Transnationalism and migrants' imaginings of citizenship

Helga Leitner, Patricia Ehrkamp

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Recent academic debates on transnationalism, immigration, and citizenship have largely ignored migrants' perspectives on citizenship. On the basis of ethnographic research in Germany and the United States between 1998 and 2001, we examine the values and meanings contemporary migrants assign to national citizenship and their citizenship practices. We argue that dominant discourses of liberal democratic citizenship and migrants' situated subject positions condition and mediate, in complex ways their imaginings and practices of citizenship. We discuss how and why migrants' perspectives conform in significant ways across these two countries, while also varying among migrants. National citizenship remains meaningful in their struggle for mobility across borders, for equal protection under the law, and for equal access to social and political rights. However, migrants are also aware of the discrepancy between promises of equity and fairness associated with liberal democratic citizenship and the reality in which even naturalized migrants experience discrimination. Issues of belonging to and identification with the national community render national citizenship complicated for migrants as they negotiate multiple identities and allegiances, with varying outcomes. Differences among migrants notwithstanding, the majority can and do identify with multiple communities, and desire to participate and become members in more than one national community, suggesting that migrants challenge conceptions of bounded national citizenship. This does not entail, however, a deterritorialization of citizenship and identities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1615-1632
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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