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This is the first of two international symposia investigating the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging. The Oxford symposium is jointly organised by the RSC with the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and the Oxford Institute of Social Policy at the University of Oxford. 

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Scholarly literature shows that neoliberal globalisation, through delocalisation of state borders, precarisation of labour, restructuring of the welfare system, and the emergence of new non-state actors operating transnationally, have fractured the connections between state, territory and residents triggering a significant transformation in the meanings, practices and experiences of membership in contemporary Western democracies. 

The coexistence of different regimes of rights and the interplay of multi-layered systems of governance are a feature of contemporary societies. The multiplication of legal statuses for non-citizens is one of the manifestations of this transformation. However, little is known about the impact of the proliferation of legal statuses and precarisation of membership on the ‘members’ of these societies, and the ways in which legal status (or its absence) intersect with social cleavages such as age, class, gender and ‘race’ and shape social relations.

Conceptions of state membership have been based on a notion of a bounded community whereby rules of legal citizenship determine community belonging and set the parameters for exclusion. More recently, however, a burgeoning line of scholarship is challenging the primacy of the nation-state for determining membership and endowing rights, arguing that recent trends in globalisation, human rights, and multiculturalism have made state borders less consequential. Focusing on non-citizens’ long-term presence and their status as persons, this scholarship argues that non-citizens create spaces of belonging that supersede legal citizenship. To be sure, both the older and the newer definitions raise critical questions as to when and how territorial presence constitutes membership. 

The position of undocumented migrants encapsulates the complexities and idiosyncrasies of contemporary membership. According to recent estimates, there are between 30 and 40 million undocumented immigrants across the globe, comprising 15 to 20 percent of the world’s migrant population. But as Saskia Sassen points out in Globalization and Its Discontents, ‘migrations are not autonomous processes; they don’t just happen, they are produced’. Increased global interdependence of capital and markets for goods, services, and workers, in association with the tightening of immigration and citizenship regimes , have led to unprecedented levels of settlement of undocumented migrant populations in traditional and non-traditional receiving countries.

Today, undocumented migrants are creating families and establishing residences in territories where they do not have full legal rights. Regulating undocumented (also unauthorised, irregular, or illegal) migration has become a high-priority objective of policy interventions worldwide. The growth of large, settled populations lacking full citizenship raises questions of how different segments of these populations are being incorporated into host societies, what factors determine different pathways and outcomes, and how the condition of undocumentedness shapes migrants everyday lives. While all receiving countries regulate who is allowed in and what entitlements they receive, national policies differ widely.

The lives of undocumented children are inexorably linked to the fates of adult migrants, but are shaped differently . Although the protection of children is seen as a valence issue worldwide, national governments face the growing challenge of how to best provide for children’s well-being, given the political popularity of strong border enforcement stances and stringent immigration policies against undocumented immigration. This tension has produced a broad range of state responses, with implications for local communities, services, and protections.

Moreover, resulting from the uneven impact of the current global economic crises, a new geography of migration is emerging, both in terms of new immigration destinations and of changing systems of governance of in- and out-flows of population. To date, little is known on whether and how membership is changing in association with these processes. 

Main themes of the symposia

The symposia will be held respectively in Oxford in April 2013 and in Chicago in October 2013 and will address two interrelated aspects of this broader theme: 

Within and beyond citizenship: lived experiences of contemporary membership (Oxford, 11-12 April 2013)

The symposium will investigate the interplay between forms and modes of contemporary membership, migration governance (both immigration and emigration), and the politics of belonging. This will be achieved through in-depth examinations of a range of experiences of membership including, but not limited to, those of:  ethnic minorities; citizen children of undocumented migrant parents; former unaccompanied asylum seeking children; people with dual citizenship; ‘failed’ asylum seekers; and stateless people. Participants are invited to discuss issues such as the position of the non-citizen in contemporary immigration and emigration states; the nexus between human mobility, immigration control, and citizenship; the tension in policy and practice between coexisting traditions and regimes of rights; and the intersection of ‘race’ and other social cleavages and legal status.

Illegality, youth and belonging  (Harvard, 25-26 October 2013)

This second symposium will explore the confusing and contradictory experiences of belonging and illegality that frame the everyday lives of undocumented immigrant youth. Over the last two decades in the United States, non-citizens have experienced a shrinking of rights while immigrant communities have witnessed an intensification of enforcement efforts in neighbourhoods and public spaces. In effect, these trends have sewn fear and anxiety and narrowed the worlds of youth – such that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation. But these young people have also benefited from local and national efforts to widen access – particularly in the realm of education – providing young immigrants important opportunities to establish connections, form relationships, and participate in the day-to-day life of their communities. The experiences of undocumented immigrant youth teach us about the two-sided nature of citizenship – such that persons can be removed from spaces, denied privileges and rights, but can experience belonging too. 

Collectively the symposia aim to break new ground through analyses that are empirically informed, theoretically engaged and ethnographically rich and drawing on the expertise of scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and state contexts. As immigration has become a topic of great visibility among scholars, policy makers, and the media, this endeavour holds appeal to a range of audiences. 


Registration has now closed for 'Within and beyond citizenship'.

Conference programme

Download the programme (PDF 767KB)

The conference programme  includes four keynote talks (Nicholas De Genova, Roberto G Gonzales, Tanya Golash Boza and Nando Sigona), a roundtable and ten panels. The programme may be subject to some amendments over the coming weeks

Travel and accommodation

The main hub for the 'Within and beyond citizenship: lived experiences of contemporary membership' symposium will be Kellogg College, University of Oxford. The conference hub is featured on the map of Oxford (PDF 4.4MB). All conference venues with be within walking distance from this site.

Please consult the hotel information list (PDF 39KB) for a range of possible accommodation options in Oxford.

For information about travel to and from Oxford, including downloadable maps and a personal itinerary planner, please see the university website.


Please see the conference report for an overview of the event.

Podcasts of the conference plenaries are also available:

Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture

The Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture is held in Trinity term. It is named after Professor Elizabeth Colson, a renowned anthropologist.

Annual Harrell-Bond Lecture

The Annual Harrell-Bond Lecture is named in honour of Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, the founding Director of the Refugee Studies Centre. It is held each year in Michaelmas term.

Public Seminar Series

Each term the RSC holds a series of public seminars, held on Wednesday evenings at Queen Elizabeth House. Click here for details of forthcoming seminars.

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Forthcoming events

A celebration of the life of David Turton

Saturday, 20 July 2024, 2pm to 3pm @ The Crypt Cafe, St Peters Church, Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4DA