At the end of World War II, when Hannah Arendt wrote her landmark book The Origins of Totalitarianism, there was perhaps no more pressing issue than the question of citizenship and who amongst the millions of displaced persons had “the right to have rights.” In the 21st century, which has seen both the proliferation of globalization and permanently stateless populations, Arendt’s insight into the concept of citizenship remains as relevant as ever.
Here in Philadelphia, we too are presented in the news each day with the recurrent figure of the non-citizen -- whether the undocumented student, the political refugee, the criminal, the dissident artist, or exile. This class will thus begin from the understanding that we urgently need to collectively discuss, debate and reimagine citizenship.
Some of the questions we will consider include: Is citizenship a human right? What responsibilities does citizenship entail? Can we imagine a form of citizenship that does not entail laws of segregation and exclusion? Can there be citizenship without borders, barriers, interdictions, displacements, censorships, racisms, and the marginalization and eviction of languages and peoples?
We will read foundational texts by theorists including Immanuel Kant, Hannah Arendt, Martin Luther King, and Giorgio Agamben, recent scholarship by academics including Michelle Williams, Danielle Allen and Alicia Schmidt Camacho, and literary and visual works by practitioners such as the late Vietnamese writer Nguyen Chi Thien and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. We will then explore how citizenship is changing in our digital age, and how we can each creatively redefine citizenship in our everyday lives. We will actively debate the latest scholarship concerning ideas of “political friendship,” “radical hospitality,” and cosmopolitan forms of belonging beyond the nation-state. Finally, we will read and have the chance to interact with local practitioners who are actively negotiating the politics of citizenship in Philadelphia. Every effort will be made to incorporate into the syllabus relevant current events and student suggestions.
The class will also collaboratively organize public programs on the topic of citizenship at Slought, a Philadelphia cultural organization associated with the university and located just off campus, as part of it’s Forum for Other Citizenships.