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asylum/citizenship Arrow vol 2 no 1 contents
About borderlands Volume 2 Number 1, 2003

Asylum Seekers and the Politics of Citizenship

Don McMaster
University of Adelaide

Citizenship is now like being a fan, who votes favourably for media products
by purchasing them, extolling their virtues, or wearing their iconic packaging
on one’s bill cap or tee shirt.

T. Luke


1. Citizenship signifies legal, political and national identity, thereby determining who is included in, and who is excluded from, a nation. Loaded with complex meanings about democracy, the nation-state, exclusion and identity, it generally connotes the promise of "community well-being, personal engagement and democratic fulfillment" (Bosniak, 1998, 29). However, for non-citizens, or aliens, the term denotes exclusion, not belonging and non-identity. The valuing of citizenship entails a devaluing of aliens, creating an area where discrimination of a nation’s ‘other’ can occur and where human rights are often violated. This is the tyranny or cruelty of citizenship, where nation-state legalities (citizenship) dominate over human rights instruments (Refugee Convention). The tensions between citizenship and human rights will be explored in this article through the example of the treatment of asylum-seekers in Australia.

2. While the White Australia policy clearly marked the Asian as Australia’s other, the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 defined, until 1987, an alien as ‘a person who does not have the status of a British subject and is not an Irish citizen or a protected person’ (Jorden, 1995, 1). This clearly signified the image of the Australian, in citizenship legislation, as British (and Irish), excluding all others as aliens and requiring specific requirements for them to obtain citizenship. To be alien or different is to be categorised as the other, a significant and familiar cultural metaphor that marks the boundaries and limits of social identity.

3. The politics of citizenship determines inclusion and exclusion, signifying who belongs and who does not, membership of the nation-state being the determining factor. Asylum-seekers who do not have or cannot obtain citizenship, are regularly classified as aliens; they have no legal, political or social identity. While asylum-seekers are often perceived as global citizens, most do not fulfil the requirements for citizenship as determined by nation-states.

4. Australia’s response to strangers has been ambiguous. Despite an exemplary record on immigration it has committed human rights violations by excluding long-term detainees from human and social rights (HREOC, 1998). While ideas, resources and sometimes people move freely in the processes of globalisation, identity in the legal terms of ‘citizenship’ is not fluid. Identity is confined by the boundaries and territories with which belonging, as a citizen, is associated. Refugees and asylum-seekers reside in ‘shadowlands’ where the abstract construct of citizenship is changing but the legal-political constructs are not.

5. The prescribed limits of legal citizenship diminish the extent of citizenship where social citizenship, as part of the welfare state, is rapidly dissipating (Capling et al, 1998, 6-10). This is problematic for asylum-seekers who require aspects of social citizenship when they are in limbo between legal processes, which fail to recognise their legal status or even basic human rights. While social citizenship does not encompass all human rights, as it will not allow ‘freedoms’ such as political rights, it does provide the rights to welfare, medical and employment, all rights necessary to provide asylum-seekers a decent and humane life while they are awaiting refugee determination.

Citizenship in context

6. In contemporary times the term citizenship is paradoxical. On one hand it is perceived as archaic, while on the other hand it is being reworked to fit with societies of the global postmodern world. A notion originating from Greek civil society, citizenship in modern times has two features: it is bound to the existence of a state and therefore to the principle of public sovereignty; and it is bound to the acknowledged exercise of an individual capacity to participate in political decisions. All persons have rights as humans, but human rights are, for the most part, citizen's rights -- rights found in, and lived in, nation-states where legal and political identity is bound to citizenship. Underlying the early the notion of citizenship are the concepts of equality, freedom, exclusion, discrimination and the ‘other’.

7. The French and American Revolutions of the eighteenth century ushered in a new form of citizenship identified with democracy. Both forms have incorporated privilege, exclusion and discrimination, and provide the means by which states can discriminate against non-citizens. The first version of citizenship was small-scaled, culturally monolithic, hierarchical and discriminatory: citizens constituted a minority of the population and citizenship was partial. The second form of citizenship is based in territorial and political prescriptions and generally evolved into a state that establishes the principles and mechanisms for the distribution of civil, political and social justice (Hindess in Kukathas, 1993, 37). However, citizenship maintains the power to create privilege, and to exclude or include in the determination of who does or does not belong. In Australia, as in most nation-states, while it is the cultural and historical evolution of the nation that determines its ‘other’, it is the political and legal aspects of citizenship that enable exclusion of the ‘other’. This is the power of discrimination, determined by the legal structures of the nation-state.

