With 194 different conceptions of citizenship and nationality in the world, attempting to find common threads can seem like a daunting task. For John Agnew, however, doing so is essential to uncovering the challenges and problems of increasing international migration.
Agnew, distinguished professor of geography at the University of California-Los Angeles and this year’s Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar, spoke to a group of about 50 students, faculty and Galesburg community members on Monday in the Muelder Reading Room in Seymour Library. He began by stressing that immigration, although the subject of much discourse in U.S. politics, is a global phenomenon.
“We have this kind of mythology…that people are always rooted in places,” Agnew said. “But in fact, historically, people have been great movers.”
With around 200 million people now living outside of their countries of birth, the question of what constitutes citizenship and national belonging is being readdressed worldwide. Agnew pointed to the decrease in countries that use a jus soli citizenship model, in which citizenship is based on country of birth rather than ethnicity or culture.
Sophomore Madeline Troy found Agnew’s focus on different constructions of citizenship especially relevant in light of the Boston Marathon bombings, in which initial reactions to persons of interest were colored largely in terms of nationality, the primary suspect being a Chechen immigrant.
“I think it’s something we don’t talk about a lot, and I think…it’s something that should be considered and maybe talked about more,” she said.
To examine different notions of citizenship around the world, Agnew proposed a framework of four main “types,” based in combinations of the two main elements of effective state sovereignty: central state authority and state territoriality – the ability of a state to provide public goods within clearly defined and secure borders.
“The classic way of thinking about state sovereignty É is that these things go together,” Agnew said. “But in fact, for many states, this has never been the case.”
The U.S., for example, is characterized in Agnew’s framework as a “globalist” country with a strong government, but which relies heavily on international markets. In contrast, Italy is an “integrative” country, with a weak state but a strong sense of territory.
Agnew also analyzed the citizenship systems in Mexico and South Korea. While Mexico works on figuring out its role as a source country for migrants to the U.S., South Korea remains hostile to non-ethnic Korean immigrants as an economically vibrant state with a strong central government.
Despite the vast range of experiences with immigration and citizenship, Agnew also stressed commonalities: many countries, for example, share the U.S.’s difficulties with border security.
Although Agnew cautioned against using the U.S. as a singular case to study immigration, much of his lecture focused on what he viewed as problems with U.S. immigration policy – a policy he has experienced firsthand as an immigrant from the United Kingdom.
Of particular concern to him was the need to distinguish between permanent and temporary migrants.
“One of the ironies in recent discussions in the U.S. is that hardening the border makes it more difficult for people to leave,” he said. “Pretending that everyone who immigrates to the U.S. wants to be a citizen is not the way to go.”
The legal immigration process in the United States is also problematic, he said, because of its complexity. He illustrated this with a flow chart that, despite being projected on a screen that was several yards wide, was nearly unreadable due to the amount of text and arrows going in every direction.
“It’s almost irrational to try and enter the United States as a legal immigrant,” he said. “There’s something wrong…if that’s the case.”
Throughout his lecture, Agnew addressed the economic component of immigration, particularly in developed countries who need an influx of workers as their populations age. On the other hand, money sent back home by immigrants can become an “economic development strategy” in its own right.
“Professor Agnew practices what I call the highest form of social science writing:…insight that disturbs assumptions about the shifting global landscape,” Professor of History Mike Schneider said.
Agnew’s visit to campus was sponsored by the national organization of Phi Beta Kappa and the Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies at Knox.