The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership


Posted: 11 Oct 2006


Despite its extraordinary currency in scholarly thought and popular discourse, "citizenship" is an elusive concept. The term is used to designate a wide range of social institutions and practices and experiences, not all of which are compatible or in alignment. This book is concerned with examining the complex interplay occurring among these various understandings of citizenship.

The book's central focus is the relationship between two broad thematic strands in contemporary citizenship discourse: one having to do with relations among already-presumed members of a political community, and the other with the constitution and maintenance of the community as a community in the first instance. The relationship between these strands is uneasy, in large part because they maintain contrasting normative orientations. From an inward-looking perspective, citizenship stands for universalism - for the inclusion and recognition of "everyone." This is the commitment expressed through the ideas of "equal citizenship" and "democratic citizenship" and "social citizenship" which are ubiquitous in contemporary legal and political theory. From a boundary-conscious perspective, in contrast, citizenship requires and sanctions the drawing of exclusive national membership boundaries. This is the citizenship of nationality and passports and border guards (and, as a matter of intellectual sociology, is usually the preserve of a specialized group of scholars in the immigration field). Citizenship is thus divided, not only analytically but normatively. The book considers how these twin commitments, to universalism and closure, are accommodated - sometimes more and sometimes less successfully - within the context of the liberal democratic nation-state (with a particular focus on the United States).

As a mechanism for examining these divisions, this book focuses on a particular kind of noncitizenship which the law calls "alienage." Aliens are (usually) transnational migrants who have come from the territorial outside into the liberal democratic community and occupy a status short of full status citizenship in that community. Their status is uniquely ambiguous in liberal democratic states in that they are constituted as community members and outsiders simultaneously.

Yet the condition of alienage is usually disregarded by much inward-looking citizenship theory. Much citizenship scholarship avoids the subject of citizenship's outer boundaries altogether by treating the national political community as the total universe of analytic and normative concern; it begins with a presumption of societal closure and brackets out any issues which demand acknowledgment of the community's location in a wider world. Where the realities of citizenship's exclusionary dimension are recognized, it is often assumed that exclusion is only operative at, and relevant to, the political community's territorial threshold. Citizenship is conceived, in effect, as "hard on the outside and soft on the inside." The category of alienage challenges this model of jurisdictionally split citizenship, for by its nature, alienage entails the introjection of the citizenship's hard outer boundaries into the territorial inside. Through alienage, inclusionary and exclusive citizenship commitments meet and compete in the same (internal) terrain.

Attending to alienage requires citizenship theory to acknowledge and interrogate the limits to citizenship's claimed (often romanticized) universality. The category of alienage also confronts citizenship theory with the task of attending to the complex interplay between the global and the domestic. Through examining the condition of noncitizen immigrants in liberal democratic states, we see that the processes of globalization never merely occur "out there" but substantially structure legal and social relationships at the very heart of national societies.

Suggested Citation

Bosniak, Linda S., The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Linda Bosniak, THE CITIZEN AND THE ALIEN: DILEMMAS OF CONTEMPORARY MEMBERSHIP, Princeton University Press, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Linda S. Bosniak (Contact Author)

Rutgers University School of Law ( email )

Fifth and Penn Streets
Camden, NJ 08102
United States
856-225-6403 (Phone)
856-225-6516 (Fax)

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