Coping with Transnational Citizenships

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Coping with Transnational Citizenships

  • March 25, 2021
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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“…For Karl Marx… the process of capitalist development involved expropriation of the “means of production” from workers by capitalists …. for Max Weber…a central feature of modern experience was the successful expropriation by the state of the “means of violence” from individuals…[Eventually] modern states have expropriated from individuals and private entities the legitimate “means of movement…”

Torpey, John (2018) The invention of the passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State. Cambridge University Press.  

“We often read…farmers and peasants together constituted about 50 percent of France’s working population in 1870, 45 percent in 1900, 35 percent in 1930. What, we may well ask, is comprehended in the terms… peasants and farmers. Where peasants a homogeneous professional group in any of those periods? Did the terms farmers and peasants describe similar realities at the various dates? In other words when we talk of rural France and the rural populations in 1850, 1880, 1900, and after, are we talking of similar kinds of people, of similar frames of mind and similar shares in national life (differing only in statistical weight)? Or are we talking of a two-way evolution on the theory- as we were told long ago- that no one can ever step in the same river twice, not only because the river will have changed, but because the person will have changed too…?”

Weber, Eugen (1976) Peasants into Frenchmen: the Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford University Press.        

Conflicting transnational citizenship formations

In January 2021, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in an urgent press conference, strongly blamed the Australian government for “abdicating its responsibilities” to its citizens. The controversy emerged following the Turkish authorities apprehending and possibly deporting a prisoner with dual Australian and New Zealand citizenships. The prisoner had extremist inclinations. The Turks preferred deporting the detainee to New Zealand, her birth nation. During the press briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda insisted the women belonging to Australia- a nation, she said, the accused not only had citizenship from but also grew up since childhood. In contrast, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, with strongly worded statement, declared the protection of his country demands steadfastness. Justifying his position, the Australian Prime Minister highlighted policies revoking the citizenship from foreign extremists[i]. The New Zealand Prime Minister stressed the socio-political relevance of transnational citizenship, under which people who adopt and socialize into a particular national context and society should in principle belong to that society. Meanwhile, the Australian Prime minister preferred the legislative procedural dimensions sanctioning actual and potential transgressors of the conventional national security.

Around the same time in Copenhagen, a city councillor, Ali Hansen, a member of the progressive Danish Red Greens, complained on the existence of “white middle class” domination in the fight against racism in a country like Denmark. Though admitting of not directly experiencing racism, in person, neither within nor beyond his party, the transnational Danish politician expresses apprehension on the predicament of “white middle class”, particularly among party leadership insisting on presumed capabilities of combatting racism on their own. Concretely, Mr. Hansen accuses members of his political party of not allowing social mobility within party politics. This include the process of not designating prominent positions to ethnic minorities, especially during pre-election candidate selections.

In preparation for potentially approaching elections, political parties in Denmark introduce party lists from which the electorate picks favourite candidates. Certain parties maintain open lists. Thus, regardless of your numerical position, the ultimately obtained electoral votes determine accessibility to legislative seats and thereby power within the party as well as within the overall political system[ii]. Profiles from transnational communities often symbolically appear in party lists for variety of reasons[iii]. Hansen points to the critical role of party lists for electability- specially in a political party like the Red-Greens with closed and predetermined part selections. Under such conditions, regardless of how much votes specific candidates assemble, the party decides who gets what, when and where. If, for instance a candidate appearing at the bottom of the list gains huge electoral votes, the person might remain unelected as the top candidates absorb votes first. For potential solution to such predicament, Hansen proposes a quota for transnational ethnic minorities. Such specific favour enables communities contributing to the political dynamics and thereby decision-making processes, not just within their specific parties but also within the wider society[iv].

Apart from seeking socio-political influence, transnational community members also long for socio-cultural adaptation and recognition- which also occasionally generate controversies.  Ilknur Kekec Coban, a Danish young woman with transnational Kurdish background, never questioned her national and transnational belonging as well as her adjustment into multiple cultural, social and education aspects- until she applied Danish citizenship. Miss Coban confronted numerous challenges, including the so-called “citizenship test”. The test consists of solving socio-cultural and linguistic puzzles with ambiguously coded questions most people struggle responding to. Over the years, continuing political debates and policy changes on who should be considered as part of the Danish society created tensions and disappointments particularly among the youth who feel trapped between multiple contesting nations, societies and cultures. Miss Coban eventually passed the test- subsequently obtaining citizenship- formally providing her with a passport and nationality. Questions of recognition, nonetheless, persist as Miss Coban disappointedly declares” I have always felt as a Dane. This is the culture I grow up with, and I wished that I was recognized as a Dane from the beginning. It hurts that my actions did not qualify me- but people concentrate more on my parent’s background … I am not ungrateful, but I don’t think it was fair what I went through to get a Danish pass[v]       

