People out of Place: Globalization, Human Rights, and the Citizenship Gap

By Alison Brysk; Gershon Shafir | Go to book overview
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Constituting Political Community

Globalization, Citizenship, and Human Rights

RONNIE D. LIPSCHUTZ

State, sovereignty, citizenship, and rights have never been what we conventionally assume them to be. A genealogical examination of the intersection of these concepts would illustrate their contingency and contextuality, even as their meanings and associated practices have been frozen over and over. When we speak of these concepts, therefore, we invoke understandings fixed in time and space, even as those concepts and practices about which we speak are constantly changing and shifting. 1

As a consequence of globalization, 2 the four concepts and practices have changed from what we imagine them to have been, but never were. Thus, the changes in political community and membership that have been so remarked on during the past ten years (for example, Brysk and Shafir, this volume; Lipschutz 2000) are not so much about changes from some mythic originary condition as the contradictions and changes in the tensions inherent in maintaining particular fictions of state, sovereignty, citizenship, and rights in the face of globalization. It is fair to ask, therefore, if the idealized condition has never existed-is, at best, a kind of Lockean myth of contract-why be concerned about how citizenship is changing, how these changes affect people on the ground, and how our conceptions and practices of membership, belonging, and political community might be altered? 3

That something is mythical does not mean that it has no social meaning or political significance. I use the term mythical to denote a story that purports to explain very real phenomena and conditions, to account for things whose origins and causes are something of a mystery. Our accounts of state, sovereignty, citizenship, and rights have this quality, for, although we can point to places and times important in their realization-such as Westphalia, 1648-we can never locate the places and times of their origins. Moreover, our creation myths not only elide the sheer complexity of the process, they also completely disregard other forms of state, sovereignty, citizenship, and rights whose successes have been lost to memory under the swords and tank treads of geopolitics. 4

A genealogy of these four concepts, especially human rights, does not delegitimize their very important functions in global politics, nor does it imply

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