The Dilemmas of Performative Citizenship

  • Shirin M. Rai
Part of the Contemporary Performance InterActions book series (CPI)


Citizenship is a many-splendoured thing—it is a marker of belonging, an aspiration of participation and a key element through which the state is able to frame those that live within its boundaries. Citizenship is also constantly being reconstituted—through struggles of ordinary people as well as through the changes in state law, within which as yet it is bound. Aspirations of a global citizenship are articulated in normative theory but even more in the everyday politics of concern for those in unjust wars across the world, for those living in grinding poverty in a world of plenty and for those who are abused and excluded from their rights to freedom. However, these aspirations are yet to take a tangible form—although there are some troubling signs that our bodies are increasingly being made vulnerable to scrutiny, not only by our own states but others too in the name of security. Our passports continue to tell us apart as citizens of one state rather than another, to invest us with some rights rather than others, made susceptible to state surveillance, be constructed as minority or majority, upper or lower caste, black or white or another hybrid ‘race’, and enmeshed in laws that circumscribe us as well as create particular spaces in which we live our lives. Both legally and discursively the promise of citizenship also demarcates the reach of the citizen. The focus of my essay is the case of the Women’s Development Programme in Rajasthan, India, in the 1980s, which resulted not only in the rape of Bhanwari Devi, but also the Vishakha Public Interest Litigation that led to the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill in 1984. This case helps me to think through important political moments as well as institutions and it lays bare key relations between persons, groups and spaces. And so, I have learnt to look for perfomative agency as well as incumbent risks through thinking about this case, and I have puzzled over the location of this agency and of the risks involved in exercising agency—it has allowed me different starting points to what I would have had if I had not read and thought about, discussed and worried about it.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and International StudiesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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