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Transnational Communities Programme

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Transnational Communities and the Transformation of Citizenship

Dr Birgit Brandt 

Professor Zig Layton-Henry 

How to contact us

Research Outline

Advisory Group UK

Advisory Group Germany

Canadian Partners



Research Outline


Citizenship is in principle about empowering people to participate fully and equally in society. Accordingly, the nature and extent of citizenship policies as conducted by the state and its institutions reflect two crucial issues: first, its commitment to promote equality; and second – by looking at the question of who can both access, and benefit from, such policies – whom the state considers as its ‘appropriate’ members.

The fact that many members of ethnic minorities are systematically excluded from full and equal citizenship has been established in numerous important studies and official reports. Less well known however are the strategies adopted by citizens of ethnic minority background to empower themselves as individuals, families or communities; the ways that they interpret and experience their citizenship; and consequently how citizens of minority background introduce crucial changes in traditional perceptions of citizenship.

Study Design

The study is a comparison of the situation and activities of African Caribbean people in the UK (Birmingham and London), people of Turkish origin in Germany (Berlin and Cologne) and Hong-Kong Chinese in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver). Interviews will be carried out on the individual and organisational level, in local, national and to some extent international settings. The research is policy oriented and, in accordance with ESRC guidelines, seeks to engage with non-academic users throughout by means of setting up advisory boards in each city, organising workshops and providing progress reports.

Aims and Objectives:

This project will:

  • Provide important empirical findings to illuminate current academic and political debates on citizenship;
  • Contribute an actor-directed view of citizenship;
  • Inform on relevant international developments;
  • Formulate policy recommendations.

Potential Long Term Impact

We seek to develop in close collaboration with non-academic users effective policy proposals that will help to re-asses both the content of citizenship and its legal framework. Important topics to be considered will be: equality of opportunity and outcome, cultural diversity, laws and administrative rules concerning the granting of citizenship, and the encouragement of political participation.

Birgit Brandt, (MAs Berlin & Warwick, PhD Warwick) is currently a Research Fellow at Warwick University, Department of Politics and International Studies. Dr. Brandt has worked on issues of refugee and migration politics in Southeast Asia and Europe, gender and migration, and citizenship studies. She is preparing a book on the transformation of modern citizenship, using the example of Germany, and is co-editing a book on arenas of discrimination in the EU, both for publication in 2000.

Zig Layton-Henry (BA Birmingham, PhD Birmingham) is Professor of Politics at Warwick University. Professor Layton-Henry was until recently the Director of the ESRC Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick. His main research interests have been on the development of immigration and asylum policy in Britain and other West European Countries and more recently on issues connected to citizenship and political rights. His main publications are Conservative Party Politics (1980), Conservative Politics in Western Europe (1982), The Politics of Race in Britain (1984), The Political Rights of Migrant Workers in Western Europe (1990) and The Politics of Immigration (1992).

Dr Birgit Brandt ( and Professor Zig Layton Henry ( can be contacted at their respective email addresses or at:

Politics and International Studies
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL
Tel: 44 (0)1203 523302
Fax: 44 (0)1203 524221

As regards to the empirical research in each city, Dr Brandt will be responsible for the London, Berlin and Cologne case studies and Professor Layton-Henry for Birmingham. Please contact us accordingly. Queries about the Canadian research should be addressed to our Canadian partners.


This project will analyse the impact of globalisation processes on the concept of citizenship through a study of transnational communities. Citizenship, both with regard to its formal attribution and its content, has so far been regarded as a predominantly national domain. This assumption is however being increasingly challenged and citizenship appears to be oblivious to national boundaries: The nation state has on the one hand no longer absolute power to determine its domestic or international affairs, including important decisions about social and even political rights, and has to seek solutions in negotiation with a large and growing array of agencies and organisations. On the other hand, international migration movements continue to transform the composition of contemporary societies into a complex and heterogeneous mixture of people with diverse identities. More and more residents of contemporary nation states are non-nationals or hold multiple citizenships, many "aliens" have gained access to rights previously reserved for nationals, and a high proportion of ethnic minority members - regardless of their citizen status - experience exclusion and discrimination and are treated as outsiders or ‘second class citizens’.

Our main hypotheses is that the multi-layered character of politics combined with international migration movements results in a crucial transformation of citizenship. This transformation is both mediated and enforced by transnational communities whose agendas and activities cross territorial boundaries. This is one of the first studies that seeks to discuss the transformation of citizenship empirically and that highlights the role of transnational communities as crucial actors inducing and actively shaping this change. We will examine and analyse these processes of citizenship transformation in three countries: Britain, Canada and Germany. These countries have been chosen because of their diverse immigration experiences so that they form critical case studies of the processes that are taking place. In each country significant transnational communities, again with divergent migration experiences, have been chosen for study. These are African-Caribbeans in Britain, Hongkong Chinese in Canada and Turks in Germany.


