Flexible citizenship for the third millennium nomads
published on 9/11/2015
Stefania Vulpi asks if we could imagine a flexible citizenship that can be borrowed and swapped between people from different countries.
There is a substantial difference between the terms “nationality” and “citizenship”.
Nationality is the implicit knowledge of a local culture, with its customs, traditions, social norms and behaviors that have been constructed throughout history and experience. It is the tea ceremony in Japan, the Superbowl in the United States, the carnival in Brazil. Each individual is shaped by the environment where he or she grows up and carries this complex experience wherever they go next.
Citizenship, instead, represents the legal status of belonging to a specific nation and is related to its legislation. To be a citizen means to be a member of a nation, to benefit from the provided rights and to actively contribute to the community. Although nationality is what - partially - shapes our identity, it is our citizenship that significantly influences the opportunities have in other nations. To hold a United Kingdom passport or Ghanese one is obviously, and unfortunately, not the same thing.
This distinction between nationality and citizenship is increasingly highlighted by today’s fast-paced mobility and spreading globalization. Transportation is growing faster and cheaper, information is digitized and borderless and the pursuit of a study or work experience in a foreign country has become increasingly common, not to forget the growing mass migrations resulting from economic and political crises. The third-millennium nomads are travelers looking for experience, students looking for education, employees looking for employment, entrepreneurs in search of new business, refugees looking for asylum. All of them individuals who move around the world in a bid to satisfy their personal needs and desires. The cultural and national baggage that these individuals carry is enriched by their experience in foreign lands and grows into a hybrid multicultural nationality.
In her TED Talk, writer Taiya Selasi talks about multi-local and multi-identity individuals. “How can I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept? [...] In my lifetime, countries had disappeared: Czechoslovakia. Appeared: Timor-Leste. Failed: Somalia. My parents came from countries that didn't exist when they were born. To me, a country - this thing that could be born, die, expand, contract - hardly seemed the basis for understanding a human being. [...] What if we asked, instead of 'Where are you from?' - 'Where are you a local?' This would tell us so much more about who and how similar we are. [...] Our experience is where we're from.”
Why then not imagine a citizenship in constant flux, a flexible temporary status that can adapt to the needs of the new nomads for as long as they stay in a place? A temporary citizenship that eases their integration yet entitles them to be an active member of the community, society, and nation where they live? Technology is also leading us to create and join new types of communities that are extra-national, trans-ethnical, multi-cultural, but most importantly: born from shared interests and needs. In many cases they even develop the typical elements of an actual culture: a new dictionary, a shared set of rules, sub-groups, habits, rituals and “traditions”. Sometimes they even have a name: Redditors, Tweeters, Viners, Imgurians, Youtubers. So why not imagine ourselves as citizens of these multiple, virtual communities that transcend the traditional partition of the physical world of the pre-digital era?
Stefania Vulpi is a recent Design Academy Eindhoven Graduate. She created Universal Unconditional, a conceptual online citizenship-swapping system that allows people from all over the world to share their citizenship for a fixed period of time.
Top image: a Universal Unconditional passport insert that states which citizenship(s) a un:citizen is lending and borrowing. ©Stefania Vulpi