Article Access: Citizenship Beyond State Sovereignty [Routledge]

Intersections by JISJ
3 min readMay 9, 2022

by Eleonora Aiello

First published in 2014, Citizenship Beyond State Sovereignty is an article by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú included in The Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies. In this article, which is located at the intersection of critical citizenship studies, international migration, and contemporary philosophical thought, Mhurchú explores a new approach to the conceptualisation of citizenship.

As the author explains, mainstream perspectives on the need for transcending the limitations of State sovereignty as the basis of political identity focus on notions of post-national citizenship, viewing these as more inclusive and progressive. These approaches put the emphasis on universal rights and duties based on personhood, unshackled by the Nation-State. By contrast, the emerging scholarship in critical citizenship studies challenges the assumption that citizenship must be defined by inside-outside, particularism-universalism, inclusion-exclusion binaries that are rooted in ideas of community as within coherent, bounded spaces — the local, national, and global.

Mhurchú takes a critical approach to citizenship, going beyond mainstream notions of political identity, community, and belonging and the spatial and temporal limitations of State sovereignty. She proposes alternative sovereignties that resist the State sovereign temporal and spatial framework, not merely shifting the focus of citizenship from the bounded space of nationality to that of humanity, but emphasising the otherness, plurality, contradictions, and inconsistencies inherent in citizenship. Mhurchúargues that citizenship need not be linked to a certain status (someone; a rights-bearing subject) or a bounded community (somewhere; local, national, or global) but can be associated with sites of struggle and contestation and with subjectivities.

“This is resulting in a much more complex and rigid sense of political identity and belonging than that captured by the idea of multiplicity, difference, and conflict ‘outside’ and separate from general interest and sharing ‘inside’, which needs to be resolved in the image of a progressive political identity. This isa world which is better understood in terms of fragmented temporal belonging and deterritorialized spatial belonging (where the boundaries between ‘citizen’ and ‘non-citizen’ are increasingly blurring) rather than. In terms of static linear progressive belonging and bounded territorialized spatial belonging (where ‘citizens’ remain clearly distinguishable from ‘non-citizens’).” (Mhurchú, 2014, p.121 )

To support her argument, she looks at the case of irregular migrants — those who have crossed borders illegally, overstayed visas, or are seeking asylum. The experiences of irregular migrants illustrate the tensions and uncertainties implicated in citizenship. Their presence is officially not sanctioned by the State, but they contribute to shaping the society from which they are excluded. Irregular migrants sit at the intersection of citizenship and otherness, moving between us and them, insider and outsider, national and global, and complicating the bounded framework and linear narrative of citizenship. Mhurchú takes as examples the sans-papiers movement in France and the May 1, 2006 marches by migrants in the US. By rejecting the illegality associated with their presence and insisting on their legitimacy as part of the community, the migrants who took part to those events highlighted the emergence of new sovereignties such as ‘irregular citizenship’, beyond the time-space of the Nation-State.

“What is emphasized in the critical citizen studies literature is the irregular, uneven nature of current mobilizations which fuse together ideas of inclusion and exclusion, presence and absence, identity and difference, particularism and universalism, and nationalism and self-determination.” (Mhurchú, 2014, p. 124)

For Aoileann Ní Mhurchú, only by engaging with citizen subjectivities beyond struggles confined within statist spatial and temporal borders can citizenship truly be understood not just in terms of legal status but that of its processes, heterogeneity, and fragmentation and its social, symbolic, and cultural sites. Exploring possible alternative configurations of political communities, the author rejects State sovereignty as the starting point for imagining citizenship, political identity, and belonging, re-theorising these as a multitude of interrelationships occupying new times and spaces.


Mhurchú, N, A. (2014). Citizenship Beyond State Sovereignty. In Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies (Routledge International Handbooks) (1st ed., pp. 119–127). Routledge.


Eleonora Aiello is a current Masters student at King’s College London studying MA Education, Policy Society. She has a completed undergraduate degree from Università degli Studi di Milano in International Studies & European Institutions. Her current work involves working with children & young people with disabilities in secondary education.

Originally published at on May 9, 2022.