Katja Sarkowsky -- The Return of the Citizen -- abstract


The “return of the citizen” identified by Will Kymlicka and Wayne Norman in political theory (1994, 352) has had an impact not only in the social sciences but also on literature and literary studies. At least since the 1980s, ‘citizenship’ has become central to how literary texts in Canada negotiate questions of community membership and national belonging, with the concept of citizenship – understood as both formal (membership) and affective (belonging) – providing a terminology to critically investigate nationhood as well as diaspora in Anglophone Canadian literature. As such, it is strongly linked particularly to minority groups’ struggle for ‘recognition’ (Taylor 1994) and highlights the potential function of literature as part of what Seyla Benhabib has called “democratic iterations” (2004, 2008).

Against the backdrop of concepts of cultural and literary citizenship (Rosaldo; Pennee; van Hensbroek; Cho; Chariandy), I will suggest in this talk that ‘citizenship’ has served at least two different purposes in Anglophone Canadian literature: to assert a group’s belonging to the Canadian nation and to insist on alternative conceptions of nationhood, both indigenous and diasporic, and that by doing so literary texts participate in an ongoing redefinition of citizenship and trans/nation. Discussing selected literary examples, I set out to argue that these divergent understandings of citizenship and nation, of membership and belonging, are crucially embedded in contemporary reconfigurations of national and transnational space. As such and despite its specificity, the example of Anglophone Canadian literature may prove instructive for understanding the function of citizenship in other national and transnational literatures.