by Lauren Berlant

About Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Her work on citizenship includes The Anatomy of National Fantasy, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, The Female Complaint, and Cruel Optimism. Her most recent book is, with Lee Edelman, Sex, or the Unbearable.


Although we tend to think of citizenship as something national, originally the citizen was simply a certain kind of someone who lived in a Greek city: a member of an elite class who was said to be capable of self-governance and therefore of the legal and military governance of the city. But the ancient history of the term tells us little about the constellation of rights, laws, obligations, interests, fantasies, and expectations that shape the modern scene of citizenship, which is generally said to have been initiated by the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century (B. Anderson 1991; B. Turner 1993; Mouffe 1995). Most simply, citizenship refers to a standing within the law (this is often called formal citizenship); jus soli citizenship allots citizenship to people born within the geographical territory, and jus sanguinis awards citizenship by way of a parental inheritance.