8. In his key text, Citizenship and Social Class and Other Essays of 1949, T.H. Marshall defines citizenship as the body of rights and duties, the status, which goes with full membership of a community or society (Marshall, 1950, 8-9). Citizenship, as the status, is not connected to the market or the economic realm; it is a non-economic concept, defining people’s position independent of the relative value attached to their contribution to the economic process. Marshall perceives the rise of modern political citizenship as coinciding with the advent of capitalism. He demonstrates that it is also an essential component of the Enlightenment, and is thus entrenched in the project of modernity. Citizenship marks a shift from the local feudal systems to nation-building projects. Identity, that is, legal identification and association tied to the nation-state, moved from the community and communal confine of religion and church to the nation territory and bondage of the state. Nevertheless, the justification remained for the exclusion of particular people on the grounds that they did not ‘belong’ and could not be expected to uphold their obligations as citizens (Davidson in James, 1994, 113).

9. The three elements of Marshall’s theory are the civil, the political, and the social. The civil element is composed of the rights necessary for individual freedom; that is, liberty of the individual, freedom of thought, speech and religion, the right to own property and to conduct valid contracts, and the right to justice. The political element is the right to participate in the exercise of political power. The social elements "range from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share, to the full, in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilised being according to the standards prevailing in the society" (Marshall, 1950, 11). Civil elements are connected to the institutions of the courts of justice, the political elements to the parliament and local government, and the social elements to the educational system and social services.

10. The principle of equality is central to Marshall’s theory in which all people are free, and, in theory, capable of enjoying rights. In these terms, citizenship grows by enriching the body of rights that people can enjoy. If people are not free, as in the case of aliens, prisoners and asylum-seekers, their rights of citizenship are withdrawn or non-existent (Hammar, 1990, 46-51). This is a powerful sanction, one that can be justified in the case of hardened criminals and obvious law-breakers, but it raises the question of how far this ‘power’ of institutions should go. The system of detaining asylum-seekers in Australia is a prime example of exclusionary politics where asylum-seekers are excluded from citizenship, placed ‘in limbo’ without rights or identity. When viewed in this context, denial of citizenship and therefore identity is a denial of access to the basic human rights of social citizenship, namely, access to freedom and social benefits, identity and belonging.

11. Liberal principles are generally expressed in a negative manner, in terms of freedom ‘from’ (mostly from state intervention), whereas social rights are expressed in a positive way, implying an active and even interventionist state. Thus social rights are meant to give the formal status of citizenship a material basis. A certain level of material well-being is guaranteed, enabling citizens to exercise their rights to full participation in the community (Van Steenbergen, 1994, 3). Asylum-seekers are denied rights until citizenship has been confirmed, and in some cases this is a violation of their human rights. The long-term detention of asylum-seekers in camps throughout the world, including Australia, is an act of exclusionary politics based on notions of citizenship, identity and belonging, or in this case ‘not belonging’.

12. Marshall pays little attention to race, gender or culture and his assumption that the primary aim of social citizenship is erosion of class inequality and protection from market forces understates other key axes of inequality and other mechanisms and arenas of domination (Fraser & Gordon in Van Steenbergen, 1994, 93). Marshall did not take into account the possibility of setbacks to his plan; he could not foresee the developments that would take place four decades later as social citizenship came under fire from new right and economic rationalist politics.

Citizenship and Human Rights

13. Marshall characterises the post-World War Two debates about citizenship in terms of a shift from the ‘active’ political definitions to a more ‘passive’ sociological definition, in which the citizen is viewed as a consumer rather than a creator of rights (Davidson, 1997, 31). Marshall’s definition and interpretation of citizenship was founded on the high point of post-war British social-democracy, which he saw as the culmination of citizenship, the ‘final stage’ that would eliminate inequalities. This highlights the problems for any definition of citizenship that displaces the centrality of active political rights; these are obscured once the focus moves to what a person ‘gets’ rather than ‘what they do’. However, this definition only works when citizens are free to pursue those political rights; for asylum-seekers who cannot pursue active citizenship rights, the avenue to social citizenship is crucial for the maintenance of basic human rights (Hindess in Kukathas, 1993, 41-42).

