Article Access: Decolonizing Global Citizenship [Routledge]

By Deniz Saygi


According to Merriam-Webster, ‘’Colonisation’’ is the process of taking control of a people or area, especially as an extension of state power [1]. It can be said that ‘’Modern Colonisation’’ backdated to the ‘’Age of Discovery’’ during the 15th century, while European nations aimed to extend their wealth and power. Unfortunately, during this ‘’discovery process’’, ‘’conquistadors (explorers)’’ from these countries claimed the land by invading violently, ignoring the Indigenous people, and erasing Indigenous sovereignty [2].

[…] you begin by occupying the country, then you take the land and exploit the former owners at starvation rates […] you finish up taking from the natives their very right to work.

- Colonialism and Neo-colonialism by Jean-Paul Sartre [3]

Decolonisation can be defined as the process by which colonies are emancipated from the colonizing country [4]. Decolonisation occurred in two stages. The first endured from 1945 to 1955, primarily affecting countries in the Near and Middle East and Southeast Asia. The second stage began in 1955 and predominantly affected North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa [5].

In the article, Decolonizing Global Citizenship, Charles T. Lee states that in the 1990s, Arjun Appadurai (1990) defined the various dimensions of global cultural flow as ‘’ethnoscapes’’, ‘’mediascapes’’, ‘’technoscapes’’, ‘’financescapes’’, and ‘’ideoscapes’’. These terms emphasized the rapid transnational movement of human subjects, capital, commodities, informational technology, media images, and ideologies. Therefore, it is necessary to underline a democratic vision of global citizenship that envisions new structures of rights, responsibilities, and civic-political institutions beyond national-territorial peripheries [6].

In the past two decades, two genres of academic works of literature have emerged that capture the rejuvenating presumption and dynamic of the global turn to citizenship. According to this, the first genre, stemming from the idea that humans are ‘’citizens of the world’’, forms cosmopolitan or global citizenship visions from the ‘’high’’ vantage point of global governance and international civil society (Nussbaum, 1996) [7]. Andrew Linklater (2002: 329) stated that the concept of cosmopolitan or global citizenship does not lie in the design of a global state or world government that substitutes national sovereignties. Instead of this, it desires to advance characteristics of national citizenship into the global arena that large monopolies of power are responsible to those who are most influenced and involved [8]. The critics have highlighted how its discourse of global citizenship fails to question the western liberal democratic model as the constitutive paradigm (Bowden, 2003). As a matter of fact, the credibility and lawfulness of this ‘’globalised thinking on citizenship’’ are subject to question when its intellectual origins are primarily white/western and lack considerable cross-cultural dialogue and attention to non-western ideas and approaches in predicting and picturing ‘’cosmopolitan’’ citizenship. [9]

The second genre, facilitated by the transnational and cosmopolitan methods of citizenship by the ‘’lowly’’ non-status issues, moves through an even more nuanced set of critical examinations and studies that interrogate precisely how the primarily non-western undocumented migrants and refugees who are remaindered by the state-centric institutional systems and networks in the international and globalised world order, engender ‘’informal or extrastriata forms of citizenship’’ (Sasser 2004: 187) [10].

On the other hand, another criticism emerged regarding the second genre: whilst it particularly identifies irregular migrants and refugees as the leading designers of extrastriate forms of citizenship, its expected political contestations have not been able to de-center the western liberal institutional system and network of citizenship in which non-status issues are materially embedded [11].

Focusing on the political agency of a non-status subject, the experiences in the processes of adaptation, negotiating and contesting the rules and instruments of exclusion, exploitation, and survival in western industrialized and ‘’developed’’ democracies, this collection of essential studies relates to the alternative staging of citizenship, specifically by those who lack official class and placement to participate and experience in a democratic polity and claim citizenship rights (Andrijasevic et al., 2012) [12].

One component that determines these two genres of studies is the denationalization of citizenship which aims to extend and develop its institutional format, design, method, and legislation beyond the position of the nation-state. While political and intellectual ambitions and acts of denationalization create a democratic pathway to the enclosed system of citizenship, one problematic issue still arises: the tendency to analyze the concept of citizenship through a western-centric lens and democratic political thought (such as liberal, civic republican, communitarian, deliberative, and radically democratic). Hence, its characteristics remain profoundly rooted in ‘’westernized political and institutional structures.’’ [13]

Consequently, the western ‘’contamination’’ of citizenship leads to a counter-project of decolonizing global citizenship” by structuring two routes: ‘’Exogenous Critique’’ and ‘’Endogenous Critique’’.

