Constituting citizens 'Mexican migrants' and the discourses and practices of United States citizenship



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This dissertation examines the discourses and practices of citizenship in the United States through an analysis of interviews carried out with a group of Mexican migrants who are in the process of acquiring, or have recently acquired, U.S. citizenship, participation and observations at citizenship promotion events and naturalization ceremonies, and interviews of individuals promoting citizenship. The discourses of citizenship are contextualized through an examination of statutes, historical material, legal cases, and other documents. Theoretically, the dissertation addresses the undertheorized notion that power not only asserts a disciplining and coercive force upon individuals, but that, following Foucault, it has a ‘productive’ force, it produces subjectivities. It is argued that the effectiveness of the discursive formation of citizenship depends on its making sense to individuals, and its ability to hold out the possibility of meeting the needs and desires of individuals. Previous work has not adequately examined the broader process encompassing the promotion of citizenship, assistance with the application, citizenship classes, and naturalization ceremonies. The social science literature on citizenship has not paid sufficient attention to affects such as fidelity in the constitution of citizens, specifically “good citizens.” Fidelity is demanded by state citizenship and it overlaps with other discourses that are part of the lived experience of individuals. The discourses and practices of citizenship overlap with schooling, with graduation ceremonies, and with weddings. All of these practices, and the discourses involved, invoke fidelity: fidelity to the state and its institutions, fidelity to one’s school, and fidelity to one’s marriage partner. In sum, the attributes of a “good citizen,” and our desire to possess the positively-defined elements, contribute to the functioning of the state, the military, the workplace, the school, and the family; and to the production of governable subjects. The dissertation also discusses the overlooked everyday uses of the notion of “citizen,” and the possibility of disenchantment with the acquisition of juridical citizenship; and offers a critique of critics who are concerned with the “devaluing of citizenship” and the lack of “sanctity” in the contemporary taking of the citizenship Oath.