14. National citizenship provides an official identity; without it, an individual is less, if at all, recognised by the nation and is therefore less human, certainly with fewer rights. Although set in national identity terms, citizenship then becomes universalised as long as the nation-state remains legitimate and intact. Citizenship is thus a universalist definition applying to all specific categories, and it relies on the recognition of universal human rights. Habermas confirms this when he recognises that citizenship rights guarantee liberty because they contain a core composed of universal human rights (Habermas, 1992, 13). In practice, of course, they also need to be set within the guidelines of national jurisdictions and universal human rights declarations.

Globalisation and Global Citizens

15. As globalisation transforms societies throughout the world, notions of identity become multiple, which in turn affects citizenship. Borders between nation-states are breaking down, shifting and, in some cases appearing or disappearing altogether, with repercussions for the traditional constructs of citizenship and identity. Refugees epitomise this; in many cases they do not reside in their ‘country’ of birth, but neither are they citizens of their new country or place of residence. Before they are granted legal citizenship of their new country, they are ‘non-citizens’, not belonging, legally non-existent. They are caught in the proverbial no-man’s land, in the borderlands of existence, marginalised, without power or access to the institutions within the country of residence; they are in the shadowlands of citizenship.

16. While identity is becoming multiple through the processes of globalisation, the construct of citizenship, which is still tied to the nation-state, is not. Globalisation is diminishing the power of the nation-state. Paul James argues that the nation-state is changing rather than dying. He argues that we are currently witnessing a reconstitution of the nation-state in which the institutions and practices of modernity, including citizenship, are being re-framed by the pressures of globalising postmodern capitalism (James, 1994, 70). Where does this place citizens and refugees? As Bryan Turner clearly states: "the ultimate definition of citizenship is itself vague and uncertain. To become a citizen involves a successful definition of the self as a bona fide member of society and thus as a legitimate recipient of social rights" (Turner, 1986, 85).

17. Asylum-seekers who have been detained, are effectively excluded from society, recognised as the ‘other’ and positioned as outsiders. They are targeted as ‘not wanted’, not belonging, marginalised, with rights determined by the nation-state and universal organisations, that is, human rights as defined by the United Nations. The nation-state’s jurisdiction on who belongs and how non-citizens are treated has been challenged and recognised as a violation of human rights. The detention of asylum-seekers is an act of social closure, which meets the legal norms and constructs of Australian citizenship, but does not fit human rights constructs that the Australian government has signed and pledged to uphold. Asylum-seekers are denied access to the human and social rights that constitute both Marshall’s and Turner’s notion of citizenship. Incarcerating people for escaping oppression, trauma and, in many cases, torture is not the practice of a civilised society.

18. Globalisation challenges the autonomy and sovereignty of nation-states, relativising traditional conceptions and processes of citizenship participation and motivation. This is exemplified by the emergence of human rights concerns and institutions over the last fifty years. Citizenship loyalties may be undermined, and at times fractured, by the process of globalisation which unsettles the stability of the nation-state, but the existence of human rights instrumentalities and legislation as a global legal process oblige governments and other agencies to respect the individual (Turner, 1994, 112-113). This obligation, however, is not always adhered to as the policies of detention and border protection by the Australian government have shown.

19. Cultural globalisation is altering the notion of citizenship to accommodate the broader contexts that now envelop it and, increasingly, citizenship demands will be satisfied at a global level as well as at a governmental level. However, sovereignty of nation-states is still supreme, which presents dilemmas for Turner and other internationalists. In Western societies the idea of citizenship is undergoing transformations relative to specific areas; seen together they all add up to a global transposition in notions of citizenship. Changes that dismantled the welfare state, the very structure that underpins Marshall’s notion of social citizenship and social equality have occurred over the last two decades. At the same time conflicts between ethnic groups throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and the establishment and re-establishment of ethnic and national identities, along with the movement, displacement and dispossession of peoples, unleashed underlying conflicts and hatreds. Neo-conservative groups like National Action and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party are Australian versions of a growing trend.

20. The implications of these conflicts for citizenship are immense. The nation-state is under question as the most appropriate political context for citizenship rights; socio-political and cultural changes challenge the state as the most suitable structure to express citizenship. Human rights discourse is presented as the superior example of political loyalty, thus undermining the notion of nation-state citizenship and national loyalties. Commitment to membership of the nation-state is being challenged by the processes of globalisation as social groups become rootless through labour migration and imported cultural influences that modify concepts of national identity. The political sovereignty and cultural hegemony of the state are eroded, at the same time that ‘localism’ contests the state from below. The state is squeezed between these two pressures: external challenges to its hegemony over the emotive commitments of its citizens, and local, regional and ethnic challenges to its authority (Turner in Van Steenbergen, 1994, 157).