It has been argued, notably by Jacobson (1996, Rights Across Borders. Immigration and the Decline of Citizenship) and Soysal (1994, Limits of Citizenship. Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe) that traditional models of citizenship grounded in theories of nationalism, national identity and the nation-state, are being fundamentally undermined by processes associated with globalisation. Soysal’s argument is that two major components of citizenship, namely a shared national identity and access to rights are increasingly being separated. Rights have become divorced from the nation-state and are defined and legitimised at the international or supranational level in increasingly abstract terms.

Territorially bounded models of citizenship which assume a coincidence of membership in a national community and legal membership of a nation-state, seem static and out of date in a world undergoing the internationalisation of economic and financial markets, large scale international migration, exponential growth of international organisations, and the creation of multi-level politics where cities, regions and transnational trading blocs compete with the nation-state as major international actors and where international conventions on human rights, or European legislation to be adopted by member states of the EU are encoded and enforced by such bodies as the International Court and the European Court of Justice.

However, although it is possible to observe a transformation of citizenship, academic theories that announce the disintegration of citizenship and its replacement by the concept of human rights can be challenged for three reasons: a) Citizenship is a contested concept that has so far not been clearly defined. To focus the discussion purely on the granting and institutionalisation of rights leaves out a whole array of other questions commonly associated with citizenship, most notably those articulated in the context of the communitarian debate where citizenship is seen as a common project that helps to engender solidarity and co-operation between members of a society; b) Approaches that presuppose a decline of citizenship highlight almost exclusively the importance of civil and social rights that are enjoyed by an increasing number of persons regardless of their legal citizenship. These authors, downplay the importance of political rights which are in their entirety still inaccessible to non-citizens as these are deemed to be nonessential (Martiniello 1997, ‘Citizenship, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism: Post-national Membership between Utopia and Reality’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, July). This point of view remains highly controversial, particularly if we look for example at the historical significance of introducing female suffrage early this century. c) The great majority of studies that celebrate the advent of ‘post-national’ membership and the prevalence of international human rights do not pay enough attention to the role of the nation state. Although challenged, the nation state is striving to maintain the allegiance of its citizens and its control over them. Its institutions and politics forcefully shape the living conditions of its population and its territory remains an important stage where the struggles around citizenship are acted out.

An approach that seeks to expand the concept of citizenship beyond national boundaries does not have to render the nation state obsolete. Rather than counter-posing the national and the global levels, it seems of greater analytical value to illuminate the interlinkages and complexities that exist between the multiple levels of politics which affect the politics of citizenship. By comparing three countries, six urban areas and three different ethnic groups - Canada (Hongkong-Chinese in Toronto and Vancouver), Great Britain (African-Caribbean in London and Birmingham) and Germany (Turks in Berlin and Cologne), we hope to illuminate the impact of processes of globalisation on contemporary conceptions of citizenship.

The principal aim of this research project is to show that:

I) the multi-layered character of politics and international migration movements result in a crucial transformation of the concept of citizenship;

II) this transformation is both mediated and enforced by political actors whose agendas and activities cross territorial boundaries.

The first part of our study is concerned with the structural conditions of citizenship. In this context two developments are of crucial importance:

1) The nation-state, argues McGrew, is no longer the sole player in determining international and even domestic politics. It has to share the stage with a large and growing array of agencies and organisations (McGrew 1992, Global Politics). The dispersion of national power radically changes the politics of citizenship: On the one hand, it is increasingly difficult for national governments to determine and to guarantee citizens’ rights independently from other political forces. In this context, not only external influences (e.g. at the transnational level) can be decisive, but also challenges from within, for example by city or regional governments. On the other hand, participation and even representation in the polity are increasingly matters beyond the jurisdiction of national governments and nation states. A good example of this is the attempt by the European Union to create a European citizenship and to define the political rights of European citizens within the member states by granting local and European voting rights (Meehan 1993, Citizenship and the European Community).

2) International migration movements continue to transform the composition of contemporary societies into a complex and heterogeneous mix that challenges nationally bound concepts of citizenship on three levels: Firstly, the question arises whether the granting of citizens’ rights is conceptually tied to formal membership of the nation state. Many authors such as Hammar (1990) have argued that international labour migration and the development of large settled foreign populations has caused advanced industrial states to erode the distinction between citizen and ‘alien’. As a result a significant number of ‘non-citizens’ have gained access to a variety of rights - such as social rights and limited political rights - initially reserved for citizens and have accepted many citizens’ obligations. Some of these are enjoyed by all aliens and sometimes they are enshrined in bilateral agreements between states. Secondly, the traditionally articulated assumption that citizenship is both based upon and an expression of a national culture and a national identity is contested in societies whose members come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Many minority groups claim the ‘right to be different’ and demand policies that allow them to express their cultural particularity (Kymlicka 1995, Multicultural Citizenship; Young 1989, ‘Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship’, Ethics, 99). Thirdly, many labour migrants and their families respond to settlement abroad by acquiring the citizenship of their new country but retaining the citizenship of their country of birth. This can be a deliberate strategy to protect their rights and property in both societies (Franson 1982, British Nationality Law and the 1981 Act). In addition, an increasing number of children born to parents with different nationalities gain both nationalities at birth as a result of the competing citizenship allocations of different sovereign nation states (Hailbronner 1992, ‘Rechtsfragen der doppelten Staatsangehörigkeit bei der erleichterten Einbürgerung von Wanderarbeitnehmern und ihren Familienangehörigen’, Rechtsgutachten im Auftrag des Ausländerbeauftragten des Senats der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg). Dual nationality traditionally was regarded as unusual and unwelcome, something that should be discouraged. Citizens were not meant to have multiple loyalties and multiple duties which contradicted the traditional view that citizenship and nationality were identical and that the nation-state had the exclusive right to represent its nationals and demand their loyalty.

