“A House is Not a Home: Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Democracies” explores the tension between formal citizenship and genuine belonging in 21st century democracies to think about two overarching themes: the democratic promises of equality, and the persistence or stickiness of sociopolitical inequalities. Belonging has been studied by other disciplines—psychologists study attachment and inner-group dynamics, historians have studied the formation of nationhood and historical memories, and, linguists, for example, have been interested in the importance of language to delineate communities. Within political science, however, and specifically within democratic theory, belonging is undertheorized. That lack of scholarly attention stems partly from the assumption that the question of who belongs can be settled through the question of who is a citizen. Namely, those who belong are citizens and those who are citizens belong. Following that logic, to foster equality within democratic communities, scholars and activists alike ought to focus on rights and legal guarantees. The assumption that questions of equal membership are best addressed via citizenship and legal rights implies that states that are good at guaranteeing those equal rights, that have working institutions, large modern bureaucracies that abide by the rule of law and so forth, should be particularly well-equipped at fostering equality, citizenship, and belonging. And yet, counterintuitively, the “citizen who does not belong” is a figure that appears, not in weak democracies that fail to protect basic freedoms and rights, but precisely in these comparatively successful democracies, such as France. During fieldwork, I found that in France, it is some French Muslims who are cast (and even self-describe) as being “French citizens but not really French,” as are some French Jews, and also French citizens living in Guyana or Martinique. Conversely, in Mexico, the distinction between being a Mexican citizen and being “really Mexican” is considered nonsensical by ordinary citizens. Although the comparison between Mexico and France—two democracies that endorse revolutionary civic nationalisms—motivates the dissertation, failures of belonging are not exclusive to France. In the United States, for example, Hispanic Americans are sometimes cast as "American citizens but not really American." So, why are citizenship and belonging disassociated precisely where they should be closely knit together? Why doesn’t this decoupling happen in a place like Mexico where the state is remarkably bad at guaranteeing legal rights and the rule of law? I answer that the decoupling of citizenship and belonging is not a product of democratic weaknesses that necessitate better legal solutions, but a “side-effect” of the successes of those solutions. Citizenship is neither sufficient or a substitute for belonging. Understanding it as such—more frequently and understandably done in established democracies where the rule of law prevails—will actively hinder belonging. Therefore, legal solutions and formal institutions are both necessary yet counterproductive for belonging. Normatively, the dissertation invites for an attention to belonging as a growing site of inequality that, not only cannot solely be addressed through institutional means, but that might even be weakened by them. More tangibly, however, the dissertation proposes that informal exchanges between ordinary citizens, such as encounters in the public space that are often brushed off as trivial, private matters, or anecdotal, are worth cultivating both by the ordinary citizens who inhabit those democracies and scholars interested in fostering equality. Those informal exchanges are core for democratic equality. Theoretically, the dissertation speaks to debates on citizenship, democracy, immigration, and nationalism by suggesting that some pitfalls of contemporary democracies might be the result of logics immanent to democratic theory and not external to it. The dissertation combines insights from both political theory and comparative politics with qualitative empirical evidence analyzed through an ethnographic sensibility.



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