21. Donati argues that the time of modern continuity is over, at least in regard to linear progress in the modern concept of citizenship. He sees the emergence of a postmodern citizenship that transgresses the "nation-state symbolic code" to embrace a "societal symbolic code of citizenship" (Donati, 1995, 300). Citizenship becomes an expression of a society rather than of a state, combining identities and solidarities in different ways from the modern traditions. Here Donati connects with Turner’s alternative discourse of human rights and humanity as the superior paradigm of political loyalty, thus giving citizenship the universal dimension of the global society. However, without the demise of the nation-state this cannot be a reality and it does not appear to be happening.

22. The defining and implementing of a new citizenship exposes tensions between citizen rights and human rights. The asylum-seeker in detention is a prime example. Displaced people throughout the world are denied citizens’ rights and, in the case of detainees, human rights as well. Turner foresees the eventual demise of the concept of citizenship, since it applies only in an epoch in which the nation-state is dominant. Its demise is a condition of the postmodern celebration of difference and the resultant fragmentation of identities and groups. He perceives a convergence of global human rights, which are not bound to any specific nation-state framework, and postmodern cultural complexity, "which recognises the incommensurability of world views, the fragmentation of political discourse and the contingency of social science perspectives" (Donati, 1995, 300). This idealistic view overlooks the strength and enduring nature of the nation-state, and ignores the problems faced by any worldwide organisation or structure such as the United Nations.

23. Turner argues that citizenship "is a consequence of real and popular struggles against various forms of hierarchy, patriarchy, class exploitation and political oppression; the achievements of these struggles should not be dismissed as mere mystifications of capitalism or illusory forms of democracy" (Turner, 1986, 11-12). The development of citizenship is a consequence of a series of particular conflicts among social groups, lobby groups and social movements for rights and civil liberties. As changes in citizenship are brought about by social movements achieving real rights, particular criteria that define the person become less relevant in the public sphere.

24. Questions arise as to whether there will be real persons behind the multiple layers of particularity: "That is, to be a person is always to be a particular person; one is defined by unique ascriptive, local, accidental and personal features. To be a citizen is to be defined by general, abstract, bureaucratic and public criteria relevant to such issues as taxation, political control and education". A paradox exists in that individuals require particularity while citizens require generality, but it is the growth of individualism that relates to the development of modern citizenship. The development of citizenship has equally created the site for the development of individuality for educated, self-conscious, reflexive agents (Turner, 1986, 133).

25. Through the process of globalisation the contents and imagination of the citizen’s mind are composed increasingly of elements not exclusive to a country, ethnic group or religion: "thus no firm separation within the internal cultural world of an individual is objectively possible, or viable, in a real sense in today’s world" (Coonatilake in Pieterse, 1995, 232). Globalisation is thus a culturally hybridising process, whether in physical reality or in imagination, infiltrating cultural purity and therefore national identity. However, groups such the Palestinians and Israelis are more concerned with the modernist preoccupation of national territory and national identity based on cultural purity. Refugees, exiles and migrants are the obverse; while not giving over notions of identity based on historical constructs of culture, religion, and ethnicity, they are willing to expand their identities. They desire citizenship and the legal and social status this entails, without the cultural purity of the separatist and modernist preoccupation of national identity. They are, on the whole, willing and eager to enter into the hybridising postmodern condition of a multiple identity to achieve the sense of belonging that comes with being a citizen.

26. Citizenship in traditional political and legal terms fits well with the separatist, national identity mode, but it does not cater for the refugee who does not fit into territorial categories. Universal schemes for citizenship have foundered on the necessarily local character of citizenship, a character that has historically been bound by time, place and culture, a resource that is maintained while specific boundaries exist. The price here has been inequality between citizens and non-citizens; while maintaining effective standing and equality among citizens, there is an emphasis on the inequalities between insiders and outsiders.

