Author’s Note: I wrote this paper just yesterday for a Cities and Citizenship class at the University of Washington. Through Anna Secor’s readings and teachings in this class, it is interesting to know that the concept of “citizenship” within the “city” is much more complex (and complicated) than I really prefer to think about it. However, like most things, I am more intelligent (at least I think so) with this knowledge. My understanding of the city as contested urban space has expanded. And my overall insight about the human race and its relationship to others is strengthened and enlightened.
The citizenship ideal is built around the notion that where you stand, so you belong, a sort of this land is your land utopian idea. This idea is referred to as utopian because psychology, geography, and policy refuse to support such a theory leaving it to the entertainment of the mind instead. The real concept of citizenship is much more complex and continues to bring lengthy debate from the left and the right, republicans and democrats, the rich and the poor, the professional and the resident.
However the many perspectives, this discussion will focus on citizenship as a political strategy in which “citizens” publicly appeal to society claiming identity and belonging through discourse and action. The question raised in this discussion is whether or not society returns the persons’ claim thus granting social identity and belonging and if society, as an institution, also appeals to persons’ in granting political ownership. In other words, this city may belong to me, but do I also belong to this city? Following Anna Secor’s notion of spatial stories, this discussion will explore the tactics and strategies of peoples in claiming political belonging and social identity in a quest for citizenship.
Spatial stories, as proposed by Anna Secor, suggest one’s personal feeling, attitude and perception about what it means to belong in his/her city. These stories assert the tactics and strategies by which citizens unconsciously or consciously use in an overall political strategy of citizenship. A member from one focus group said, “We go to places that are of our own culture…We go to café’s that are playing our own music. We go to bars where our people go, places belonging to our own people” (Secor 2004, 358). The tactic here is one of acting anonymously in the city to avoid enemy territory. The strategy is staking out spaces where “our own people” are the dominant social group to find that sense of belonging. This Turkish citizen, in a political strategy to belong, uses both tactic and strategy in appealing to society as a citizen who simply feels excluded.
In part, citizens privately control his/her own spatial story. These stories do, however, interlace with one another in areas of urban public space. The urban public sphere plays two major roles as an important space within this discussion. First, the urban public sphere is the space in which all peoples traverse ultimately transcending spatial boundaries. Secondly, urban public space transforms all peoples into becoming active participants and constituencies in the fabrication of identity, belonging and citizenship.
“In Istanbul you can build communication with people from all walks of life. You can debate and discuss” (Secor 2004, 358). Previously mentioned was the tactic and strategy to keep to one’s own culture by resisting contact with “others” who potentially threaten self-identity or meaning of belonging. In this urban public sphere, citizens transcend these imaginary cultural boundaries and become the actors of urban theater. Istanbul, as a neutral and public urban space, offers Kurdish citizens in Turkey an opportunity to strategize for political appeal for citizenship in the city. It is through interaction and discourse that persons actually have the capacity to shift attitudes of oppression off oneself and gain a sense of belonging and social identity as “citizens.”
However idyllic this premise may seem, it also suggests that public space may be the only space in which all peoples have a true claim to citizenship. It is outside the public sphere that persons slip into tactics of what Secor calls anonymity in securing a sense of belonging. As mentioned above, tactics of anonymity are often used to avoid enemy confrontation. “…People live in two worlds. One is a world that not everyone can enter, a place where you truly belong with the origins of your identity. For example, it is a place where I can unite with other[s like me]. But let’s say there is some whose reaction I can’t predict. I won’t say anything to them…” (Secor 2004, 360).
Both the tactics of anonymity and the strategies of identity act as political strategies in claiming citizenship, belonging and identity. Citizenship as a political strategy is therefore, taken by claim by persons of tactic and strategy. People politically strategize for claims to citizenship by discourse and process in a public arena ultimately claiming that part of this city belongs to me. But it is here that the argument must be raised- this city may belong to me, but do I also belong to this city? It is true that while the tactic of anonymity achieves the feeling of true belonging and identity with one’s own culture, it lacks the core for it truly means to be a citizen of the city and a genuine participant of citizen practices outside the public sphere. What is citizenship if its powers are only exercisable in certain spaces?
Anna Secor describes three spaces in which Turkish Kurdish citizens were socially forced to hide their identity as Kurds in an effort to belong as peoples of the city. “Schools, as prime sites of identity formation and boundary creation, become implicated in the everyday construction of citizenship” (Secor 2004, 360). It is arguable that school is a frequently the space in which children first encounter attitudes, labels and feelings towards citizenship, belonging and identity. Even in this Euro-asian country, Kurdish children often described their experiences at school as being taunted and treated like strangers by the other children who acted on behalf of what their parents told them about the Kurds. In this way, children experienced the practice of exclusion at a very early age imposing tactics of anonymity as the only way to “make it” in school.
Secor also describes neighborhoods and the workplace as contested spaces of citizenship. In many cases, Kurdish women in Turkey faced unwilling landlords and angry complaining neighbors forcing them to use “tactical silence as they enter into spaces that demand particular identity performances” (Secor 2004, 362). The workplace proves to be even more discriminatory in practice socially forbidding some persons’ political claim to citizenship. Secor describes the workplace, from observations upon focus group discussion, as spaces where persons are forced daily with the decision to either evade or express his/her true identity.
These three spaces, school, neighborhoods and the workplace, as disputed spaces for citizenship claims, offer testimony to the argument that although citizenship itself can be alleged through political strategy and appeal, the right and status of citizenship is an unremitting renegotiating. A person, through political strategy, may feel a claim of belonging as a citizen of society. But society may not mutually return such claim thus citizenship, the social status, may not be granted.
Society will continue to put up walls and boundaries of social inclusion and exclusion receiving and inhibiting peoples identity within the city as citizens. As Secor suggests, there may be a multilevel citizenship matter that is proved by this study of political strategy of the spatial regimes and discourse of citizenship. For now, citizenship as a political strategy allows a claim to ownership but will persist in having little effect on granting citizenship as a social status to all who politically appeal for it. This land may be your land, but whether or not you feel you belong here is another subject of matter.
Anna Secor 2004 “There is an Istanbul That Belongs to Me”: Citizenship, Space, and Identity in the City, in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 94 (2): 352-368.