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Being Political

Genealogies of Citizenship

2001
Author:

Engin F. Isin

Being Political

A provocative counterhistory-and a bold new approach-to notions of citizenship.

What does it mean to be political? Every age has based its answer on citizenship, bequeathing us such indelible images as that of the Greek citizen exercising his rights and obligations in the agora, the Roman citizen conducting himself in the forum, medieval citizens receiving their charter before the guildhall. Being Political disrupts these images by approaching citizenship as otherness, presenting a powerful critique of universalistic and orientalist interpretations of the origins of citizenship and a persuasive alternative history of the present struggles over citizenship.

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By switching focus from images conveyed by history’s victors, Being Political offers a series of genealogies of citizenship as otherness.

Isin’s command of a terrific array of secondary literature results in intricately textured portraits of cities that are not only spaces but also processes, where citizens and their others are made and unmade. In analyzing the city’s role in the production of alterity, Being Political helps us assess the complicated set of values, spaces, and relationships that together constitute our current understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

American Political Science Review

What does it mean to be political? Every age has based its answer on citizenship, bequeathing us such indelible images as that of the Greek citizen exercising his rights and obligations in the agora, the Roman citizen conducting himself in the forum, medieval citizens receiving their charter before the guildhall. Being Political disrupts these images by approaching citizenship as otherness, presenting a powerful critique of universalistic and orientalist interpretations of the origins of citizenship and a persuasive alternative history of the present struggles over citizenship.

Who were the strangers and outsiders of citizenship? What strategies and technologies were invented for constituting those forms of otherness? Focusing on these questions, rather than on the images conveyed by history’s victors, Being Political offers a series of genealogies of citizenship as otherness. Engin F. Isin invokes the city as a "difference machine," recovering slaves, peasants, artisans, prostitutes, vagabonds, savages, flextimers, and squeegee men in the streets of the polis, civitas, metropolis, and cosmopolis. The result is a challenge to think in bolder terms about citizenship at a time when the nature of citizenship is an increasingly open question.

Being Political

Engin F. Isin is associate professor in the Division of Social Science at York University in Toronto.

Being Political

Isin’s command of a terrific array of secondary literature results in intricately textured portraits of cities that are not only spaces but also processes, where citizens and their others are made and unmade. In analyzing the city’s role in the production of alterity, Being Political helps us assess the complicated set of values, spaces, and relationships that together constitute our current understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

American Political Science Review

Isin’s book is a valuable resource. Being Political helps us to assess the complicated set of values, spaces, and relationships that together constitute our current understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

Perspectives on Politics

Being Political highlights the struggles that underlie any one city’s accepted interpretation of citizenship.

Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Exceptionally powerful. If Being Political is as widely read as it deserves to be, it will prompt a thorough going reconsideration of contemporary common sense.

Society and Space

This book will undoubtedly be read by future generations. It also deserves to be widely discussed, given the challenging ways it asks us to rethink what we mean by citizenship. A considerable scholarly achievement.

Sociology