The second part of our project focuses on globalisation from below, namely on transnational communities who are challenging traditional forms of citizenship and who are active agents in transforming it. Here, we will illuminate the interests, goals and strategies of members of transnational communities and so will contribute to an understanding of their socio-economic, political and cultural priorities. Many ethnic groups have established communities that cut across national boundaries. These transnational networks form a triangle that connects members of ethnic groups in a country of settlement both with their country of origin and with other members of the same group who live elsewhere. Facilitated by modern communication technology, internationally dispersed members of the same ethnic group are able to communicate regularly, to find new avenues for economic activities, or to articulate common political interests. Consequently, activities, demands and interests of ethnic minorities - or more precisely former migrants and their offspring - are in many cases not exclusively shaped in confrontation or negotiation with their country of settlement but are at the same time informed by developments that affect the country of origin and the ethnic diaspora (Clifford 1994, ‘Diasporas’, Cultural Anthropology 9(3); Cohen 1995, ‘Rethinking Babylon: Iconoclastic conceptions of the diasporic experience’, New Community, 21(1)).


A variety of methods will be used during the project:

  • Data collection through primary and secondary literature and data sources.
  • Interviews with civil servants, officials and politicians at city and national levels (for example from the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality and local authorities in Britain; the Ministry of the Interior and the Ausländerbeauftragte (both on the national and the Länder-level), as well as civil servants responsible for dealing with naturalisation applications in Germany; officials in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada. Furthermore additional interviews will be carried out with politicians and civil servants at the European level.
  • Interviews with representatives of groups attempting to influence policy such as a) immigration and nationality lawyers; b) academics; c) members of civil rights organisations.
  • Interviews with individuals of African-Caribbean, Turkish and Hongkong Chinese background who are active in minority associations and such organisations as political parties, unions and non-governmental organisations.
  • Interviews with individuals of African-Caribbean, Turkish and Hongkong Chinese background who are "unorganised". These will include people from a variety of occupations, age groups, income, households structure and equal numbers of men and women.


The duration of the project is two years; it started in March 1999


This project will:

  • Develop and extend the theory of citizenship; in particular it will analyse the impact of processes of globalisation on conceptions and the content of citizenship through a study of transnational communities;
  • Contribute a new dimension to citizenship studies by focusing on members of transnational communities whose interests, activities and networks may significantly alter traditional understandings of citizenship. The focus of this research is on an actor directed view of the impact of globalisation.
  • Provide important empirical findings to illuminate current debates on citizenship which have so far been highly abstract and theoretical.
  • Provide new evidence to explain how globalisation processes can impact on important areas of national and international policy, for example the reasons for applications for naturalisation and barriers to such applications; the relationship between dual nationality, national identity and dual loyalties; the danger of social and political exclusion in states wishing to enforce absolute loyalty and commitment from their citizens; the success of policies aimed at encouraging integration, cultural diversity and equal opportunities.


The long term impact of the research will involve a better understanding by scholars and policy-makers of the concept and content of citizenship in a world undergoing rapid processes of globalisation. This may cause a re-assessment by policy-makers of: a) laws and administrative rules concerning the granting of citizenship; b) the need for states to demand exclusive citizenship from their members and greater toleration of dual citizenship or even multiple citizenships; c) the content of citizenship, for example the introduction of specific minority rights; d) whether citizenship is the best means of allocating social, political and economic rights and duties or whether new forms of defining membership of a community/city/state should be developed.


Mary Chamberlain
Professor of Sociology, Oxford Brookes University
Harry Goulbourne
Professor of Sociology, South Bank University
Lee Jasper
Director of the 1990 Trust
Sir Herman Ousley
Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality
Patrick Roach
Principal Officer, Education and Equal Opportunities for NASUWT
Sukhvinder Stubbs
Director of the Runneymede Trust 


The German advisory group will be set up in January 2000.

Canadian Partners

Professor Audrey Kobayashi (

Department of Geography & Director of the Institute of Women’s Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston

Professor Myer Siemiatycki (

Department of Politics and School of Public Administration, Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto


The first issue of our newsletter will be online on the 17th December 1999

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