a foreign citizen’ (p. 38). Underlying this there is the idea that the traditional and atomistic conception of nationality, independent of the nationalities of others and abstracted from social contexts, is unable to grasp the fact that the ‘relationship of an individual with a family of a different nation has an effect on his sense of national identity’ (p. 39). And it is precisely along this vector of ‘relational nationality’ that one passes in the end to the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship. Even though, it should be pointed out, the leap here is notable. Amongst all the solutions held up, in fact, that of cosmopolitan or post-national citizenship is the most drastic, specifically because it is the only one to envisage the overcoming of the state prerogative in the determination of the idea of membership. One would be dealing here with defending a principle of membership founded no longer on nationality but on personhood, on membership of mankind. A utopia? At times this is thought to be the case, not least because far too often the ‘glasses’ through which (also European) States look at the reality of migratory flows are still ‘intrinsic with methodological nationalism’ (p. 76), so that the question posed by Hannah Arendt seems still valid: does one have a right to human rights when one is not a citizen?



Despite the objective difficulties, ‘citizenisation’ is not, however, a process without an outlet, especially when one realises, as Zanfini points out, that often ‘it is specifically through the initiatives of civil society that citizenship is constructed’ (p. 30), that is to say co-existence through the efforts of those directly involved, who discuss and discuss again the terms of their co-existence in a world that is increasingly interconnected.