Enacting Citizenship: Migration, gender, performing theory and methods
Dr Umut Erel The Open University
This paper reflects on research with participatory theatre methods with a group of migrant mothers in Hackney.
Drawing on the migrant women’s knowledges shared and developed in the participatory theatre sessions, it asks how we can re-envisage critical theories of citizenship. Although the family is itself changing and a gender-neutral language of parenting is emerging in the UK, it is still overwhelmingly mothers who care for children.
Mothers play an important role in constructing national identities: on one hand as symbols of the nation, embodying its values, on the other, as transmitting culture and values to the next generation, as well as biologically and socially reproducing the group. Thus, mothers are tasked, sometimes in contradictory ways, with safeguarding group continuity, whilst also shaping change in the face of the challenges of the new. However, we cannot think of mothering as a homogeneous set of norms, values and practices.
While research and policy often focuses on how migrant mothers can be better integrated, my approach asks what we can learn by understanding the caring, cultural and social practices of migrant women as interventions into citizenship. Reframing migrant mothers as citizens throws into relief some of the contradictions of contemporary multi-ethnic societies and the ways they envisage their futures. Migrant mothering challenges the discursive construction of a long history of the nation-state as based on intergenerational ethnic continuity.
This approach mobilises the notion of ‘enacting citizenship’ (Isin 2008), suggesting that people – whether they have formal citizenship status or not - ‘enact citizenship’, performing their fundamental right to have rights, by asking questions about social justice. This approach foregrounds transformative and creative performativities of citizenship, rather than the status or habitus of existing citizenship practices: acts of citizenship transform forms and modes of being political (Isin 2008a:39).
Such a performative notion of citizenship is well suited to exploring the everyday experiences of migrant mothers and how they relate to belonging, participation and identity on the local, national and transnational levels. Using participatory theatre with migrant mothers, the paper explores how theoretical and methodological notions of enacting citizenship can engender a critical view on hegemonic notions of citizenship.
Dr Umut Erel: http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/main/staff/people-profile.php?name=Umut_Erel