The Citizen versus the Stateless in the Nation-State


Session Title:

  • Citizenship and Contested Spaces

Presentation Title:

  • The Citizen versus the Stateless in the Nation-State




  • Abstract

    The asylum seeker occupies both a local and an international position, straddling the borders of the nation state. By definition s/he is in a state of becoming (as Gilles Deleuze or Hannah Arendt might put it), an exile of one country and not yet a citizen of another. S/he is in a liminal state or in a kind of no man’s land, a non-person contained by the nation-state in a specially contrived holding centre, unable to work or function properly in society, effectively deprived of human rights, and subject to deportation at any time. This paper uses the writings of Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Cecilia Sjöholm and Judith Butler to theorize the deprivation of the stateless person in the nation-state within the discourse of biopolitics, and applying it to recent multi-media events concerning refugees and homelessness.

    Hannah Arendt has argued that the human rights of the exile or stateless person are not protected by the nation-state. Taking this idea further, Giorgio Agamben comments: ‘In the nation-state system, the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man prove to be completely unprotected at the very moment it is no longer possible to characterize them as rights of the citizens of a state’. Cecilia Sjöholm clarifies, ‘While the nation-state has proven to be powerful organizations when it comes to protecting its own citizens, those that have not enjoyed the protection of the nationstate have come to be doubly exposed. The human being who is exiled by force and who is not recognized as a citizen in any state has proven not only to lack nationality, but has also not been able to enjoy any rights’. Moreover, as Judith Butler explains:
    The category of the stateless is reproduced not simply by the nation-state but by a certain operation of power that seeks to forcibly align nation with state …
    These spectral humans, deprived of ontological weight and failing the tests of social intelligibility required for minimal recognition include those whose age, gender, race, nationality and labour status not only disqualify them for citizenship but actively ‘qualify’ them for statelessness…In different ways, they are, significantly, contained within the polis as its interiorized outside.

    This paper focuses on two multi-media performance pieces: Christoph Schlingensief’s Bitte Liebt Ostereich, which deployed an industrial container inhabited by refugees in a central square in Vienna and encouraged local citizens to vote over the internet (in a kind of big brother knock out competition) on who should be allowed to remain in the country; and Janez Jansa’s The Slovene National Theatre, a reconstruction (using verbatim TV and radio news footage relayed by live actors using headphones) of the Slovenian government’s eviction of a Roma family that caused a national scandal. Both pieces call attention to the bare life of the refugee and question the exclusive nature of citizenship in the nation-state.