‘’Exogenous Critique’’ analyses citizenship as an ‘’intrinsic public good’’ seized and curved by liberal imperial forces in an undemocratic approach. The exogenous examination envisions colonial aspirations and actions as being developed outside rather than derived from citizenship itself. Thus, a decolonized concept of global citizenship can be recovered and realized by purifying itself or quarantining itself from this external contamination of western hegemony. Barbara Arniel reflects this through her critical dissection of US foreign policy in her article ‘Global Citizenship and Empire’ (2007). Arneil points out a shift in the imperial rule of the United States from a ‘’real-politic’’ vision which focused exclusively on extending its own self-interests and maintaining its own national security in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. After 9/11, America developed a new vision of global citizenship which was shaped by the ‘liberal’ form of ‘civilized empire’ understanding and the idea that a single set of universal laws such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ should apply to people globally.

Therefore, a new concept known as ‘’liberal empire’’ emerged which focused on the globalization of American citizenship and the creation of ‘citizens’ that subscribed to western political values and neoliberal ideals. Hence, the global promotion of neoliberal citizenship turns the ‘’citizens’’ into consumers within an international marketplace. In this sense, democratic citizens are also considered the producers and consumers of global capitalism by being ‘complicit’ in perpetuating the western, liberal, imperial configuration of citizenship life [14].

The exogenous critique also underlines that the emancipatory politics of the anti-globalization process and movements are essential to engender the ‘’transborder democratic citizenship’’ as they formulate ‘’cross-border alliances against corporate injustice.’’ An alternative vision of global citizenship can be formed under the ‘’social rights’’ and ‘’shared fate.’’ Therefore, the imperialist infiltration can be quarantined and decontaminated [15].

On the other hand, ‘’endogenous critique’’ aims to decolonize global citizenship through a different route by considering colonial and capitalist connections of power intertwined with citizenship itself. Thus, global citizenship is already implicated in the hegemonic system and cannot be ‘’liberated’’ or ‘’exceeded’’ from such power configurations. Consequently, through reviewing citizenship as a profoundly degraded outcome in its origin, endogenous critique does not address the decolonization of global citizenship as the quest for an inconceivable ‘’purity’’. Instead, the decolonization process is transferred as mobilizing the action and versatile trajectories of turmoil in colonial contamination, which would covertly outline the structure of global capitalism and reconfigure the base of white, western hegemony by rupturing its embedded power connections and relations. Regarding the spaces of relative autonomy and freedom within the crevices of white and western hegemony, the decolonization of global citizenship can be staged since it standardizes and universalizes the way of life. The inevitable conclusion of the historical and structural entrenchment of the current world system led to the overwhelming number of issues related to global citizenship in reproducing white hegemony. Hence, any efforts to decolonize global citizenship cannot be expected to be shaped into absolute forms of negation or refusal. It must be negotiated through ‘’messy’’ webs of complicity and produce contingent and transnational effects on social change. Moreover, the ‘’gender script’’ also puts citizens in a binary situation by placing them on a lifelong trajectory of respective masculine or feminine ‘’order’’ and pushing people into heteronormative monogamous relationships under the ‘’Global Cultural Script’’ which makes the cycle of life static, routine, and circuitous. In addition to all of these, it should be remembered that cultural-material products and consequences of the European capitalist modernity, political life, economic life, gender life, and also life itself are embodied in a liberal citizenship script that engineers ‘’whiteness’’ and ‘westerness’ that is thoroughly contained and inescapably racialised. [16]

Grewal’s (2005) Transnational America demonstrates this endogenous approach by investigating ‘’global citizenship’’ as a technology of discourse and the transnational diffusion of the notion of ‘’America’’ beyond the US national boundaries. According to Grewal, this intertwines with other assemblages of power in creating issues related to neoliberal citizenship in other regions and recovering historical structures of colonial inequalities and subjectivities. This kind of neoliberal version of the ‘’American Dream’’ and lifestyle is broadcasted to different parts of the world via imperialist geopolitics, capitalist marketization, and transnational consumer culture and understanding. The formations of democratic rights culture (which is ‘’freedom’’) and consumer citizenship (which is ‘’choice’’) are combined jointly in their transnational and global transmission. Therefore, ‘’Becoming American’’ strives to represent global citizenship, which is envisioned through ‘’the marketing of global brands’’ and ‘’the creation of global consumers’’, reinforced by the understanding of ‘’America as a sign of freedom ... [that connotes] asymmetrical internationalism, corporate power, and white nationalism.’’ (Grewal 2005: 9) [17].

