Forging Citizenship after Empire: Reflections from Asia and the Middle East in the 20th Century

AHA Session 22
Friday, January 3, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Murray Hill East (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Emma C. Meyer, Emory University
Haimanti Roy, University of Dayton

Session Abstract

The dissolution of empires worldwide led to significant reappraisals of the political status, national belonging, and sociocultural moorings of millions of formerly colonized subjects over the course of the twentieth century. The intricate processes through which national citizenries were forged out of the detritus of empires have received increased scholarly attention in recent years, but still remain largely under-examined. This panel offers new insights to ongoing debates through its explorations of how post-imperial citizenship was historically constituted, and of the institutions, communities, and governmental organizations involved in creating and claiming it. The papers in this panel will examine multiple sites of citizenship production drawn from newly post-imperial contexts in Asia and the Middle East during the early and middle decades of the twentieth century.

Juxtaposing accounts from Lebanon, Egypt, Kazakhstan, India, and former British crown colonies (Fiji and Mauritius), this panel analyzes how citizenship arose in heterogeneous forms and across diverse sites, including educational institutions, linguistic communities, legal structures, and diasporic populations. Each of these papers challenges the idea that citizenship is something produced “from above” or by “the state” and handed down, instead emphasizing citizenship’s creation process as highly negotiated. For instance, Hussam Ahmed’s paper on debates over the institutionalization of humanities higher education in Egypt shows how struggles to lay claim to an emerging modern, politically-active citizenry developed at the interstices of educational initiatives and state. Rebekah Ramsay’s paper focuses on the construction of Soviet citizenship in 1920s Kazakhstan, considering how “customary crimes” legislation, designed to integrate supposedly “backward” Kazakh communities, highlights tensions and debates intrinsic to postcolonial citizenship more generally.

Meanwhile, Kathryn Kalemkerian and Yoshina Hurgobin’s contributions probe the gaps between elite constructions of national citizenship on the one hand and everyday life and cultural production on the other. Hurgobin’s paper examines how competing notions of “Indianness” and postcolonial citizenship developed within discourses on “Indians overseas” produced by the Indian government and among formerly indentured migrant populations of Indian descent in decolonizing crown colonies of Fiji and Mauritius. Kalemkerian traces the continuity of heteroglossia, or language mixing, in Lebanon during the transition from Ottoman rule to post-imperial state-building. Kalemkerian shows that focusing on heteroglossia, which continued from the Ottoman period into the postcolonial era, suggests alternatives to elite Lebanese formulations of nationality and citizenship that were based on monolingualism. As commentator, Haimanti Roy will draw on her expertise in the making of citizenship in modern South Asia to to reflect on the implications and challenges posed by these wide-ranging works.

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