Queering Citizenship and Its Metaphors: Birthright and Naturalization

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My paper challenges the distinctions typically drawn between birthright citizenship and naturalization as the two primary processes by which citizens have historically been produced in the United States. In existing scholarship, these two models of producing of citizens have been distinguished by focusing on the question of consent. Birthright citizenship is a non-consensual means of granting citizenship, linked to feudal, hierarchical models of allegiance; in contrast, naturalization is understood as a consensual process of conferring citizenship, associated with enlightenment models of a contractual relationship between citizen and state, principles that have been seen as fundamental to liberal democracies. If we shift our focus toward sexual questions, another difference emerges: birthright citizenship refers to the seemingly "natural" or organic production of citizens through sexual reproduction, while naturalization entails the non-sexual production of national subjects, without any necessary relationship to ancestry or race.

As I argue, however, the opposition between birthright citizenship and naturalization actually serves to mask the ways that both have historically been embedded within (hetero)sexualized understandings of production. Even though it is theoretically a non-reproductive model of producing citizens, the metaphor of "naturalization" reveals the difficulties that modern states have had in imagining the full potential of that process. Rather than breaking with a model of citizenship based on bloodline, the very language of naturalization has historically been encumbered with assumptions about a heterosexual, reproductive subject, and so tends to reinforce the model of an organic, sexually reproduced citizenry.
Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2005
EventAnnual Meeting of the Law and Society Association: Sociolegal Futures: Gambles, Dangers, Dreams, Stakes - Las Vegas, United States
Duration: Jun 2 2005Jun 5 2005


ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the Law and Society Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLas Vegas


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