As we approach the end game of (this stage of) Brexit, and hopefully move toward the downward slope of the Covid pandemic, numerous interactions have had me thinking about citizenship.
More often than not we think of citizenship as a marker of status – a title bestowed by sovereign decree that distinguishes one individual as a belonging subject and casts it in opposition to those individuals who are non-subject others. We have ceremonies for it, tests for it, and certificates for it – this is a citizenship based in law and in discourse.
This is very much the citizenship that Brexit imagines. Brexit is, among other things, a will to distinction. Particularly an attempt to discursively distinguish some individuals as citizen and set them in contrast to the securitised immigrant. This exclusionary citizenship is being achieved through the discourses of “taking back control of borders” and the policies of settled status and points-based immigration.
As Engin Isin has frequently observed, this narrow legalistic-discursive status-based view of citizenship misses what it is to be a citizen, and what a citizen does – individuals become citizens through partaking in rituals and social norms. Citizenship is, in short, an act.
It is interesting that even act based theories of citizenship tend to overlook the body while this year it is by keeping our bodies absent, hidden, removed, and covered, that we are most effectively performing our citizenship – the distance between our bodies signals our solidarity.
What we have seen between March and December is a break with our collective habitus (habituses? habiti?) – the dispositions of late capitalism are to rush and to individualism. At the beginning of the pandemic we were impatient. We saw this in the empty shelves at supermarkets as people rushed to stock up on a years’ supply of pasta and toilet roll – but, as the months have passed, we have developed a new patient citizenship.
Patient acts of citizenship are performed with and through the body. We have seen it in the queues of people waiting in line for hours to vote in America. Of people snaking around supermarket car parks with their trolley. Of crossing the road to avoid bodies, not through fear but through care. We wear our patience; it shows on our bodies through the uncut hair and “lockdown mullets” and in our expanding waistlines as we accept we simply can’t (or can’t be bothered to) keep up with Joe Wicks. Patient citizenship is found in those moments of consideration as children stand carefully but deliberately on the stickers that now all-too familiarly adorn supermarket floors. Our patience shows in the kind eyes we have developed over masked smiles and as we let vulnerable bodies go in front of us as we queue to pay for shopping, always nervously holding a steady 2 meters apart.
We have spent a year in delay, biding our time, we have done it because we care about our friends, our neighbours, our fellow citizens. Our bodies bear the marks of our patience. For some these will be worse and deeper, and especially for those who have patiently held back tears until they can properly grieve for those who have been lost.
This is a citizenship expected, even demanded by the state. But not bequeathed by the state. It is a patient citizenship performed by and through the body in the service of its fellow citizens and it is through our patience we make ourselves responsible to each other in the present and answerable to our future selves.