Semiotic and Consumer Citizenship: Human Commodification

27. Wexler acknowledges that identity dynamics are overlapping rather than isomorphic, and individuals are treated differently within the context of the "postmodern socially structured space" in which they exist (Wexler in Turner, 1990, 171). He categorises two classes in society: the first class, or so-called ‘middle class’, which is engaged primarily in the identity work of ‘ego bolstering’; and the second class comprising the youth, unemployed, the poor, women (and now increasingly men) labouring in the domestic sphere, the aged and minorities, all of whom are engaged in ‘ego binding’. Wexler places these categories in his concept of ‘semiotic society’, that is, a society that has been overtaken by the language of culture where, "semiosis, the structural law of value, the free play of signifiers without references" (Wexler in Turner, 1990, 171) has become dominant.

28. Luke points out that consumer citizenship has a place, even priority over national citizenship, especially in nations like the United States where citizens are not obliged to vote. A high proportion of citizens choose not to vote but are linked as a community by consumer citizenship, a unifying act that positions them as belonging to a global culture, albeit a commodifying one. A common critique of cultural democratisation maintains that the cultural divisions between classes are illimitable and irreducible. This is valid and still relevant to most societies, but as the category of class diminishes in importance, the distinctions between high and low culture blur. Education plays an important part in this: although education has not brought social democratisation and equality (class divisions still exist between schooling systems), this divide is crumbling, resulting in the rise of a large middle class.

29. A new culture, a new person, a new society has replaced the old modernist system, and this incorporates a replacement of language systems or meanings and constituent practices, social organisation and the values that made citizenship such an important sign. Thus the notion of the semiotic citizen and its connection to postmodern forms of culture, which include globalising processes, are the signs and values that Wexler sees as constituting identity, and therefore citizenship, in contemporary society. ‘Society’ has been sublimated to culture: where society is not being produced but only simulated. Social organisation is in a post-industrialist or informationalist phase, in which the major changes are in organisational forms and modes of communication as well as in distribution and production.

30. In this new system the product or artifact is rapidly coded as a sign or image that gives it distributional value (Wexler in Turner, 1990, 165-167); for example Coca Cola as a commodity has a strong sign and consumer power in a global context, whereas the refugee as stranger, foreigner or the ‘other’ has a sign that is unsaleable and unwanted. Consumer citizenship is globalised in this instance, but nationalised when applied to people crossing borders. Wexler emphasises the integration of institutional spheres in a semiotic society, for example the placing of electoral politics within a system of a society based on sign-circulation, the widely recognised items of consumer society. This relates to Luke’s claim that elections are now "commodified and packaged modes of democracy; the exclusive signifier of democratic practice" (Luke, 1986-87, 62), and parallels the commodification of individuals.

31. However, the signs are not the same for asylum-seekers; in some instances there is a humanitarian concern for their plight, but the connection to related citizenry is not considered. Two strata operate, the ‘good’ signs that pose no global threat for sovereign nations, and the ‘bad’ signs where there is a perceived threat to the sovereignty of a nation and its citizens (whether or not it is real). In this instance the ‘significant other’ is marked out with the ‘bad sign’, to be feared and excluded. In Australia bad signs have been constructed in rhetoric such as ‘yellow peril’, ‘the hordes from the north’; and the terms ‘boat people’, ‘illegal immigrants’ and now ‘border protection’ signifies invasion and threat. This tool of social control and social construction has been, and is still, used to discriminate against specific groups of people.

32. Voluntary migration is on the increase, expanding the cultural notion of citizenship and the global citizen, but continuing to rely on the legal manifestation of citizenship. Migrants and accepted refugees are legal citizens of their new country, and many hold two or more passports. They have citizens’ rights allowing them access to the legal, political, and social rights of their adopted country. However, this still does not hold true for asylum-seekers who have moved involuntarily and are waiting for citizenship in their adopted country. They remain without official or legal identity until accepted by the host country or repatriated. Identity is now in the confines of the political, where asylum-seekers are looking for a home. Home here signifies a place in the world, "insofar as such a place makes acting in the world possible; that is, makes action meaningful through shared understandings and a shared interpretation of action" (Xenos, 1993, 427).

33. However, citizenship is limited to nation-state sovereignty, as asylum-seekers well know. While the concepts of citizenship are changing, any moves towards the Kantian notion of universal citizenship have been thwarted. The universal citizenship foreseen in human rights has not manifested as a true universal. On the contrary, the fragmenting of universal structures such as the United Nations has seen a dissipating of universal notions of citizenship. The nation-state remains supreme in matters of citizenship and belonging, and it appears this will continue. The strongest sense of universality of citizenship lies within globalising processes, and Wexler’s semiotic citizenship exemplifies this.

