Citizenship after orientalism

Engin F. Isin
Publication date: 
March 2005
Publication type: 
Journal article

This chapter offers some thoughts about investigating citizenship after orientalism and reflects on the possibilities of exploring “Ottoman citizenship” under different terms as neither an oriental nor occidental institution. I address three distinct but interrelated issues. First, I discuss the relationship between orientalism and citizenship. While orientalism has received considerable attention in the last three decades, the debate has remained focused on representations of the Orient in occidental art and literature. The focus has been much less on how orientalism mobilized both imperial and local groups to organize political and legal practices. As I have argued elsewhere (Işın 2002a; 2002b) and will briefly discuss below, one of the building blocks of orientalism has been making an ontological difference between the orient and occident on the question of the political in general and citizenship in particular. In a nutshell, the occidental tradition has constituted the Orient as those times and places where peoples have been unable to constitute themselves as political precisely because they have been unable to invent that identity the occident named as the citizen. The figure of the citizen that dominated the occidental tradition is the figure of that sovereign man (and much later woman) who is capable of judgment and being judged, transcending his (and much later her) tribal, kinship, and other primordial loyalties and belongingness. The figure represents an unencumbered and sovereign self in a direct contractual relationship with the city (and much later the state). By contrast, the Orient never invented that figure and mimetically reproduced it with only limited success. I critique this particular variant of orientalism – political orientalism – as a condition for rethinking citizenship.

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Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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