Transnational citizenship between selection and rejection     

Most socio-political approaches consider the individual as the driving force for the formation of societies[vi]. The individual, depending on the socio-political status and position, interacts and joins with others in negotiating and forming cohesive groups. This includes a variety of ways of representations and designations, occasionally complementing and, and in other times, conflicting dialectics within, around and beyond given societies. Some might opt for de-associating from groups thereby avoiding public encounters and connections, others might associate with groups they conclude promoting relevant interests and goals. In modernity, people should, according to classical theorists, supposedly shift from sustaining traditional social relationships to gradually moving towards modern professionalized, diversified, functional interactions and associations with others in the society and beyond[vii]. However, existing transnational empirical evidences suggest temporality and complexity on how people, whether individuals or in groups associate, select and reject in joining and contributing to prevailing socio-political relationships[viii]. Unlike earlier conclusions, socio-political encounters and connections remain dynamic and inconclusive- mainly depending on circumstantial negotiations, habitus and trajectories, occasionally with lesser rigid commitments[ix].

The above-mentioned cases suggest transnational complexities related to at least three position taking potentialities. Firstly, an extreme socio-political position between actions severing the social contract of obtaining transnational citizenship status while engaging transnational citizenship transgression. This position gradually downgrades, if not fully eliminating, one’s opportunities and abilities of associating with formal and informal socio-political structures.

Secondly, a socio-political position between appropriating political career within a political system, while maintaining specific transnational community characteristics. Again, in a more national oriented restrictive environments, with political parties prioritizing ethnic homogeneity in accessing formal political party influence, or otherwise, such positions, might not be easily obtainable- at least in a transitional period- until the concerned transnational communities mobilizes and eventually gains recognition.

Finally, a socio-political position between seeking or maintaining a formal citizenship attachment in a given society while preserving a particular socio-cultural affiliation with another. Under more national oriented, with sentimental political contexts, such position taking limits one’s accessibility to formal citizenship. In consequence people experience lack of mobilities and might potentially confront diverse social and political exclusions.

If denying a citizenship to, for instance, a transnational transgressor, allowing socio-political mobility to potential transnational political aspirants or accommodating transnational socio-cultural identity, might formally belong to the society-state jurisdiction- the processes of delimiting transnational citizenships, however, remain complex and elusive. Boundary delimitations emerge from active citizens demanding direct responsibility and socio-political mobility. Such demands also arise from individuals and groups responding to state policy restrictions curbing the boundaries of nation-state affiliation and belonging. Most such challenges could be addressed by forestalling transgression among individuals and communities through collaborative and accommodating transnational connections. With regard to socio-political mobility, as Hansen proposes, in transitional period, the introduction of quota might empower people. Overtime, however, positive discrimination might prove detrimental to the principles of accessing equal opportunities[x].             

Transforming societies from nationals and transnationals  

Often people conflict their immediate socio-political positioning with their socio-political aspirations and purposes. In alleviating such trouble, most seek reconciling transnational citizenship needs with national citizenship gains. This is also the case for transnational communities engaging multiple societies. People balance opportunities and constraints from transnational and national platforms depending on the particular activities people undertake in different periods. If transnational activities or demands correlate with national priorities, then communities contribute more to the ongoing national priorities. If national priorities, in contrast, infringe transnational processes, in forestalling hierarchy and dominance, communities mobilize transnational connections. By promoting transnational horizontal connections, communities then create platforms, not though bureaucratic hierarchical procedures, but often through socio-political transnational civic activities.

The quest for transnational ties, therefore, contrasts, and occasionally, confronts the prioritization of national and state identities and goals. However, for the transnational and the national, to coexist, each needs the accommodation of the other. If the national, subordinates the transnational, then people confront isolation and transgression. On the other, if the transnational dominates the national, it could lead to national resentments and even conflicts. The existence of diverse collaborative civic transnational communities serves as intermediate.

Such conflictual ontological existence between local/national socio-political and transnational connections nurtures continuing struggle between the extremes of the static vs. the dynamic, the national vs. the transnational. The Marxian approach idealizes transnational socio-economic class domination- through preferably revolutionary transformations[xi]. For neo-Marxians such as Gramsci, replacing the industrial class struggle with the idea of persuasive transnational hegemonic transformation- cultural appropriation and signification- remains favourable[xii]. In navigating within and beyond prevailing hierarchical transnational socio-political and cultural encounters and connections, other theorizations call for more accommodating horizontal transnational socio-political balances/imbalances[xiii].