34. Globalisation has tended to imbue routine day-to-day social interaction with patterns that are, to an increasing extent, shared across the globe. This consumer-oriented relationship connects participants in a global capitalist and consumer society with its icons of Coca Cola, Nike and Bart Simpson, conveyed by modern tele-communications to citizens all over the globe. Supermarkets carry the ‘goods’, the global range of provisions, all year round, and so make the produce of the global environment the norm for our subsistence.

35. As Spybey points out: "the nation-state and the nation-state system have rendered citizenship a universal requirement for the legal sanction of human existence; a stateless person does not exist in legal terms" (Spybey, 1996, 169). But stateless persons do exist, and their numbers are rising as a result of events such as those in Afghanistan. Citizenship as a legal national identity requirement has become a universal, but this does not construct universal citizenship nor provide human rights.


36. Citizenship of the nation-state is taken for granted by ‘citizens’, but it is much sought after by ‘aliens’ such as asylum-seekers. Boat people detained in Australia have no citizenship, no legal identity and, as has been witnessed by conditions in detention centres, diminished rights. Citizenship in this case is not universal; instead citizenship has failed in the case of the asylum-seekers where it has been used as a method of exclusion, discrimination and a violation of the human rights treaties Australia is a signatory to.

37. People are not just civil and political citizens but social citizens as well, with rights to guarantees of help in forms that give them status as full members of society, entitled to equal respect. They share in a common set of institutions and services designed for all citizens, "the use of which constitutes the practice of social citizenship" (Spybey, 1996, 59). This includes access to public health services, public schools, public parks and spaces, and the right to work. Australia has denied all this to asylum-seekers in detention.

38. Citizenship in liberal democracies is based on two distinct ideas: the right to vote, and the right to work (which is a component of social citizenship). To extend social citizenship to include asylum-seekers awaiting full citizenship, the right to work is necessary. The citizen rights and entitlements awarded to foreigners and denizens in some European Union countries are an example where this occurs (Rea in Martiniello, 1995, 179-181). Those most often classified as denizens (that is, residents with civil and social rights of citizenship but not political rights) now experience harsher restrictions on freedom of movement and freedom of opinion. However, the basic rights of residency and associated civil and social rights remain, placing the migrant workers and refugees out in the community with an identity that is recognisable by the state. The situation of asylum-seekers in Australia, can be compared with denizens’ and foreigners’ rights. Rea examines the social dimension (the relationship between work and citizenship) rather than the political dimension (Rea in Martiniello, 1995, ch X). Rea echoes my call to open the social and civil dimensions of citizenship to asylum-seekers while they await refugee determination in Australia. Such rights would alleviate the discriminatory practice of mandatory detention of all asylum-seekers. This would allow an appropriate and humane method of managing asylum seekers such as community-based programs. Community systems have been costed by a Select Committee of the New South Wales Parliament at the average costs per head, per day: parole system of $5.39, probation $3.94; home detention, $58.83 a day per head. Clearly this would be more economically efficient and much more humane (Edmund Rice Centre, 2002).

39. Two levels of citizenship exist in contemporary times, ‘an imagined citizenship’ based on consumer and semiotic notions, and a legal-political citizenship based on ‘belonging’ to a nation-state. Wexler’s interpretation of the semiotic citizen locates citizenship in the confines of consumerism, commodification and the semiotic fields, placing priority on economics. Turner’s construct of cultural citizenship is more optimistic and diverse; he emphasises the social, albeit subsumed in culture, and offers a system that could alleviate discriminatory practices towards a nation’s ‘other’. Who is excluded from the share of a society’s wealth depends on definitions of inclusion: citizenship is a priority because it provides access to power, wealth, employment, social services and symbols. This last is important, because "the symbols of belonging and identity interface with who gets the job, who gets a voice, who gets decent medical services and education" (Rea in Martiniello, 1995, 2) and who gets recognised.

