What Defines Citizenship? Perspective of Immigrants Living in Northern Metropolises

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Belinda BAH, University of Montreal, Canada
In the context of globalisation, the big cities of the North tend to attract migrants from the South. International immigration to these metropolises raises controversial questions about citizenship. This is one reason that citizenship needs to be thought of not only as a legal status, but also, as a cultural construct. The concept of “cultural citizenship” is increasingly present in the literature and implies the existence of diverse “citizen identities”. Cultural citizenship is often analysed through the study of concrete participative practices, or the ways in which individuals engage in collective action. In this context, if “being a good citizen” is “being an active citizen”, what does this really mean in big cities of the North? We propose to understand the dynamic of cultural citizenship through the concept and process of “citizen acculturation”. To this end, our doctoral research focused on the (trans)formation of citizen identity of individuals for whom this process might be more problematical than for others: international immigrants. In Montreal, we interviewed twenty-seven immigrants with diverse profiles, identified by others and above all by themselves as “active citizens”. Through qualitative interviews, followed in some cases by a questionnaire, we elicited their idea of “active citizenship” and analysed how this interpretation was constructed. Because our goal was not simply to list what being an active citizen might mean in the context of our study, we also looked at identity content, referencing three ideological frameworks: communautarian, liberal and republican. Based on this field work carried out over a year and a half, the presentation will focus on the results regarding the meaning of active citizenship for international immigrants in a so-called pluricultural metropolis.