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.

Sally Wesley Bonet’s book is a beautiful exploration of the meanings of refuge and citizenship through institutions, relationships, and the everyday experiences of children and families in the United States. It exposes essential understandings that are needed for stronger futures, particularly the consequences of misaligned expectations and reality as well as the responsibility the United States has to refugees, especially those to whom it has caused suffering.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, author of Right Where We Belong: How Refugee Teachers and Students Are Changing the Future of Education

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.

Awards

American Educational Studies Association: Critics’ Choice Book Award — Winner

American Anthropological Association Council on Anthropology and Education: Outstanding Book Award — Finalist

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

Sally Wesley Bonet’s book is a beautiful exploration of the meanings of refuge and citizenship through institutions, relationships, and the everyday experiences of children and families in the United States. It exposes essential understandings that are needed for stronger futures, particularly the consequences of misaligned expectations and reality as well as the responsibility the United States has to refugees, especially those to whom it has caused suffering.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, author of Right Where We Belong: How Refugee Teachers and Students Are Changing the Future of Education

Drawing on three years of tender and tenacious ethnographic research with Iraqi refugee families resettled into poverty in the U.S., Meaningless Citizenship explains how American imperialism and its brutal late-stage, low-road, neoliberal capitalism deny refugees the economic and social rights of full citizenship. Sally Wesley Bonet critiques how refugee resettlement, public assistance, and educational and health care institutions stymie justice, even as she shows how they might be reformed to foster more humane and equitable outcomes.

Lesley Bartlett, coauthor of Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth: 20 Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond

Contents

Introduction: The Mirage of Refuge {~?~TN: book page 1}

1. Resettlement: The Creation of Self-Sufficient Subjects

2. Welfare: The Fashioning of (Non-)Citizens

3. Public Education: Locked Out of the Right to Have Rights

4. Young Adult Education: The Shaping of Laboring Citizens

5. Healthcare: The Debilitation of Iraqi Bodies across Borders

Conclusion: Meaningless Citizenship

Acknowledgments

Appendix: A Note on Methods

Notes

Bibliography

Index