40. Mary Kalantzis stresses the ethnic diversity and ‘multiculturalism’ of Australian identity and influences on governmental policy, recognising that Australia, in dealing with its own diversity, is playing the main global game of our times. The state’s challenge is to redistribute its resources in ways that facilitate civic pluralism. The dominant group(s) must learn the ways of the so-called minorities. There is a need to be multi-lingual and multicultural citizens, which "requires the development of very different sensibilities. The new citizen of this new state will be a person with multiple citizenship and multiple identities" (Kalantzis, 1995, 4). Refugees fit well into this picture, but one may ask how the dominant group(s) will learn the ways, or more correctly understand the plight of the refugee and especially the asylum-seeker. This has become more problematic since 1996 and the empowerment of the conservative Howard government and its refocusing on the white-settler identity. Embedded in this problematic is a racial component that perceives ‘difference and othering’ as to difficult to fit into the Australian imagined community.

41. For the dominant groups to understand the plight of asylum-seekers, in Kalantzis’ view, would require remaking the nation-state (along the lines, perhaps, of James’ reconstituting of the nation-state), and rethinking the social to include local diversity and global connectedness. This questions the relationship of the citizen to the state, in which negotiating differences takes on new and important meanings. The new type of nation is thus founded upon a post-national sense of common purpose, which is a "creative and productive life of boundary crossing, multiple identities, difficult dialogues, and the continuous hybrid reconstruction of our selves" (Kalantzis, 1995, 4).

42. This, as Kalantzis recognizes (Kalantzis, 1995, 5), has begun in Australia with the multicultural diversity creating a paradoxical space within the universal metanarrative of the nation. Asylum-seekers and other marginalized groups who do not have the voice they need to obtain their rights are the exception. Kalantzis is calling for, among other things, social rights as well as the civil plurality she espouses. This is another recognition of Marshall’s social citizenship, connecting with the plight of asylum-seekers in detention in Australia. While I do not advocate full political rights for asylum-seekers, I propose that social citizenship, in the form of free movement within the community and access to, at least, welfare and social institutions, should replace inhumane incarceration. As mentioned before, community parole systems, used by countries such as Sweden and New Zealand are the example for this. By using detention as a policy of deterrence, Australia has misused citizenship structures; it has focused on the legal and political aspects of citizenship but avoided responsibilities for the social aspects that Marshall, Turner and Kalantzis see as necessary for humanity and equity. This has brought criticism of Australian human rights records and exemplifies the tension between citizenship expressed in national terms and human rights expressed in international terms (HREOC, 1998, v).

43. Citizenship, as structure of modernity, has failed asylum-seekers in the Australian detention regime and has been used to relegate some to the category of ‘other’, exemplifying the tyranny of citizenship (Walzer in Brown & Shue, 1981, 25). And tyranny is the lack of recognition of the humanity of individuals (whoever they may be) where the legal and political aspects of citizenship are used to dehumanize people such as asylum-seekers. This is the tension between human rights and citizenship where the nation-state takes precedent. The incarceration of asylum-seekers has denied human rights and by deploying the legal-political structures of citizenship have also denied right of social citizenship.

44. Both citizenship and human rights have failed asylum-seekers. However as the nation-state has priority over universal human rights it is the rights contained within social citizenship, that is, the rights to freedom of access to health, welfare and public space that is crucial for asylum seekers while they are waiting their refugee determination. Human rights violations occurring in the detention centres have, unfortunately, been largely ignored. Numerous visits and reports by organizations such as the UNHCR and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have condemned Australia’s stance and implementation of the detention centers. However, Australian Governments (in particular the Howard Government) have not heeded these condemnations and calls for more humane approaches. They have cited national sovereignty and security as the determining factors in maintaining the policy of mandatory detention (McMaster, 2002, preface 2002).

45. While the call for human rights is crucial in maintaining some international accountability it is the avenue of rights in social citizenship that will be of most benefit to asylum-seekers in Australia. The recognition and strengthening of social rights, which the European Union has awarded to denizens and foreigners, and New Zealand has given by placing asylum-seekers in the Community Parole system, would be the suitable outcome for detainees. This humane approach would uphold citizenship and human rights and, in Australia’s case, include the ‘other’.

Dr. Don McMaster is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Politics Department at the University of Adelaide. He is the author of the book Asylum Seekers: Australia’s Response to Refugees, Melbourne University Press, 2001 (second edition 2002) and articles in Dialogue, "White Australia to Tampa: the politics of fear", vol 21, 1/2002; Mots Pluriel, "White Australia to detention: restriction and racism", no. 21, May 2002, Australian Journal of International Affairs, "Asylum Seekers and the insecurity of a nation", July 2002; and in the Journal of Australian History, "Loyalties and Strangers: Australia’s Response to Asylum Seekers". Email:


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