Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization


Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-48

Posted: 12 Feb 2008 Last revised: 4 Mar 2008

See all articles by Peter J. Spiro

Peter J. Spiro

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


American identity has always been capacious as a concept but narrowed in its application. Citizenship has mostly been about being here, either through birth or residence. The territorial premises for what it takes to be an American have worked to resolve the peculiar challenges of American identity. But globalization is detaching identity from location. What used to define American was rooted in American space. Now one can be anywhere and be an American, politically or culturally. Against that backdrop, it becomes difficult to draw the boundaries of human community in a meaningful way. With the explosion of global migration and communications, historically entrenched notions of democratic citizenship are becoming increasingly outmoded, even as we cling to them. Beyond Citizenship charts the trajectory of American citizenship and shows how American identity is unsustainable in the face of globalization.

The book recounts how citizenship law both reflected and shaped the American national character, exploring the histories of birthright citizenship, naturalization, dual citizenship. Those legal regimes helped reinforce an otherwise fragile national identity. But against a shifting global landscape, citizenship status has become increasingly divorced from any sense of actual community on the ground. As the bonds of citizenship dissipate, membership in the nation-state has become a less meaningful quantity. The rights and obligations distinctive to citizenship are now trivial. Naturalization requirements have been relaxed, dual citizenship embraced, and territorial birthright citizenship entrenched, developments that are all irreversible. Loyalties, meanwhile, are moving to transnational communities defined in many different ways: by race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation. These communities are replacing bonds that once connected people to the nation-state, with profound implications for the future of governance. The lessons of citizenship in the state may not translate to these new and resurgent forms of alternate community. Where the state once stood above other forms of associations as the polestar of individual identity, it will increasingly share the stage of human association, with enormous attendant challenges for decision makers and scholars alike.

Keywords: citizenship, naturalization, birthright citizenship, dual citizenship, rights of citizenship, citizenship theory, nonstate communities

Suggested Citation

Spiro, Peter J., Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization. Peter J. Spiro, BEYOND CITIZENSHIP AMERICAN IDENTITY AFTER GLOBALIZATION, Oxford University Press, 2008; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-48. Available at SSRN:

Peter J. Spiro (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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