The strength of weak citizenship
Aneesh Aneesh on the globalized workforce
Aneesh Aneesh looks at how globalization is practiced rather than how it is preached. Using India and its diaspora of migrants as his laboratory, the associate professor of sociology and global studies at the University of Wisconsin and director of the school’s Institute of World Affairs has mapped out the ways in which the worldwide workplace increasingly requires individuals to cut their ties to local cultures and acquire what he defines as an “indifference to difference.” His 2006 book Virtual Migration: The Programming
of Globalization (Duke University Press) examines how the financial success of American software companies, debt-collection agencies, and even mortgage firms relies on the “virtual migration” of India-based coders, whose skills and labor cross national boundaries while their bodies remain in their home country. His most recent book, Neutral Accent: How Language, Labor, and Life Become Global (Duke University Press, 2015), finds him undercover at a call center in Gurgaon, India, observing the ways employees in the globally integrated marketplace learn to mimic American social norms and accents as they become increasingly disconnected from their own time zones and linguistic communities.
When Aneesh appears in Santa Fe on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the James A. Little Theater as part of the School for Advanced Research’s public lecture series, he introduces his latest topic of investigation: how the governments of countries that export a global workforce — such as India and Jamaica — have created new forms of citizenship for nationals who will spend their prime years working abroad. A former SAR fellow, Aneesh developed some of his theories on alternative citizenship during his sabbatical in Santa Fe.
“I call it the strength of weak citizenship,” Aneesh told Pasatiempo. “Something subtle is happening in the regime of citizenship. Different countries are beginning to offer different ‘packages’ of citizenship rights to their workers who live abroad and, sometimes, to immigrant workers within their nation-state.” With the rise of national governments recognizing residents who have dual and even multiple citizenships, Aneesh argues, the long-standing norms of citizenship as a function of biological heritage or territorial birthplace are beginning to loosen.
For his case study, Aneesh turns his attention to India’s recently established Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) law. Enacted in 2006, the law provides a package of citizenship-like rights to persons of Indian origin (through their parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents) who live abroad but have returned to India for some length of time. Under OCI, persons of Indian origin can travel to India without a visa, buy and sell Indian property, and compete with Indian residents for jobs. It is not, however, a dual citizenship arrangement that permits a person
Aneesh introduces his latest topic of investigation: how the governments of countries that export a global workforce have created new forms of citizenship for nationals who will spend their prime years working abroad.
of Indian origin who is living in, say, London or Las Vegas, the right to vote or run for office.
Aneesh, who conducted several ethnographic interviews with highranking officials from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, said that ethnic origin claims — “the sun never sets on the Indian diaspora,” according to one of the ministry’s reports — were invoked when the government first began drafting the OCI law.
Yet as with many countries that have reluctantly begun to extend citizenship-like rights to diasporas working abroad, what prompted India to act was money. Realizing the financial benefits the country could accrue by extending rights of commerce and travel to the estimated 20 million Indians who live outside India, the country enacted OCI to boost foreign remittance monies being sent back home.
While Aneesh endorses this new form of “weak citizenship,” offered by India as a step toward a stronger set of post-national citizenship rights, he is concerned that such laws can be easily abused. Citing Russia as an example, he notes that most former Soviet republics — such as Lithuania and Georgia — offer visa-free rights to enter Russia, but former citizens are excluded from the right to work or permanently reside there.
Aneesh’s fear of discrimination is reinforced at the border level, which for many nations in Europe and North America has become a heated site for upholding exclusive claims to national citizenship. “With the rise of the nation-state, borders become more important than city centers in defining citizenship, in demarcating who belongs to the nation-state,” Aneesh said. In his 2016 essay “Differentiating Citizenship,” he uses the metaphor of a soft fruit with a hard shell to describe that relationship. The “soft” interior of a country offers increasing protections to immigrants who work and live within its confines, he writes. But at the “hard-shelled” border, surveillance, raids, and an often-violent culture of militarized border patrols rule the day. Nonetheless, Aneesh hopes that emerging laws regulating rights for a country’s working diaspora may lay the groundwork for a future of worldwide post-national citizenship. Historically, nations assign citizenship either by the right of blood ( jus
sanguinis) or by the right of soil ( jus soli). For instance, the United States operates under jus soli, conferring automatic birthright citizenship on every child born on American soil, even if the parents are not residents of the U.S. Germany, in contrast, has traditionally allocated citizenship under jus sanguinis, extending citizenship to any child with at least one German parent, regardless of where he or she is born or raised. Aneesh argues that neither option is adequate to deal with this new era of mass immigration and globalized workplaces. “By adopting, extending, and enforcing the rights-based citizenship model,” he writes, “the states may be mere brokers of the late modern force of history where everything solid — blood or soil — melts into air.”
ANEESH ANEESH on the globalized workforce