In colonized/neo-colonized societies, the initially transplanted transnational socio-political connections subordinated endogenous concerns and priorities. Eventually this led to symbolic elite adaptation of transnational governing ideas with embedded autocratic systems. In subsequent countering resistance movements, people utilized and combined traditional religious and cultural commonalities with reaffirmed nationalism. In the end, following ideological confusion, distortion and lack of adoptability, particularly at macro levels, societies underperformed and lacked consistence. Furthermore, excessive elite driven public abuses and polarizations produced systemic chaos with eventual state dysfunction, if not collapse. Mass oppression and exodus ensued. Traumatized migrants and refugees settled in different parts of the world. Depending on prevailing contextual circumstances and socio-political platforms, people confronted national-transnational positive and negative dialectics in their host environments.

During WWW II Heidegger stressed the importance of national agency- which he argued should exclude certain transnational communities. Heidegger worried transnational communities subordinating national cohesiveness to their imagined transnational platforms. In contrast Hannah Arendt- stressed communities’ pro-active socio-political contribution to national structures. Such processes constituted critical- even if communities insist on transnational affiliations. The alternative, she argues, is community subjugation and rightlessness. For Arendt, instead of pursuing religious or purely kinship-based identity constructions, transnational communities should organize socio-politically in the pursue of recognition and the formation of political alliance with, more or less, dominant constituents[xiv]. She approves the importance of transnational community agency within the nation-state platforms. Heidegger, on the other, criticises the process in which transnational communities assimilate into the prevailing socio-political and cultural hegemony- though most of them will not be able to do so, he adds, due to lack of “authenticity” and sincerity for genuine national adherence. Research has shown that Heidegger instead preferred a “situated prejudice” approach to social relations and liveliness in general[xv]. Occasionally he campaigned for the exclusion of particular transnational communities blaming them for having “talent for calculation” while remaining “secretive” in their actions[xvi].       


For struggling transnational communities, often dealing with the past, the present and even speculating the future, requires deep understanding and reflection on the dynamics of transnational cultural, socio-political conditions compounded by trauma packages, In addition communities remain scattered and divided within and across national and transnational boundaries.  For most, therefore, the strategies of overcoming challenges should include the prioritization of the immediate tasks by focusing on existing diverse community encounters and connections at the local level. This in return calls for the formation of specific common actions and goals with associated local partners and networks. Following complex migration history and trauma, misconceptions about the communities’ intentions and agency remains widespread among the public in most host societies. Such misinterpretations often re-emerge and amplify during presumed and actual grievances within the host and homeland environments. This also includes the pursue of positive socio-political relations- through legal, political and institutional platforms in balancing (meaning not going to the extreme- as people retain their identities and heritage) while actively engaging in the society at large in multiple ways. Concretely, the creative and the talented among community members could innovate, within  the community as well as within the wider society, in imagining, searching and identifying solutions to ongoing and emerging societal conundrums at the local, national and transnational levels.   



[ii] Pedersen, H. H. (2019) Two strategies for building a personal vote: Personalized representation in the UK and Denmark. Electoral Studies, 59, 17-26.

[iii] Kjaer, U., & Krook, M. L. (2019) The blame game: analyzing gender bias in Danish local elections. Politics, Groups, and Identities.



[vi] Udehn, L. (2002) The changing face of methodological individualism. Annual Review of Sociology, 28(1), 479-50. Wimmer, A., & Glick Schiller, N. (2002) Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation–state building, migration and the social sciences. Global networks, 2(4), 301-334.

[vii] Tönnies, F. (2001) Tönnies: Community and civil society. Cambridge University Press.

[viii] Madsen, M. (2016) Transnational Fields and Power Elites: Reassembling the International with Bourdieu and Practice Theory. Forthcoming in Perspectives from International Political Sociology: Transversal Lines in International Relations (Routledge, 2016), edited by Tugba Basaran, Didier Bigo, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet and RBJ Walker.

[ix] Madsen, M. (2016) Transnational Fields and Power Elites: Reassembling the International with Bourdieu and Practice Theory. Forthcoming in Perspectives from International Political Sociology: Transversal Lines in International Relations (Routledge, 2016), edited by Tugba Basaran, Didier Bigo, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet and RBJ Walker.

[x] Bird, K. (2014) Ethnic quotas and ethnic representation worldwide. International Political Science Review, 35(1), 12-26.

[xi] Adams, J. S., & Waldman, M. R. (Eds.). (1983) Transnational Approaches of the Social Sciences: Readings in International Studies. University Press of America.

[xii] Robinson, W. I. (2005) Gramsci and globalisation: from nation‐state to transnational hegemony. Critical review of international social and political philosophy, 8(4), 559-574.

[xiii] Cornell University. (2009) Rebels without borders: transnational insurgencies in world politics. Cornell University Press.

[xiv] Arendt, H. (1973) The Origins of Totalitarianism [1951]. New York.

[xv] Sandel, A. A. (2014) The place of prejudice. Harvard University Press.

[xvi] Love, J., & Meng, M. (2018) Heidegger’s Radical Antisemitism. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 44(1), 3-23.