Meaningless Citizenship

Iraqi Refugees and the Welfare State

2022
Author:

Sally Wesley Bonet

A searing critique of the “freedom” that America offers to the victims of its imperialist machinations of war and occupation

Meaningless Citizenship traces the costs of America’s long-term military involvement around the world by following the forced displacement of Iraqi families. Sally Wesley Bonet unveils how Iraqis are doubly displaced: first by the machinery of American imperialism in their native countries and then through a more pernicious war occurring on U.S. soil—the dismantling of the welfare state.

Meaningless Citizenship traces the costs of America’s long-term military involvement around the world by following the forced displacement of Iraqi families, unveiling how Iraqis are doubly displaced: first by the machinery of American imperialism in their native countries and then through a more pernicious war occurring on U.S. soil—the dismantling of the welfare state.

Revealing the everyday struggles and barriers that texture the lives of Iraqi families recently resettled to the United States, Sally Wesley Bonet draws from four years of deep involvement in the refugee community of Philadelphia. An education scholar, Bonet’s analysis moves beyond the prevalent tendency to collapse schooling into education. Focusing beyond the public school to other critical institutions, such as public assistance, resettlement programs, and healthcare, she shows how encounters with institutions of the state are an inherently educative process for both refugee youths and adults, teaching about the types of citizenship they are expected to enact and embody while simultaneously shaping them into laboring subjects in service of capitalism.

An intimate, in-depth ethnography, Meaningless Citizenship exposes how the veneer of American values—freedom, democracy, human rights—exported to countries like Iraq disintegrates to uncover what is really beneath: a nation-state that prioritizes the needs of capitalism above the survival and wellbeing of its citizens.

Cover alt text: White title and author on abstract blue background. Stick figures on left. Confusion of glyphs below and right.

Sally Wesley Bonet is assistant professor of educational studies at Colgate University.

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