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What Do We Mean by 'Statelessness'?

Understanding Statelessness book cover image
New book, co-edited by Lecturer in Politics & International Studies Dr Tendayi Bloom, challenges mainstream approaches to statelessness.


What do we mean by 'stateless' and how does it happen?

A person is stateless if she or he is not recognised as a citizen anywhere. On an individual level, this could happen for many reasons:

  • they might be born in a country which denies citizenship to people of their ethnic group (for example the Rohingya in Myanmar);
  • administrative difficulties or gender discrimination might have made it difficult to obtain documents (examples include Nepal and Lebanon);
  • they might have held citizenship of a state that no longer exists (such as the former Yugoslavia), or denies them citizenship (people of Haitian heritage in the Dominican Republic).

Whatever the original reason, however, the result is all too often the same – they are excluded from systems of rights, from censuses, and even from basic recognition of their personhood.

Now in Understanding Statelessness, Dr Tendayi Bloom and colleagues Dr Katherine Tonkiss (Aston University) and Professor Phillip Cole (University of the West of England) have brought together a team of 28 scholars, artists and others to examine the question of statelessness. What is it about lacking a citizenship that is particularly problematic? And what are its implications for the ways in which global systems are constructed, for real-world policy and for lived experiences?

Contributors to the book, published by Routledge, also challenge the notion that statelessness needs to be seen only in terms of vulnerability and victimhood. To do so, they explore cases of empowered claiming of statelessness, or ones in which stateless persons are able to carve out spaces of rights unavailable to citizens. Indeed, they even question whether and when a person should be seen as ‘stateless’ at all.

In particular, Dr Bloom’s contribution looks at how rejecting citizenship has been a means of contesting colonialism, and examines what this means for our contemporary understandings of statelessness. In her own words:

"Should we be focusing on whether or not a person has a recognised citizenship? Or should we instead focus on whether or not a person has access to rights? The reality of statelessness today challenges the idea that we can all be organised neatly according to state citizenships."

Read more about Understanding Statelessness.