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Research shows conceptualisation of citizenship changing alongside Liberia's transformation from country of immigration to one of emigration, and return

Lisa Krantz

In an article published in Citizenship Studies, IMI Senior Research Officer Robtel Neajai Pailey interrogates what it is to be a 'Liberian citizen'. She explores how the concept of citizenship can be seen as a continuum between passive rights, e.g. citizenship by birthplace or ancestry; active contribution, e.g. a contribution to development through political or economic action, and interaction, e.g. relations between the Liberian state and its citizens at home and abroad. She examines the construction of 'Liberian citizenship' through a historical lens, given Liberia's history has been shaped by migration, mobility, conflict, exile and return.

Based on interviews with 202 respondents in five urban sites in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, the US and the UK, Robtel's research uncovers the complexity of ideas of citizenship in a country which has seen the (forced) migration of hundreds of thousands of people before, during and after intermittent armed conflicts. She finds variation in conceptions of citizenship - from those who see it as linked to blood or birthright, to those who conceive of 'Liberian citizenship' as a form of practice, i.e. 'doing' rather than 'being'.

In this context she finds that new configurations of citizenship across space and time are created in parallel with and transcend those offered in the legislative sense. Her research offers a new perspective on how identities, practices and relations between people - including notions of citizenship - are transformed in the aftermath of violent conflict.

Read the published article