By Helen Heran Jun

About Helen Heran Jun

Helen Heran Jun is Associate Professor in the English Department and the African American Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is author of Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-­Emancipation to Neoliberal America (NYU Press, 2011).


“Citizenship” has been a key foundational term within modern liberal definitions of rights since the 18th century. In the most basic sense, citizenship is a legal status accorded to subjects of a nation that confers to its members a host of rights, protections, and obligations. Citizenship is the institution through which states may grant or deny such rights and duties to the inhabitants of a national territory, and thereby positions the state as the ultimate arbiter and guarantor of equality and justice. With the rise of the nation-state form, citizenship became a necessity for realizing what had been imagined as inalienable human rights, insofar as these rights could be practically claimed and administered only if recognized by a nation-state entity (Arendt 1968).

At the very heart of the modern idea of citizenship is a universality that is both its emancipatory promise and limit. For example, all subjects who have secured …

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