The global diffusion of democratic citizenship under consumer practices embodies ideals of individual choice and autonomy, entrepreneurship and economic mobility, freedom to trade, exchange traps, and reproduces new global inequalities in racialized, gendered, and classed systems. As Grewal points out, one cannot thoroughly anticipate transcending the collusive trajectories of transnational connectivity that create and distribute the neoliberal discourse of global citizenship through ‘’vanguardist resistance’’, an emancipatory politics that desire to revitalize ‘’the pure, uncommodified self’’ or ‘’the uncon­taminated other’’ as seen in exogenous critique. Instead, she approaches the decolonization process in a Foucauldian manner that recognizes ‘’the myriad and multiple ways in which neoliberal technologies produce all kinds of agency ... that ... moved in all kinds of direc­tions and mechanisms that did not remain pure of their conditions of possibility, but created contradictions, tensions, and struggles’’. [18] Accordingly, new social movements hold a critical position in the decolonizing battle against neo-liberalism understanding and approach since they both used its programs and opposed the idea of neo-liberalism in their critical responses and interventions.

In conclusion, it can be said that the critiques argued in this article have limits regarding the process of decolonization. On the one hand, exogenous critique awakens political aspiration for the purity of citizenship. Yet, such aspiration is determined explicitly by the impossibility of transcending and overextending the global liberal citizenship life cycle that continually implants and creates inroads into any actuality and commencement of democratic purity. On the other hand, endogenous critique assumes the contamination of citizenship as a given. It aims to create and expand spaces of habitable and liveable life within the existing global liberal economy. Nevertheless, this critique’s approach to ‘’another world’’ and ‘’alternative political possibility’’ is connected to and denied by its envisioned structural reality.




[2] Kovach, M., Carriere, J., Barrett, M. J., Montgomery, H., & Gillies, C. (2013). Stories of Diverse Identity Locations in Indigenous Research. International Review of Qualitative Research, 6(4), 487–509.

[3] Sartre, Jean-Paul. (2005). Colonialism and Neocolonialism. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, p.14.



[6] Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory Culture Society, 7, 295. doi: 10.1177/026327690007002017

[7] Nussbaum, M. (1996). Compassion: The basic social emotion. Social Philosophy and Policy, 13(1): 27-58.

[8] Andrew Linklater. (2002). The Problem of Harm in World Politics: Implications for the Sociology of States-Systems. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 78(2), 319–338.

[9] Bowden, E.M., Jung-Beeman, M. Normative data for 144 compound remote associate problems. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers 35, 634–639 (2003).

[10] Sassen, S. (2004). Local Actors in Global Politics. Current Sociology, 52(4), 649–670.

[11] Manalansan, M.F., IV (2005), Relocating Cultural Expressions. Anthropology and Humanism, 30: 179-186.

[12] Andrijasevic, R. (2013). Acts of citizenship as methodology. In Enacting European Citizenship (pp. 47-65). Cambridge University Press.

[13] Falk, R.A. (2000). Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World (1st ed.). Routledge.

[14] Arneil. (2007). Global Citizenship and Empire. Citizenship Studies, 11(3), 301–328.

[15] Mohanty, C. T. (2003). “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles. Signs, 28(2), 499–535.

[16] Lee, Charles T., "Decolonizing global citizenship", in Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies ed. Engin F. Isin and Peter Nyers (Abingdon: Routledge, 27 Jun 2014 ), accessed 10 May 2022, Routledge Handbooks Online.

[17] & [18] Grewal, I. (2005). Transnational America: Feminisms, diasporas, neoliberalisms. Durham: Duke University Press.



Deniz Saygi is a current PhD student at Middle East Technical University in Science and Technology Policy Studies. Deniz also holds degrees from Ankara University (MA Latin American Studies) and TOBB University of Economics and Technology (BA International Relations and Affairs). Deniz writes contributions for the Earth Refuge, Human Rights Pulse and Sustainability for Students. She currently is selected as the Max Thabiso Edkins Climate Ambassador for the Global Climate Youth Network hosted by the World Bank.