Asylum Seekers and the Politics of Citizenship
University of Adelaide
Citizenship is now like being a fan, who votes favourably for media
by purchasing them, extolling their virtues, or wearing their iconic
on ones bill cap or tee shirt.
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 nations 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
Australias 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. Australias 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 peoples 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 Marshalls 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 Marshalls 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). Marshalls 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-mans
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,
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-states 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
Marshalls and Turners 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
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 Marshalls
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 Hansons 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 Turners 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 citizens 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 todays
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
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 Lukes
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 Wexlers
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
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. Wexlers interpretation of the semiotic
citizen locates citizenship in the confines of consumerism, commodification
and the semiotic fields, placing priority on economics. Turners
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
nations other. Who is excluded from the share
of a societys 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 states 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 Marshalls 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 Australias
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,
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 Australias
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: Australias 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: Australias Response
to Asylum Seekers". Email: email@example.com
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