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Abstract

This dissertation examines processes of citizen-making in the reception offices for migrant newcomers in the linguistically and institutionally divided city of Brussels. I build on the work of scholars who critically analyze the techniques of governance at play in the field of migrant newcomer reception and the types of subjects these techniques in turn produce. The governance of newcomers represents a highly salient political issue that divides the two linguistic-political communities in the city. The reception agencies—organized separately by the French-speaking and the Flemish-speaking communities in Brussels—function as one of the disciplining mazes through which newcomer migrants have to pass to gain entry into wider society. The recent establishment of these offices can be regarded as a symptom of a rising interest in the moral aspects of citizenship. Yet, the literature has rarely documented the mechanisms through which notions of good citizenship are formulated, interpreted, and taught by reception officers in practice. This study’s goal is to identify the factors that contributed to the historical emergence of this divided and moralizing field of newcomer reception and to analyze how these different governmentalities play out in practice. Building primarily on a comparative ethnography of citizenship classes and intake activities in three different reception agencies, in-depth interviews with reception officers and policymakers, and historical archival research, I demonstrate that there are local and subnational interpretations of citizenship that are reflected in the varying offices’ approaches wherein they teach autonomy and cosmopolitanism to newcomers. In this regard, the Flemish agency in Brussels takes an interventionist attitude to recruit and retain newcomers and teaches them to skillfully navigate organizational bureaucracies. The Francophone offices, on the other hand, are noninterventionist and teach the newcomers to become enlightened and knowledgeable human beings. I argue that the variation in approach is, in turn, the result of boundary-making processes that are part and parcel of the power struggles between the two linguistic elites in Brussels whereby their own identity and political authority in the city are at stake. This study’s findings not only shed light on the governmentalities whereby new moral citizens are produced, but it encourages more research about sub-national forms of citizenship as well. Moreover, it reveals the multination city as a singular space where highly contested and diversified understandings and practices of citizenship are pursued by different national traditions. My case, therefore, draws important theoretical lessons for the study of boundaries, citizenship, and migration in (divided) cities.

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