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Time to make changes to the global state system?

Image: Silhouette of refugee family in front of fence
What are the causes of statelessness, and what can be done to address the problems associated with it? These questions are considered in a feature in Discover Society, guest-edited by CCIG's Tendayi Bloom.

A person is usually described as stateless if she or he is not recognised as a citizen by any State under the operation of its law. This affects an estimated 15 million people today, though this figure does not include those who may be affected by statelessness in other ways. Statelessness can often be associated with a loss of rights, discrimination and persecution.

The severity of the problems associated with statelessness has been brought into focus by the current plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya population, many of whom have been forced to flee their homes in the wake of what one UN official has dubbed ‘ethnic cleansing’.

In a Discover Society feature edited by Dr Tendayi Bloom, researchers argue for the urgent need to develop a critical understanding of statelessness, as an essential first step towards a more just world in which people are not put at risk by statelessness.

In her introductory article to the feature, Bloom argues that, rather than being seen only as being caused by specific events – administrative problems, border changes and so on – statelessness could be viewed as arising from the way in which the global state system is currently configured. So focusing on ending statelessness alone is unlikely to be sufficient to address the problems associated with it.

Drawing on arguments in her latest book, Noncitizenism, she says: “In the longer term, rather than focusing on trying to make people fit into the state system, perhaps it is time to recognise the existing system’s limitations, and focus on trying to modify it in order to make it fit in with the realities of human life.”

The Discover Society feature follows the publication of Understanding Statelessness, in which Bloom and colleagues Dr Katherine Tonkiss (Aston University) and Professor Phillip Cole (University of the West of England) brought together a team of 28 scholars, artists and others to challenge mainstream approaches to statelessness.


Tendayi Bloom is a Lecturer in Politics & International Studies at The Open University and a member of the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG). She tweets from @TendayiB.