Sultan Doughan (PhD, 2018 UC Berkeley) is a political anthropologist engaging questions of citizenship, memory, religious difference as race in Germany, Europe, and the Middle East. She is particularly interested in how state-citizen relations function through violent histories, social norms and national morals. Her book project Converting Citizens: German Secularism and the Politics of Holocaust Memory centers secularism on the question of history. Here, she engages citizenship as a practice of ‘secular conversion’ and asks if participatory politics is only possible by socially acceptable claims to injury. She is a lecturer/assistant professor in the department of anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Citizenship and Social Death”
Can citizenship effect social death? Conventional accounts of citizenship emphasize the right to have rights, legal status, and contrast legal subjectivity of the citizen with the legally bound migrant, refugee, or slave (Arendt 1951). The notion of “social death” associated with loss of community and radical alienation emerges out of discussions about slavery and the Black experience in the US pointing to the longue durational effects of slave-master relations (Patterson 1981). This paper engages citizenship and social death as two distinct but related concepts in their specifically intertwined emergence in Germany. Beyond citizenship as a legal category, this paper approaches citizenship as a technology effective through state-sanctioned forms of Holocaust commemoration. The paper first describes how Holocaust commemoration has prompted and provided points of entry for participation, self-cultivation and citizen-state relations specifically addressing Middle Eastern diasporas. In a second step, it discusses the case of German-Palestinian civic educators whose public participation in Holocaust commemoration is based upon disavowing social memories and transnational relations to Palestine. The failure to do so, I argue, results in a new form of social death one which causes a stigma and disables an unencumbered participation in social and public institutions. I take these findings then to discuss the notion of social death as effected by citizenship more closely in order to complicate the binary of citizenship (free) vs. social death (unfree). In concluding, I ask what makes citizenship a distinctive relation of state domination, when it operates through genocidal memory? If citizenship is not simply the ideal of a liberal paradigm (the right to have rights), but a gradated position of death distributed by state institutions, what does it say about the ability to do politics?