Citizenship and Its Legacies: Identity Documentation, Bureaucratisation and Rights London, 15 September 2023

On 15 September 2023, the HIDDEN project met at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research, the UK’s national centre for history, for a day-long series of presentations on citizenship and its legacies organised by Eve Hayes de Kalaf, co-leader of Working Group 3 ‘Accessing Citizenship’. The presentations were delivered byNatalie Brinham, University of Bristol, Marcelo Carvalho-Loureiro, University of Leicester, Bronwen Manby, London School of Economics, and Juanita Cox, University of London.

After introductions from our Action Chair, Jennifer Redmond and WG co-leader, Michael J. Geary, Natalie Brinham kickstarted the event with a fantastic presentation on colonial categories, historical identification schemes and their legacies in Myanmar. Natalie is a well-known activist and human rights campaigner who has worked with NGOs in the UK and Southeast Asia on forced migration, trafficking and statelessness. Her work frames statelessness through the prism of identity documentation and the State’s interactions with people who are documented. Working from historical perspectives, as opposed to State perspectives when tackling statelessness, Brinham sees states and the state system as the problem, and therefore not always the solution, to statelessness. This approach, she argues, allows us to see policy problems in a different light, to think outside rigid or prescribed policy boxes. Looking at statelessness historically, one can see the development of power relations that occur. Her presentation dived deep into the historical evolution of Britain’s relations with Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and the many challenges faced by the lack of identity documentation as well as the impact of citizenship laws and the colour coded ID system in the 1980s.

Marcelo Carvalho-Loureiro’s work focuses on citizenship law, nationality, and empire. They delivered apresentation entitled ‘Colonial Assimilation and Identity Documentation in Portuguese Africa.’ In it, they addressed colonial assimilation law in Portuguese Africa. Divided into three parts, the first section of the presentation focused on their methodological approach to research project, the second part looked at how law connected with coloniality and the colonial empire while the third examined identity documents and assimilation. This methodological approach sought to find the tools to un-silence the voices of the colonial subjects, which led them to uncover materials from various archives as a means of resurrecting or un-silencing those narratives of people who were colonialised and who had their lives curtailed or limited by what they could do because of the empire. Marcelo’s interest lies in how colonial law (examined through archival material) has shaped the lives of people and in many instances restricted their lives. Moreover, they apply Critical Race Theory as a way to better understand this colonial relationship.

The third presentation (hybrid via Zoom) was from Bronwen Manby,a renowned scholar,who has written extensively on citizenship, statelessness, the right to a nationality in Africa. She is a historian and a lawyer; her stating point in her research is from these two perspectives. Her presentation, entitled, ‘Post-Colonial Citizenship and Decolonisation as a Turning Point: Continuities and Discontinuities in Africa States’, is based on a working paper that was published by the European University Institute in 2023. The paper will form part of a book that traces the history of citizenship law and legal formulations and concepts of citizenship as they have developed in Europe dating back to Ancient Athens and through to the European Union Regulation on Digital Citizenship today. Central to the presentation was the question of how European ideas of citizenship, and legal formulations on citizenship, developed and how have they had an influence on the wider world. Moreover, she seeks to understand how the rest of the world has maintained or diverged from these European formulations on citizenship.

The fourth, and final presenter, was Juanita Cox, who spoke about ‘The Windrush Scandal in a Transnational and Commonwealth Context’ who along with Eve Hayes de Kalaf, is part of a large AHRC-funded oral history project looking at the Windrush Scandal. The presentation traced various strands of the Windrush Scandal in its longer historical context and in terms of political, diplomatic, administrative, and local perspectives. Juanita’s presentation focused on, among other things, the impact that legislative changes have had on the Windrush generation since 1948 and the lack of documentary evidence of their legal rights, and of their descendants, to remain in Britain. In the 2010s, this resulted in significant legal issues with threats of deportation within the wider context of British migration policy and changes in citizenship and nationality legislation. The project will result in, among other outputs, a large and important oral history archive.

The conference concluded with a highly informative presentation (and tour) of the IHR’s library facilities. This was the first WG 3 Accessing Citizenship event that shed light of the multidisciplinary approach to the working group’s theme and especially the long colonial legacy on citizenship rights.